Why boutique beauty could be big business

Sophie Maxwell By Sophie Maxwell
Uploaded 29 November 2012

Molton Brown was one of the pioneers of the beauty offer for the hotel and hospitality industry. And by the noughties, Cowshed - created specifically for the uber trendy spa of the same name at the UK's Babington House - became a popular frontrunner for a new generation of dedicated hotel/spa brands.

The luxury hotel and spa brand collaboration has gone from strength to strength as savvy brands pursue alternative distribution opportunities for 'brand building'. And why wouldn't they…it's a win-win situation for both parties. The hotel benefits from the kudos of selection, experience and credibility the beauty brand brings, while the brand is able to expose its products and treatments to a select group of affluent - and usually influential - customers.

Understandably, this route has traditionally been seen as something of an exclusive marketing and distribution channel for the high end and designer luxury brands. But, now, as the definition of luxury continues to shift on an ever-changing axis so does the opportunity. Enter the boutique hotel. This sector of the hotel and hospitality industry has presented a whole new direction and opportunity for beauty, as boutique hotels don't just 'buy in' a synergistic brand but look for the right beauty offer to complement the distinctive property of their own menu and to complete their holistic experience.

Just as the consumer is looking to the boutique sector as a way of exercising personal choice and discovery, so these locations are trying to maximize the opportunity and desirability by finding new or more unique beauty brands to match their ethos and location - or by developing their own. The Scarlet is an award-winning eco hotel and spa based in the far west of Cornwall. It has already developed its own Scarlet range (using local sea salt, Cornish clay and indigenous herbs). Following Cowshed's lead, many boutique retreats are choosing this option as a way to build and extend their own brand. But many others offer a select choice, a choice that perfectly fits the overall package and builds a dedicated beauty portfolio. Complementing both the location and its own range, The Scarlet Spa also stocks 'Voya' - an organic range of seaweed-based products from the north west coast of Ireland www.voya.ie.

But the opportunity works both ways. For new beauty brands still going through the trials of getting listed in store, this could present an amazing vertical marketing opportunity to form a partnership and know that they are hitting their target consumer first time, every time.
And, as the competition for exclusivity and uniqueness increases, we are seeing savvy brands already developing new partnership initiatives to broaden and move the offer beyond the expected realms of skincare and fragrance.

Earlier in the year, Berlin-based luxury cosmetics company Uslu Airlines created custom nail polishes for Hotel Costes in Paris and for the Ace Hotel in New York City - a greenish, gunmetal grey shade reminiscent of the hotel's interior. Such dedicated beauty products are a way of helping build loyalty and undoubtedly serve as a reminder of the trip.

"You can, by wearing the Ace nail polish, even a year after you've been to New York City, say that you have actually been there. It's a more discreet, insider way of wearing the 'I Heart NY' T-shirt," explained Jan Mihm, a founder of Uslu. (Source: NY Times)

Just as the boutique hotel offer is a multi-faceted and dimensioned one so is the evolving face of boutique beauty - and its perception and positioning  - and this is what makes it so exciting and directional.

Hotel Droog opened in Amsterdam on September 16th offering a reverse hotel experience with preference given to dining, gardens and an exhibition space with just one room to sleep in. It also houses Cosmania Lab at Hotel Droog on its first floor. The Cosmania Lab claims to provide an eclectic and unique collection of the most beautiful and best-loved beauty brands from all around the world, brands that can't be found anywhere else in the Netherlands. An ingenious partnership and indicative of how boutique beauty can take advantage of the retail space and extend the relationship beyond the room and the spa - and create new doorways to the unexpected.

Boutique beauty is already becoming big business - and the potential is unfolding daily. But the big chains can also take and translate learnings on a mass scale and should understand that there is a very real opportunity for all: for existing brands and establishments to adopt a new mindset and approach to also become ever more thoughtful and tailored.

And, once again, we come back to Molton Brown and witness just how future-focused this brand really is as it charts a new path embracing personal delivery and eclectic experience. For a limited period only this summer London's Goring Hotel (recently thrown into the limelight for hosting Kate Middleton the night before her wedding) and Molton Brown presented a personalised bathing menu.

Created to transport guests to destinations around the world (via the bathtub) Molton Brown's 'London via the World' bathing menu was inspired by five of the brand's most-loved fragrance collections. The experience also included the services of a Goring Bath Butler to draw a wonderfully scented bubble bath, and prepare the perfect cocktail, inspired by the ingredients and destinations of the bath collection.

All hotels are - or should be - starting to have a better understanding of what the consumer is looking for. And whilst they may not fall under the boutique hotel umbrella, they can, at least, look at news way to maximise their offer by not just replicating what the boutique venues are offering but by drawing on their own expertise and tradition to craft new experiences and services.

The inextricable importance of beauty to today's hotel business plan should not be ignored. The owners of these venues are assuming the role of creators - or actually curators - as they define the character and personality of their establishment and location through the architecture, design and art work - and now, increasingly through their beauty offer. And, as this alliance grows and develops, Boutique Beauty may just coin its own corner of the market - for its designated sector and for the global hotel and beauty businesses beyond.

Sophie Maxwell is insight director at Pearlfisher - [email protected]  www.pearlfisher.com

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