A complaint I frequently hear from niche brand owners is the difficulty they have in obtaining distribution. They find the major beauty retailers favour multinational brands who can afford big marketing and advertising budgets, but by the time small start-ups have poured any investment into the formulation and packaging, there is usually nothing left over with which to impress the retail buyers.
I sense that this may be about to change. This autumn has seen three new retail initiatives on the UK high street which are offering niche brands unheard of distribution opportunities.
Marks & Spencer goes for new-style beauty
Marks & Spencer opened its first new-style beauty department in May 2012, featuring an edit of niche beauty brands selected for their unique stories. Visiting the new department on London’s Oxford Street, I noted a number of fairly well-known brands that had disappeared from the market and are now back in a new guise.
I remember Perlier, the idiosyncratic honey-based Italian toiletries brand from way back in the 1980s. I also remember I Coloniali, another Italian brand with distinctive ingredients, including bamboo extract and corrugated cardboard outer packaging and cork stoppers in the bottles.
What is particularly exciting for any of the brands selected for M&S are plans to roll out over 100 new beauty departments between now and Summer 2013, as well as an online shop. M&S will launch the concept internationally from early autumn 2013, starting with flagship stores in Jordan, Prague and Poland.
Selfridges champions niche beauty brands
Selfridges has long championed niche brands in its Living Beauty space, right next to the main beauty hall. The floor space has tripled to accommodate over 100 brands handpicked by the beauty buying team. It’s the kind of place that a beauty junkie could easily spend hours, discovering and playing with new and exciting concepts, such as beauty gadgets to cleanse the skin and address signs of ageing.
Like M&S, Selfridges The Beauty Workshop is staffed by beauty advisors who are trained to give independent advice to customers, making shopping a wholly unpressured experience.
Over in Knightsbridge, Harvey Nichols has joined forces with two beauty professionals and opened BeautyMART. Its USP is that it is the first beauty store of its kind to offer an edited selection of products from over 170 brands, both mass and premium.
Mirroring the pages of magazines
So you’ll find Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream side by side with Batiste dry shampoo. Co-founder, Millie Kendal, told me: “Our edit mirrors what you would see and ultimately want to buy from the page of a magazine. Magazines still drive sales and in my experience PR and Sales take a long time to react to each other. We have tried to develop a concept that is Pure Marketing.”
The plan is to open 24 stores across the UK, either free-standing, department store concessions or vending machine installations, along with an online shop.
This is all great news for budding niche brands, but only those with exceptional ingredients, packaging and back story stand a chance of being selected.