The home fragrance and bath and body-care brand’s history in department stores dates back to 2004 when it broke into Nordstrom and Bergdorf Goodman about a year after it was launched as a reed diffuser specialist. The brand later rolled out to Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Today, department stores constitute a quarter of a retail roster that surpasses 900 total doors.
“Barneys has always been on our list as a key retailer for us based on the other brands they carry,” said creative director Shelley Callaghan, who owns Antica Farmacista with longtime friend and strategic director Susanne Pruitt. “A lot of niche brands are being gobbled up by the big conglomerates. We are one of the few at retail that is independently owned, and we love that we can partner with Barneys and sit next to other brands that are independently owned.”
As Antica Farmacista raises its department store profile, Pruitt and Callaghan emphasized the critical roles of boutiques and e-commerce in diversifying its retail presence as department stores cope with consumers shifting online. The brand has been profitable for roughly a decade, according to Pruitt, and is on track to grow 6 to 8 percent this year, although that would be down from growth rates in the double-digit percentages it typically notches annually.
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“It’s an affordable luxury and, even during 2008, we were still profitable and trending up. The only thing that does impact our growth in a negative way has been the decline of in-store shopping in department stores,” said Pruitt, continuing that the brand’s boutique business “is just as important to us if not more important. Granted it’s not the same volume, but it is a wonderful experience for customers, and sometimes we have a better representation in the boutiques.”
To fortify its digital position, Seattle-based Antica Farmacista linked with Amazon’s prestige beauty section two years ago and has focused on enhancing its own web site, where it will soon insert a tab to spotlight limited-edition exclusive merchandise. Pruitt noted the brand’s sales on Amazon, one of its top accounts, are soaring 125 percent this year.
“We have been careful with our Amazon business. We don’t allow anyone else to resell on Amazon. We only let the luxury beauty site represent us and that helps us to control that to some degree. Without a doubt, it is a massive growth area for us,” said Pruitt. “It isn’t the big bad wolf everyone perceives it to be.”
Outside of stores online or otherwise, Antica Farmacista has spread to 400 hotels. Its hotel enterprise began in 2007 when it was asked to develop amenities for the Hotel Bel-Air. Shortly after the brand started putting its goods in the Hotel Bel-Air, it partnered with Gilchrist & Soames to handle amenities distribution and moved into prestigious properties the likes of The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Royal Hawaiian and the Montage hotels in Laguna Beach, Beverly Hills and Deer Valley.
“The hotel business is profitable, and working with someone like Gilchrist & Soames is what makes it profitable for us because we are able to focus on what we do best, which is research the properties and help them make a fragrance that reflects a particular hotel and not get bogged down in the logistics,” said Pruitt.
Callaghan chimed in, “We are still small enough that we jump through hoops to develop custom fragrances for some of these properties. We can’t do it for every property, but, for example, we have three different fragrances for the Montage. There are not of amenities brands out there that would do that.”
Due to its extensive assortment, Antica Farmacista is able to create unique merchandise selections within stores as well as for its hotels. The assortment encompasses 500 stockkeeping units and 24 fragrances, although most retailers carry far fewer fragrances than are available. The home category, including reed diffusers, candles and room sprays, accounts for 65 percent of the brand’s business, and bath and body captures the remaining 35 percent. Prosecco is the best-selling fragrance, and the brand is elevating the crisp scent for the holiday season with its Champagne Black Label home and body range.
“The citrus fragrances are what we sell the most of. They are unisex and they are appealing to the masses, generally speaking,” Callaghan said. “Beyond that, though, we are really seeing a shift toward deeper, chypre fragrances with amber and oak moss. These are fragrances that we have had for years, but we are suddenly seeing a spike in the popularity of them.” The brand is also seeing spikes in sales of candles, and bath and body-care products.
Reacting to the strong demand for candles, Antica Farmacista is introducing a 37-oz. oversized three-wick candle housed in brass. Its signature 9-oz. candles are encased in glass vessels. Asked about the large candle, Callaghan said, “There are two shopping mentalities generally. Our 9-oz. candle for $44 is a great value, and we’ve heard that from our customers when they are compare us to our competition. That might be something you buy for yourself or as a gift for under $50. The oversized candle at $158 is really answering the need for something that really feels lux. We felt that was a bit of a void in our collection. When you are selling to Bergdorf, Barneys and Neiman Marcus, there is that customer that wants something over-the-top.”
As Callaghan indicated, Antica Farmacista strikes a balance in its merchandise mix and retail reach to cultivate wide audiences and attract narrower groups of customers such as finicky luxury shoppers and fragrance aficionados. “We may be in a lot of department stores, but we have been really careful about which ones, and we have done it slowly as opposed to going into all of them at once. Because of that, I don’t think we are considered mainstream at all,” said Pruitt. “And because we offer a lot for Millennials, men and sophisticated fragrance fans, we are still perceived as a niche, cool brand.”
During a period in which strategic buyers are hungry for niche, cool fragrance brands (Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. snapped up Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, Le Labo and By Kilian, and Puig invested in EB Florals by Eric Buterbaugh), Pruitt and Callaghan haven’t been averse to discussing their options with private equity firms. But the two haven’t been convinced forking over a part or all of their company would be beneficial for the brand. “Do they really have anything that they bring in terms of value? Forget money, in terms of real value. We always feel we can run it better than they can, and that’s not meant to sound arrogant,” said Pruitt. “We are paying our bills. We are getting some money out of it. We are having a great time. Why would we sell it?”