Just south of the river Seine on Paris’s fashionable left bank is a little corner of New York City. No, not the city’s scale model of the Statue of Liberty, but the Kiehl’s store on rue de Sèvres. Outside, the simple black awning with white Kiehl’s logo has a chic retro feel, while inside, the bare redbrick walls and bright neon signs give an edgy, urban finish to the loft-like space. We met with Store Manager Gaétan and Assistant Manager Anastasia who revealed five ways in which the quirky skin and haircare brand is offering customers a fresh take on retail.
1. You have to own it
For a retail experience to be successful, it has to convey a brand’s identity. Often there is a symbiotic relationship between the two: establishing a strong retail experience can contribute to defining a brand’s key character traits.
“The idea was really to take inspiration from our flagship store in New York’s East Village” explains Gaetan, the store manager. “Little decorative details such as the antique medical books and pharmacy jars recall the brand’s origins as an apothecary which opened in 1851. Then of course there’s the classic Harley Davidson and good old Mr Bones which are such a strong part of our identity.
“If I had to sum up the brand, it would be a blend of scientific expertise and fun. And I think that’s something the store really captures.”
2. Make it unique
So the quirky, colourful decoration really says Kiehl’s, but it’s not just a few accessories that make the Kiehl’s retail experience truly memorable.
Entering the Kiehl’s store is like setting off on a journey. The space is divided into a number of different areas, each offering something different to the customer: in the centre, a large white marble table (like something out of an ice-cream emporium) is the Skincare Consultation Bar — more on that later — on the left are the Gift Bar and the Men’s Refuel Bar, and by the entrance stands the photo booth.
“The photo booth is a really unique — and fun — feature of our store,” says Gaétan. “Customers can use it for free, capturing their visit in a snapshot and sharing it with friends on Facebook and Instagram. We also have a photo wall in the store on which we showcase a few of the best ones.”
Then there’s the Men’s Refuel Bar, (wo)manned by fully trained barber Anastasia. While other skincare retailers may offer massages or beauty treatments, in its own inimitable way Kiehl’s has opted to make traditional men’s grooming its in-store added extra. Complete with retro black-leather barber’s chair, it offers a little haven of male luxury, giving guys a very good reason to visit the store.
“Another feature customers love is the Gift Bar: we created it for Christmas but it’s been such a big hit that it’s still here! As well as a selection of pre-prepared gift sets for people in a hurry, we also allow customers to compose their own –they can even choose the wrapping paper!”
3. Make it personal
Choosing your own wrapping is just one example of a fundamental aspect of the Kiehl’s retail experience: personalisation.
“Kiehl’s in one word? It would have to be service.”
“Kiehl’s in one word? It would have to be service.”says Anastasia, the store’s Assistant Manager. “Whenever a customer comes in we really take the time to listen, to understand their needs and desires and then offer them the products that we believe are most suitable.”
That’s where the skincare consultation comes in: a one-on-one service in which a consultant sits down with a customer and creates their personal skincare regime through a series of questions — and a little hi-tech help.
“We place two oil-absorbing patches on the customer’s cheek and T-zone. Then we compare the results to a chart to establish their skin type,” Gaétan explains. “We recently added a dehydration analyser tool to our consultation: by passing an undetectable current through the top layers of your skin, it gives an accurate indication of hydration levels, allowing us to really fine-tune our recommendations. We find that in Paris, city life and the hardness of the water tend to leave people’s skin quite dry.
Once we’ve recommended their skincare regime, we let the customer decide whether or not they want to buy any of the products. If they don’t, we make sure they get a selection of free samples so they can try for themselves at home.”
4. Go beyond
In-store service is just one, albeit essential, part of the Kiehl’s retail experience. But to really create a rich retail experience, it’s important to take the journey beyond the store.
“When new customers come in to the store, we always suggest they leave their details so they can receive our newsletter and be notified about future events,” says Anastasia. “If they do, we always take the time to write them a handwritten card thanking them for their visit. It’s time-consuming, but people really appreciate it. I mean, how often do you get a hand-written card nowadays?”
5. Build a community
Not content with the usual newsletters, Gaétan and his team regularly invite customers to special events.
As Gaétan explains: “we recently organised a ‘Happy Hour’ event. it was a chance for customers to try products for themselves at a relaxed after-work gathering with us on hand to give advice. We’ve also organised private evening events in the store and meets with bloggers. So far they’ve been a big hit with our customers who enjoy discussing their favourite products and discovering new ones in an alternative setting to the usual store experience.
“Overall, our focus is on clienteling, on forming a personal relationship with our customers based on their habits and preferences. Sometimes you develop a really special connection: one customer was so happy with our advice and help in preparing for her wedding that she came back to the store after her honeymoon with a packet of sugared almonds for each of us! We really value moments like that: they mean we’re getting it right!”
Thanks to Gaétan and Anastasia for taking the time out of their busy day to share their passion and ideas.
To find out more about Kiehl’s DNA & history:
Two Offbeat Strategies for Men’s Grooming
How to successfully market skincare to men: the Kiehl’s story