NEW YORK — A bit of the Amazon jungle has been transplanted on Elizabeth Street here as São Paulo-based Natura International fine-tunes its first foray into North America with a new 960-square-foot store.
Under its Natura Brasil logo, the company offers products touting a blend of natural biodiversity out of the rainforest married to scientific technology out of the lab. “Our ambition is to promote a new and fresh concept for beauty, which is coming from Brazil and Latin America,” said Andrea Alvares, vice president of marketing and innovation.
“We have the background to aspire to promote a different kind of beauty that’s natural, more at ease with ourselves and a beauty that’s alive.”
The retail beachhead in Manhattan is a pivotal move for Natura, which is the direct-selling king of Brazil with sales of roughly $2.5 billion. But times have been tough at home following the crash of the South American country’s economy. One antidote has been to diversify into six other Latin American countries, plus opening a store in Paris about 10 years ago. The French venture included a direct-selling operation. But it recently was replaced with another store in the Marais district after Natura decided to concentrate on retail and e-commerce.
Back in Brazil, Natura shifted gears to deal with the country’s economic collapse and mapped out a plan for opening more freestanding stores “We are still fully committed to direct sales but in five years we want to draw 10 percent to 15 percent [of sales] from other channels,” Alvares previously said. That figure is now 2 percent.
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In addition, Natura is now generating 30 percent of its revenues from outside of Brazil.
“We want to show that Brazil can bring an energy to the beauty world that maybe doesn’t really exist today, a fresh energy,” said Roger Schmid, innovation adviser and manager of Natura’s The Hub think tank, which is based in SoHo.
“Sustainability” is Natura’s mantra, having recently won a Champions of the Earth award from the United Nations. Painted on the wall near the store’s entrance is a declaration, “We come from Brazil, the country with the greatest biodiversity. We work with local communities to sustainably extracted unique ingredients and combine them with the latest science.”
A line of wooden bowls, hanging along the right wall of the store, are filled with different natural ingredients, which are used in food but also power Natura’s beauty products. For instance, andiroba is related to skin recovery, Alvares said; acai is known for antioxidants, and castanha boosts hydration. That last ingredient is used in Natura’s best-selling product, a $19.50 hand cream. The assortment is mostly personal care with skin and hair care and body splashes. Schmid noted, “We believe there is a lot of potential in hair.”
Prices range from $10 for soap, $30 for shampoos, $35 for candles and $100 for an antiage product that is due out in June. The wall displays are accompanied by maps of Brazil showing where each ingredient is cultivated.
A long, primitive-looking wooden light fixture, which originally was a tub used for pounding food ingredients, hangs over a central wooden table laden with products. A bank of video screens beams colorful pictures of the various products, most of which sport recycled packaging. A vintage engine cover of an old Volkswagen Beetle hangs like art on a wall, commemorating the founding of Natura in 1969 by Luiz Seabra, who delivered products around São Paulo in his vintage Bug.
The walls are covered in recycled oak and the wooden floor came out of an old Edison light bulb factory in New Jersey, according to Josh English of Power Shovel, which built the New York shop and also the new Paris store. “They are bringing a traditional Brazil, but in a modern way,” he said.
The New York store opened its doors on Dec. 11 for a party for about 100 people and will stay open for a two-week preview. It will officially open in late February, after some needed finishing work is done. A door and window will be installed in the back wall, opening onto a roughly 400-square-foot garden.
Also, the long table will be re-topped in concrete with a work sink added. Coinciding with the February store opening will be the launch of an e-commerce site.
The company did not provide projections and Alvares and Schmid declined to discuss numbers. But industry sources suggest the Elizabeth Street store could be producing $500,000 to $700,000 in annual sales after two years of operation.
The cost of construction was estimated by industry sources as approaching $500,000.
Alvares said, “We are coming to the U.S. with a different business model. Considering the development of the market, it made more sense for us to start with stores and e-commerce. The mixture of retail for the experience and the trial, with e-commerce so we can have widespread reach with an effective business model,” she continued. “We are prototyping this concept with the idea to scale it once we’ve got it nailed down.”
Schmid added that Natura could have as many as five stores “for the prototype. Once everything is fine-tuned, then we can scale it up,” he said, noting that the trial period will run for 18 months to two years.
On Wednesday afternoon, Schmid said of the store, “It is going very well.” The hottest item so far has been a kit including a hand cream, a soap and a small handmade raffia bag, priced $29.50.
Schmid said he is looking forward to seeing how the sales trend over this weekend, the last full holiday shopping weekend. But there is no complaints about the location. “It’s a neighborhood that’s bursting with energy, new ideas, new concepts,” Alvares said. Schmid added, “If you look around, there must be a dozen beauty stores.”
Another point of appreciation is the neighborhood vibe. In particular, Schmid has become friendly with the next-door neighbor, a 92-year-old butcher, who regaled him with stories of how Martin Scorsese grew up on the block, skipping around from shop to shop as a precocious six-year-old.