With 30 year’s success in the spa sector working with leading operators it’s not an understatement to call Geraldine Howard, the co-founder and president of Aromatherapy Associates, an industry guru. Not only does her company make and supply a sought after luxury product and treatment brand – providing a point of differentiation in itself; it builds long-lasting relationships with spa operators, offering them the necessary knowledge and support to ensure there’s a significant contribution to the bottom line.
One to one
“We always work with hotels to build a strong relationship,” says Howard, whose diverse international client list reads like a who’s who of leading international hotel groups.
The company has a client-centric approach and Howard takes pride in be able to offer a fully customised service: “We love to work with spas to build their brand – it’s not about building our brand. Even though we work with numerous hotel groups we’ll take into account what the hotel spa stands for. We create treatments and offerings that echo, replicate and reinforce their brand ethos.”
The company’s long-standing partnership with Mandarin Oriental is testament to the benefits of this method (see SB09/3 p58). Howard and her team have also worked to create signature and unique treatment concepts for high-end clients. “Customising is very important to me and is one of our biggest USPs. We don’t promote our name everywhere, but instead take a quiet approach in order to support our customers brands,” adds Howard.
As part of this, the Aromatherapy Associates marketing and design team offers bespoke POS and posters for spas using its own trademarked material and imagery. She says: “We offer customised marketing support, working in partnership with them to create combined treatments and collateral unique to the individual spa. In addition, we’ve created bespoke bedroom amenities for a selection of hotels. Having branded amenities – including a wide range of spa products, turndowns and VIP gifts – gives the hotel a luxury edge, and helps to raise awareness of, and bring extra footfall to, on-site spas and retail boutiques.”
A core part of Aromatherapy Associates service is to educate partners in how to sell retail products following a body treatment. Howard explains: “It’s important to ensure a massage is linked to a problem of that individual and helping to address a specific concern, such as a treatment to help aid sleep, or aching muscles. When clients understand the health benefits of the treatments, why certain oils are being used and how they are helping them, they also understand the benefits of using the relevant bath and body products at home.”
Howard knows this approach works because it’s something she’s trialled in Aromatherapy Associates very own-branded flagship store, which opened in the exclusive Knightsbridge area – close to Harrods department store – in London in 2011 (see SB11/4 p22). One of only a handful of product houses to set up shop, the company uses the outlet to test what works with retail. Howard reveals that an extremely impressive 65 per cent of its revenue comes from retail sales and 35 per cent from treatment sales. “It teaches us how to help spas build their retail,” she adds.
Based on the lessons learned so far, Aromatherapy Associates provides training to all clients to teach therapists how to sell, specifically in relation to body products which is thought to be a more challenging category and therefore commonly an opportunity that gets missed. Howard adds: “It’s often said that you can’t retail off body treatments, but our sales show you can. Six out of 10 of our top-selling products are for the body.”
To help partners even more, Aromatherapy Associates places an emphasis on building awareness with the end user of its products – something that hasn’t been regular practice in the sector.
“There’s a tendency to think that if a product brand is exclusively sold in a spa, it will generate more retail,” says Howard. “However, consumers need to trust the brands they purchase, particularly skincare products for the face, and much trust comes through brand awareness and exposure. Successful retail skincare brands are usually sold in multiple outlets as in today’s world ease of purchasing is a major factor.”
Aromatherapy Associates has been following this trend by successful retailing at Space NK for 14 years and other top retail spaces worldwide. It’s also generated further kudos with the public by winning numerous product awards from top consumer magazines such as Tatler, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle and the Beauty Bible (see p64). “The art for spas,” Howard adds, “is to capitalise on this brand exposure and use the treatments combined with therapist’s expert knowledge to select the most effective products for the client. Spas really are the most perfect environment to sell products as you’ve already captured their attention and love for the brand. It’s all about educating them on what they need and how the product are going to make a difference to them personally.”
Howard, who trained under renowned aromatherapist Micheline Arcier back in the early 1970s, began in the industry by creating highly customised essential oil blends to suit client needs (see SB08/3 p90). Her team now includes three in-house chemists who specialise in formulating natural, aromatherapy-based products which deliver results.
The latest blend to launch is Inner Strength, a bath and shower oil Howard originally created for her own personal use during a fight against illness. The blend combines clary sage, a euphoric essential oil, frankincense to help focus the mind, cardamom and rosemary to help fortify physical strength, vetivert to calm, geranium to balance and rose for comfort – or as Howard says “a hug in a bottle”.
Ten per cent of all sales from Inner Strength products are donated to the Defence Against Cancer Foundation – www.afweertegenkanker.nl. The Dutch organisation has pioneered a new method for treating cancer and, so far, Aromatherapy Associates has raised in excess of £10,000 for its continued research.
Under the leadership of Howard, with backing from private investor Ian Richardson, the company’s turnover grew significantly in three years: at a rate of 20-25 per cent year on year.
Last year, it merged with the respected US-based consultancy Spa Strategy. And since then, Howard has been working with its managing partner Elaine Fenard to create a financial model for spas. The model will combine the company’s experience of supply as well as Spa Strategy’s expertise on space utilisation in order to develop a performance matrix for spas, small and large, to identify significant improvement areas to make the whole business better.
Overall, Howard’s vision is to increase global expansion and supply. Aromatherapy Associates currently distributes in 47 countries, including Mexico, China and India, where it’s licensed to trade and manages the distribution itself.
As a passionate entrepreneur, Howard has built a formidable company and brand in Aromatherapy Associates. And there’s more to come as a result of the company’s philosophy of continuous innovation.