Creating a Global Client
Never would I have guessed when I was a young woman in Poland that someday I would own an international professional skincare company.
My first job, after arriving in the United States, was in a cosmetics boutique on Madison Avenue as a makeup artist. I then worked for salons, became an esthetic manager, and, by 1977, decided to open a business of my own vision—an 1,800-square-foot skincare spa in the heart of Manhattan. It was the first day spa to open in Manhattan, and it quickly became a mecca for celebrities, beauty editors, and socialites.
The spa reception area at Izar-Repêchage City Spa & Wellness in Warsaw, Poland.
Right from the beginning I knew who I wanted as my client: a professional woman who needs to take care of herself but has little time. I knew that if I targeted the late 20s, early 30s client that she would represent the largest segment of baby boomers by the year 2000.
Skincare in the 1970s was very different than it is today. At the time, there were very few skincare salons in the United States. I'd estimate 70 at the most. And to many, a facial meant deep cleansing, acne care, and extractions. My business concept was (and still is today) to deliver the best, most professional environment; cater to clients' needs; anticipate their wishes; and deliver what they want. To do this, I developed a product line to cater to individual skincare needs. Recognizing different skin types, Repêchage was the first to create an anti-aging and cellular-repair range of products, the first to launch a skincare range for combination skin, and the first skincare company to launch spa bodycare products and treatments, including nutritional supplements. Being the first always meant for me that I am traveling a road less traveled, but with Repêchage, the company was able to pave the way for today's skincare boom.
Lydia Sarfati, CEO and founder of Repêchage.
My business formula worked. By January 1978, Vogue wrote, "Lydia Sarfati facials are the best in the USA." From that day on, the spa was booked solid. It did 22,000 facials in the first year.
Back then, I really did not have any intention of selling my product and treatment know-how and business philosophy to others. To me, this was very proprietary information. Although I was approached by many, I think the deciding point in my career came when I met Robin Weir, who was then vice president and on the NCA's board of directors, consultant to Clairol, and a hair salon owner in Washington, D.C. After being recommended one of my facials and receiving one, he would not give up until I agreed to work with and help him expand his salon into the skincare world.
A Repêchage body treatment at CuisinArt Resort & Spa in Anguilla, British West Indies.
Weir had seen something that even I had not seen—the opportunity for increased business that skincare offered. He insisted to me that he wanted his staff to learn how to perform facials from me and that he wanted to carry my products. He became my first business client.
What Weir must have seen and what I now attribute my success to was that my focus has always been on the consumer. And that remains true today. In fact, I choose my partners—whether they're salons, distributors, or other spas—very carefully. From the owner to the technician to the receptionist, everyone is a part of delivering what the client wants.
A hydrotherapy room at the Caribbean spa.
When it became clear to me that Repêchage was ready to start teaching other businesses how to offer spa services and to start distributing our product line, one of the first challenges I had to face was to help clients—and even the salon and spa professionals I worked with—change their preconceived notion that getting a facial meant that the client would leave the treatment with red, irritated skin and next-day breakouts. This meant education.
Beauty from the Sea
In addition, I realized there was a need for a treatment that could be administered by a professional therapist who perhaps did not have more than 144 hours of skincare education. Hence, out of the need to offer a consistent facial that could be performed anywhere—from New York City to Tokyo—with exactly the same results—the Repêchage Four-Layer Facial was born. Building consumer confidence meant not forcing consumers to play Russian roulette with their skin. The Repêchage Four-Layer Facial guarantees immediate results, long-term benefits, and a perfect complexion upon leaving the salon each and every time no matter who performs the facial treatment. I launched the treatment in July 1980 at the Pierre Hotel in New York City to the city's top beauty editors, salon owners, and some of my top clients. Within a one-year period many of the top salons had become my clients. I shared with them this fabulous professional treatment that they could feel good about offering. Today, the Repêchage Four-Layer Facial is the number-one treatment in destination resorts, day spas, and salons around the world.
By 1982, the Repêchage brand was strong and still growing in the U.S., and we decided to take it internationally. Our first country was Japan, and throughout the decade, Repêchage expanded to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Korea.
The spa reception area at Blue Velvet City Spa & Wellness Repêchage in Sopot, Poland.
In the 1990s, our focus was Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. First we expanded into the U.K., then Ireland, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Poland, and Italy. We opened spas in El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and, last year, Johannesburg, and Cape Town in South Africa. Three years ago, we expanded to Mexico—and this year, opened Playa Grande, the largest true thalassotherapy destination resort and spa in North America, located in Cabo San Lucas.
Repêchage is successful because we have always understood who our client is. It's the same client in the Philippines as it is in New York City, Los Angeles, Warsaw, and London. It's the women (and now men) who take care of themselves. It is the same client profile around the world. They share the same lifestyle and have the same needs and wants. Because we develop each of our products and all of our treatments with this very specific—yet global—client in mind, we can then assist other spas in delivering exactly what this client expects. Our products and treatments are the same throughout the world.
Pedicure area at Blue Velvet City Spa & Wellness Repêchage in Sopot, Poland.
What does vary, however, is the inclusion of some of the natural elements of the region into the treatment menu and spa's decor. I believe it's absolutely imperative to respect the country and region each spa is in because the traditions and natural elements of the region enhances a particular spa's uniqueness. Combining the natural elements of a region with true and proven scientific skincare and treatments by Repêchage is the ideal complement to any service menu.
Another key to expansion is time management. Having raised two daughters and being family-oriented, I find it important to write everything down (even scheduling sleep into my weekend!). This has helped me focus and lead a balanced life. Even today, now that my daughters are grown and don't need me as much as they used to, if I want to see my grandson, a movie, or an opera, I have to literally mark it down in my calendar—otherwise, business events will pop up and that will be the end of my leisure time.
Swimming pool area at Blue Velvet City Spa & Wellness Repêchage in Sopot, Poland.
On the horizon, I am now working with my South African distributor on Seychelles. We're going to open a spa there within the next two to three months, and I just spent about four weeks researching the local vegetation. I'll be creating a lot of wonderful wellness drinks and juices for the spa's menu, utilizing local produce and incorporating it into the spa menu.
A Repêchage body treatment at Kanna-Thalasso in Okinawa, Japan.
I stay closely involved with spas Repêchage opens—down to the selection of the sheets—because I want our partners to be successful. I have found that many spas make the same mistakes 90 percent of the time. Repêchage goes in, looks at the profit and loss statement, and turns around the books in six-to-nine months' time. We also educate by retraining the spa director, manager, and staff to establish protocols and accountability in goals to achieve targets. We help them utilize the equipment they have invested in and to understand the services the client wants.
Sometimes, even today, I have to pinch myself: How could I have done all this? How did it happen? In general, my whole idea in life is to just move toward the future—to go forward, not backward. To be successful, you have to look at what's in front of you and not waste time on negative things. I just came back from Poland, and I taught a group of estheticians how to do a proper facial massage. The girls stood there crying; they were so grateful. It gives me great pleasure that I can educate people, help them earn a living, and develop their careers.—Lydia Sarfati