The business behind the eradication of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s back-based pimples is gearing up for a comeback.
Erno Laszlo, the 90-year-old skin-care brand responsible not just for JFK’s back, but also for the skin of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, is bringing back the double cleansing systems that helped it develop its Hollywood following, but in more customized versions to reach today’s individualistic consumer. The brand is also introducing new packaging as it works to accelerate in the modern-day beauty business.
“We’re sort of a niche brand with a long heritage,” said chairman Charles Denton. “I feel like a 90-year-old startup.” Denton took over the brand five years ago with help from private equity firm Pollen Street Capital, saying that in the five years before he took the helm, the brand had stagnated. “It had this wonderful DNA, but it lost its direction, it perhaps lost its authenticity,” Denton said. Now, in the hands of a new foreign investment firm that recently took a majority position, Erno Laszlo is poised for growth.
Part one of the strategy is on the product side. In September, Erno Laszlo will unveil an entirely new lineup of its cleansing system, at a slightly lower price point. “The big trend that’s coming out of Korea is this multistep cleansing,” Denton said. “We have always been about that, but the market was moving in a different direction, and the market is now coming back into that space.”
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The revamped product line is made up of several double cleansing systems, each with an oil and a bar component, that aim to address eight different skin concerns. The rollout includes: Detoxifying Cleansing Oil, which is made with charcoal powder, sea water and grapeseed oil; a Sea Mud Cleansing Bar, which combines Dead Sea mud with charcoal; Hydra-Therapy Cleansing Oil, containing jojoba, grapeseed, apricot and sesame oils; Phelityl Cleansing Bar; which uses safflower oil, palmitic acid and glycerin to hydrate skin; Firmarine Cleansing Oil, which contains a spiruline Maxima Algae blend and green tea, cucumber extract and Vitamin E to combat aging; Firmarine Face Bar, a time-release bar that aims to act throughout the day to smooth and firm skin; Sensitive Cleansing Oil, which contains calendula, andiroba oil and moringa oil; and Sensitive Cleansing Bar, made up of chamomile and green tea extracts.
Each product comes in a travel-sized duo at an entry-level price point of $28. Full-size soaps will retail for $38, while full-size oil retails for $58, versus current pricing of $45 for soaps and $55 for oils. The price points will be lowered so the product line is more accessible to consumers, according to Denton.
A Whitening duo, for brightening, will be launched in December, and a Purify duo, to treat blemishes, is slated for 2017. Additionally, Erno Laszlo released a line of corresponding hydrogel sheet masks in Sensitive, which contains rose oil, honeysuckle extract, peach leaf and skullcap root; Detoxifying, which contains an AHA fruit blend, kiwi extract and glutathione, an antioxidant; and Firmarine, which is made up of argan oil, algae extract, grapefruit extract and salicornia herbacea extract.
As of now, Erno Laszlo brings in roughly $65 million in retail sales, according to industry sources – but with North American and Asian expansion plans, the brand said it expects its business to grow fivefold in the next several years. China, where sales are growing 50 percent month-over-month, is singled out as a high-growth zone, according to Denton. The business plans to launch standalone boutiques in Taiwan-based department stores, and plans to move into north Asia soon.
“From a retail point of view, China will be a $50 million business for us within the next three or four years’ time,” Denton said. “It’s going to be substantial. I think travel retail is going to be another $50 million, which is a big opportunity for us.” He expects sales in North America to double this year, as well, and is eyeing expanded specialty retail distribution. Right now, the line is sold on Sephora.com, as well as at Nordstrom, Holt Renfrew and Net-a-porter.
The planned growth will be supported by the brand’s advertising plan, which relies heavily on video and social media content. Tumblr will one of the main focus points going forward, according to Denton.
“They’re really partnering with brands, they’re helping the brands curate their content specifically for an audience, and if you look at the penetration and the conversion through Tumblr it’s much more effective than the sort of irrelevant advertising on Facebook,” Denton said.
The social media strategy is two-pronged — tell the stories from the good old Hollywood days, juxtaposed with tales of modern-day skin success. “Vintage glam is very valuable from a sort of archive, social-media view,” Denton said. “There are lots of different stories to reveal. You can say ‘JFK used the black soap on his [back acne].’” But, he continued, “if you try a product and you say, ‘I had this problem with my forehead or whatever, and Erno Laszlo solved it,’ that is far more powerful than some celebrity saying ‘I use Erno Laszlo.’”