The new body wash.

Avon and Mary Kay might need to make way for a new competitor, Rodan + Fields, which is turning to direct sales after selling its prestige product line...

Avon and Mary Kay might need to make way for a new competitor, Rodan + Fields, which is turning to direct sales after selling its prestige product line through department and specialty stores.

This story first appeared in the April 18, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It was hard for our consumers to come to a perfume counter and openly discuss their personal issues with the girl at the counter since acne is something that’s more personal and private,” said Katie Rodan, M.D., who founded the company six years ago with her business partner Kathy Fields, M.D. “We started to find out that people would hear about our products through their friends’ recommendations, which made us realize that this word of mouth type of business is best served by a direct-selling approach.”

Over the last six months, the company has pulled out of its specialty store distribution including Fred Segal, Bloomingdale’s and Henri Bendel. The company tested its direct selling business with 50 sales representatives in the San Francisco Bay area last spring. Since March 1, it has amassed more than 2,000 U.S. sales representatives. By yearend the company hopes to have more than 7,500 consultants. Products are also available on, an e-commerce Web site that was created to be a virtual clinic where consumers can purchase products and consultants can get weekly “Webinar” training to help them grow their businesses. Through the site, consultants and consumers can also e-mail a nurse with specific product questions and receive a response within 48 hours.

“We wanted to empower women and give them an opportunity to have a business of their own in skin care so they can craft an experience for people, allowing them to participate in the brand on whatever level they feel they’d like to,” said Fields.

Aside from the one-on-one consultations with sales representatives, Rodan + Fields is hosting skin care lecture clinic events at local hotels across U.S. cities. The first event was held on March 1 in Atlanta, with another eight planned before the fall in cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Orlando, Fla., and in Orange County in California.

“These lectures give representatives the opportunity to send people to be personally engaged with the brand and be industry insiders,” said Rodan.

To help take the pressure off consultants who might not be as educated about skin care, the company has created an online survey to help address people’s skin care concerns so they can get the right customizable program that’s suited for their individual needs.

In addition to changing its retail distribution, the company is expanding into body care with Unblemish Body, a two-step system designed to treat body acne. This May, the company will introduce Unblemish Salicylic Acid Exfoliating Body Wash and Salicylic Acid Body Spray, which is designed to cleanse pores and exfoliate skin while helping reduce oil production with phlorogine and clove extract. The formula also diminishes post-acne marks with its formula made from glucosamine and botanicals. The body wash will retail for $30, while the body spray is $35.

Industry sources estimate that the line could do about $5 million at retail in its first year.

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