BLOOM’S PRODUCT STRATEGY STARTS TO BLOSSOM

Byline: Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — Even the greatest outfit is nothing without the proper accessories. And according to Bloom founder Margot Wells, that principle also applies to beauty.
Wells will prove that point by rolling out The Vintage Bath Collection, a bath accessories line, to more than 700 specialty stores, upscale pharmacies and spa doors at the end of September.
The eight-stockkeeping-unit line includes a wooden hairbrush small enough to fit into a purse and a larger, full-sized wooden hairbrush, both with antistatic wooden bristles; an angled wooden brush for fingernails; a dual-sided brush with a pumice on one side and a nailbrush on the other; a complexion brush, designed for use as a facial cleanser and exfoliator; a long-handled bath brush; a deep wooden soap dish, and a big-bar wooden soap dish.
All except the bath brush are packaged in celadon and sage green cardboard, with the firm’s signature button-and-string closure. The bath brush is packaged open, with a vintage-looking grommeted tag.
While Wells declined to comment on sales projections for the accessories line, industry sources estimated that it could do $500,000 at retail in its first year of release. Wells also declined to comment on the company’s overall sales, although industry sources estimated that the company did about $10 million overall — including wholesale revenue from sales to other stores and the Bloom store’s retail volume — in 1998.
While Wells and her business partner, John-Paul Burlew, have built their nearly seven-year-old business on two bath and body lines, Simply Good and Just Add Water, the new accessory collection marks the first time that the company has attempted to address hair care on a national level — and Wells doesn’t deny that a wet line could soon follow.
“We’re considering a national hair care launch, but it may well be a salon brand rather than a retail brand,” she said.
The company began operations in January 1993, when Wells and Burlew — both fresh out of college — began selling hand-blended body care products at gift shows.
In July of that year, they opened as a 900-square-foot retail store in Lawrence, Kan. When the company moved to Littleton, Colo., in September 1996, Wells and Burlew kept the Kansas store — and use it as a “living laboratory” for their products. “It’s a great way to see what works and what doesn’t,” Wells said. “We study every aspect of customer behavior — from what they buy to where their eyes go first when they enter the store — and we plan our launches accordingly. And Lawrence is a college town — college students let you know quickly what’s cool and what isn’t.”
The team sold through its retail store and through a catalog until December 1996, three months after the company relocated to Colorado. At that point, Wells and Burlew started pursuing national distribution, hiring a San Francisco sales representative that month. Nearly two years later — in October 1998 — Wells and Burlew added a national sales manager and opened sales territories across the U.S.
The line is now in more than 700 specialty store, upscale department store and salon/spa doors, including the Philadel-phia-based Anthropologie apparel chain — the company’s first national account — C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries in New York and Felissimo, also in New York. “We’ve been very deliberate about how we’ve grown our client base,” said Wells. “It has paid off; our business is now 10 times what it was in the beginning.” However, bath accessories aren’t all Bloom has on tap — and the company’s next project could more than double the company’s overall sales within the first year of release, according to industry sources.
The new project is Archive, a comprehensive beauty brand that will include bath and body, facial skin care and color cosmetics. It will be launched in three phases, starting in January 2000.
The first phase will be bath and body, familiar territory for the company. It will have an herbal bent, offering bath gel, bubble bath, body lotion, bath salts, herbal bath, body splash, soap, a candle and bath oil in six yet-to-be-named fragrances.
“Sage, chamomile and lavender will definitely be included in these products,” said Wells. “They will be packaged in classic-looking bottles with a very modern, bright label with a modern type treatment. We want to illustrate that this is a classic line with a modern twist.”
Next up is Archive Apothecary Studio, a line that Wells believes will “break new retailing ground.” It will launch in April 2000.
“We’ll offer six basic facial masks, three facial herbs for steaming and six body teas, with customizable elements — additional herbs, apricot and other oils, honey, and more — and post instructions for customers to mix their own products. This will be in a hands-on, open-sell environment, although we will train representatives who will be available for consultations, and we’ll post mixing instructions near the displays.”
Wells gives an example of how she hopes the system will work. “A customer doing, say, a clay mask would first scoop a clay mask base into an empty container, choose an herb — perhaps chamomile for relaxation — and then mix with a liquid; water if she has oily skin, a little apricot oil if she has dry skin.”
This phase will also include three noncustomizable tub tonics.
Wells admits that the mix-it-yourself concept might be a tough sell to some retailers, but insists that the final results will be worth it. “It’s a nontraditional concept, but in our retail store, this is one thing that keeps customers coming back again and again,” she said. “It makes customers feel involved in the process, and it’s something they can only get here. Another benefit is that while they’re in the store, they check out the rest of the merchandise, too.”
Wells says she was inspired to do this phase of the line after reading a number of books about making one’s own beauty products. “I was interested in mixing my own from these recipes,” she said, “and I did. But some of the ingredients were harder to find, and I realized that the average person wouldn’t go to 10 different stores looking for components for making their own masks. So I appropriated the concept for my store.”
The third phase of the Archive launch — and the one that Wells hopes will eventually anchor the entire company — is a color cosmetics collection, which will be launched in July 2000. “The line is still in development, but we know we will do at least 30 lipstick sku’s, eight foundations and six pressed powders,” Wells said. The line will also include facial treatment products such as toners and cleansers, she said.
Despite the different directions Bloom is blossoming into, Wells insists that bath and body will continue to be a significant focus for the company. “It’s very important to us and we won’t lose sight of that,” she promised.