NEW YORK — In a little more than a year, Nick Braden, managing director of L’Occitane’s U.S. affiliate, has overseen the opening of the company’s first U.S. Mediterranean Market and Restaurant, expansion of the brand’s freestanding store base and major additions to its assortment of botanically based products.
And he’s just getting started.
During a recent interview, Braden, who took the helm of the New York-based firm last May, discussed the company’s expansion, much of which has revolved around company-owned retail space. He also pointed to its most recent venture, the firm’s Mediterranean Market and Restaurant unit located at 92 Prince Street, which represents L’Occitane’s cutting-edge freestanding retail format.
“We are very excited about the customer response to the concept store,” said Braden. “It helps our customers to understand the [company’s different brand] values.”
The 3,200-square-foot store combines the L’Occitane beauty concept, an O & Co. olive oil store, a specialty foods boutique and a restaurant, called La Table, which is on the second floor. An open-air market feel is achieved through the store’s corner location, vast windows and two-story ceiling; the ground floor is where beauty, olive oil and specialty foods are located. The store, in the heart of Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, is the second such L’Occitane format in the world. There is another, similar location in Brazil.
The three-month-old unit, which is reportedly on track to do $4 million in its first year, is likely not the last of its kind here. “We will be looking to expand [this format] in 2005,” Braden remarked.
Though the firm does not divulge sales figures, industry sources estimate that the Manosque-en-Provence, France-based company’s total revenues for the fiscal year were close to $200 million, up 23 percent over the prior year. The U.S. is said to have accounted for 40 percent of sales, a ratio that was comparable to last year.
In addition to introducing U.S. consumers to the very European concept of mixing beauty with food, Braden said the store has afforded on-the-spot consumer research. “We’re talking to customers and discovering trends — that’s what this store does,” he said. “They get the soap [merchandised] with olive oil concept. The same customer group is shopping both.” Braden estimated that men make up about 10 percent of L’Occitane’s customer base.
L’Occitane today operates 112 freestanding stores in the U.S., and Braden expects approximately 30 more spaces to open this year. Wholesale distribution of the brand stands at about 300 doors. May has been an auspicious month for the company. It opened two L’Occitane beauty boutiques — including one in Washington’s Union Station — in the first two weeks of May, and launched its latest beauty collection, an almond extract-based bath and body care quartet called Amande.
In the past, the brand, which markets about 500 items, has launched product lines positioned around a core ingredient, such as lavender or juniper. Braden called the Amande initiative, which includes a body milk, scrub, shower oil and perfumed gel, the “biggest new ingredient launch this year.”
— Matthew W. Evans