Since the development of big-box retailers like Amazon and Walmart, estheticians the skincare professionals have found themselves in an online beauty brawl. In the fight against unauthorized retailing, spas are the first line of defense, and education and communication are key. “Spa partners need to explain to their clients that there can be some serious risks when purchasing from unauthorized third-party sellers,” says Nik James, president and chairman of YG Laboratories. “First and foremost, there’s no guarantee that what they’re buying is actually what the third-party seller is claiming, and there’s also no guarantee that the product has not expired.”
Not only are the odds high that clients will get old or fake products through an unauthorized third party, they also have no recourse in those situations. Buying from an esthetician, on the other hand, comes with a bit more security, and spas should emphasize that customer service and attention to detail with their clientele. “An esthetician will analyze your skin and provide you with a homecare protocol to address your concerns, and generally, they’ll exchange the product if there are any incompatibilities with your skin,” says Karen Asquith, director of education for G.M. Collin Skincare.
Everyone loves a freebie, and perks such as gifts with purchase, discounts on product refills, and complimentary add-ons with the next treatment are another way for spas to cultivate and retain customer loyalty. “Convenience is key with big-box retailers like Amazon,” says Shannon McLinden, president of Farmhouse Fresh. “Getting a product delivered to your door within hours or the next day and often free is incredible. But for those who value relaxation and wellness, getting an add-on service with your purchase is extremely tempting, too. You cannot be cocooned in a live-fruit-cell hydration wrap by Amazon. There is a heightened experience to be had with enjoying your favorite products being applied by masterful therapists.”
Going the private route is also an option, and spa owners have plenty of choices when it comes to creating a unique brand identity for a relatively low investment, according to James. “A few years ago, YG Laboratories began its Custom Labeling Program, which was developed with exactly these issues in mind, given the recent steady rise in online sales,” he says. “It provides smaller spas and retail locations with the ability to create fully customized labels and label copy, ensuring that their products are unique to their business and cannot be found elsewhere for cheaper. It also allows for smaller businesses that normally have to align their branding with a larger company to actually create their own marketing and branding angles by writing unique label copy and telling the ingredient story that best matches their brand identity.”
But private-label isn’t the right solution for everyone. “Larger spas like resort spas or multi-location spas usually private-label locker room amenities or body lotions, but when it comes to skincare, they really need to understand that results, training, and loyalty to a brand message is how skincare is successful,” says Privai founding partner and CEO Christina Stratton. “What is the brand story? Customers are very educated in the skin and bodycare space and savvy with why and how they purchase, so if a spa decides to private label, I would caution them to fully develop the brand and be part of the creation and formulation process.” It can make sense for the right spa, she adds, but would fall to the spa manager or director to curate, oversee, market and develop training, and execute the whole shebang, so spas should weigh their options carefully before jumping in. “There are so many layers to running a successful operation, and private label may become more of a headache than a profit center,” she says. That’s not to say it’s the wrong decision, though. “Private labeling can be great for the right location, demographic, and manufacturer,” Stratton says. Another option is to team up with a brand to create an exclusive product available only at your spa. For instance, The Spa at The Breakers Palm Beach (FL) has its own nail polish. Sea You at The Breakers is a deep teal hue created by Essie exclusively for the resort.
Ultimately, McLinden believes the most important thing is to leave a real impression with your guests. “I think the key for private label and independent brands really ties back to the experience,” she says. “Spas create memorable experiences through treatments, just as resorts do through hospitality. If you can tap into the experience, and the customer can take a piece of that experience with them, they’ll come back for that magic once the memories fade or the product runs out.”