Marianella's Soap Bar.

As competitors in the retail space seek clever and creative ways to stand out, some brands are returning to rudimentary tactics for establishing genuine connections with consumers. Companies such as Jabonería Marianella Soaps, a family-owned-and-operated luxury bath and body company, thrives because of its experiential direct-to-consumer model.

Jabonería Marianella Soaps was launched in 2007 by Marianella Febres-Cordero, a published author and graphic designer and her son David Foote, a fine artist and filmmaker. The family affair began when Febres-Cordero emigrated from Venezuela to the U.S. and was seeking employment. For years, Febres-Cordero created homemade soaps for Foote, who had particularly sensitive skin. After using his mother’s soap for a period of time, Foote recognized a business opportunity. Today, its products are available via its e-commerce web site and have been sold in more than 200 luxury boutiques.

The brand’s foray into a stand-alone retail was a self-constructed pop-up shop at New York’s Gansevoort Market in November. Foote, a cofounder and creative director of Jabonería Marianella Soaps, told WWD, “When we did the pop-up, I heard about [the opportunity], I went to see the space and I was there the next day with a friend of mine and we built all of the construction ourselves.” Sales picked up rapidly and the pop-up originally built for the holiday season stayed open for three-and-a-half months. Foote and Febres-Cordero relished the intimate communication with consumers, which led them to create the first “Marianella Bubble” stand in the Stonebriar Center in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, which allows consumers to sample products prior to purchasing. The company is in talks with a leading mall property group to expand, according to the brand.

Foote told WWD, “[Consumers] try the products and [because] we have a sink there, it becomes experiential. They can try the washes, the scrubs, they can try everything.” He added, “That experience and that relationship with the consumer that we found at the Gansevoort Market was something we wanted to carry on.” Febres-Cordero, who learned how to craft soap from her mother, creates the products’ fragrances and mixes ingredients for the entire product line, which are inspired by her memories of Venezuela. Foote personally designs the brand aesthetics and packaging of products, which includes the creation of its logo.

Marianella’s Soap Bar. Photo courtesy of Marianella. 

Jabonería Marianella Soaps are ample-sized, polished bath bars with beveled edges, each embossed with the Febres-Cordero family crest. Its product line also includes shower gels, body lotions and scrubs, which the brand describes as “gender neutral.” All of its products are made in the U.S. and crafted without harsh chemicals, parabens or Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Instead, Febres-Cordero integrates ingredients such as goat milk, colloidal oatmeal, Moroccan argan tree oil and rice bran oil, which enrich the skin, according to the brand.

Foote treats the Marianella Bubble stand model as a small focus group by releasing small batch products in advance of its retail partners to observe consumer preferences and behaviors. The mother-son duo’s first-hand experiences with shoppers enabled them to glean specific insights they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. “If a consumer grabs a product, they are 70 percent more likely to buy it. If they can’t directly grab it, they’re not going to buy it. If they can’t smell it or try it, then you’re down another 30 percent.” He added, “We have the advantage of talking to consumers directly.”

The brand has collaborated on bespoke collections with J. Crew, Space NK, Timo Weiland and Modern Anthology. Jabonería Marianella Soaps summer 2017 collection will be released in stores this week.

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