What it takes to become ‘the greatest skincare brand of all time’
CEO Charles Rosier looks back on Augustinus Bader’s revolutionary skincare philosophy and how the brand sky-rocketed into cult fame. He also discusses Augustinus Bader’s upcoming travel retail launch with DFS and his mission to become ‘the Hermès of skincare’.
“We started as outsiders in the beauty industry,” says CEO Charles Rosier as he looks back on the whirlwind three years that saw Augustinus Bader go from a relatively-unknown name to becoming ‘the greatest skincare brand of all time’, according to some of the world’s leading beauty editors. “The accolade is a proof of concept for our brand and has helped push our very ambitious plans for the future. It confirms that our ambition isn’t too crazy,” he says. Not crazy maybe but given the brand’s trajectory over the past three years, the goals set by management are far reaching. The management team has set a target to be the top skincare brand in the US, a top ten luxury skincare brand in China and to become a big player in travel retail “These goals are ambitious and require a lot of focus and investment. We have a big vision, and we have the means to achieve it,” says Rosier.
Revolutionary science, biological wisdom: Augustinus Bader went from unknown skincare start-up to ‘the greatest skincare brand of all time’ in three years
Augustinus Bader is finally launching in travel retail in August, with its first-ever channel door through DFS at Four Seasons Macau. Commenting on the DFS partnership, Rosier says, “As a new and independent brand, we don’t have a huge infrastructure and rely on certain partners who understand our potential and are ready to invest in us long-term. We’re very excited about our DFS partnership and we believe that it is a win-win situation.” In this interview, Rosier looks back on his first meeting with Professor Bader, how word of mouth can create a snowball effect, and the company’s aims to disrupt the travel retail channel and become what he terms ‘the Hermès of skincare’. He also shares his insights on what sets the brand apart from bigger beauty players in the market and how Augustinus Bader is ready to take on the challenge of China, which Rosier likens to the ‘North Face of Everest’. Backed by revolutionary stem cell science, and with a reputation bolstered by 49 global awards and cult brand status, Augustinus Bader has its sights set on reaching ever higher peaks.
The Moodie Davitt Report: Please tell us about the stem cell science that powers the Augustinus Bader range and your ‘Revolutionary skincare, biological wisdom’ ethos?
Charles Rosier: Five years ago, Professor Augustinus Bader showed me a photo of a child who had suffered from severe burns. The child’s father was Head of Reconstructive surgery in Munich and had been an intern in surgery with Professor Bader. He was aware of the professor’s research and wanted to try Bader’s experimental wound gel on his daughter. Two weeks after the first use and you could already see how the skin was healing. Thanks to the wound gel, she completely avoided using skin grafts, which was hugely positive. She also avoided scarring – which was a revolutionary thing in the treatment of burns. I was shocked that such a treatment existed, but more so because it was not widely available. Being a university professor, Bader didn’t have the financial means to turn his revolutionary treatment into a globally distributed product. When he showed me those photos, I knew I had to get involved. I asked him, “If you can turn burned skin into perfect skin, can you also cure wrinkles?” and that’s how the Augustinus Bader brand was born. Professor Bader worked tirelessly to create an anti-wrinkle product that works. We spent a year and a half developing a cosmetically-approved product, using his revolutionary discovery, that awakens stem cells and use naturally-occurring healing processes perfect the skin.
Augustinus Bader is still a relatively-new brand in the skincare game yet was recently named as ‘the greatest skincare brand of all time’ by a panel of 300 beauty insiders from WWD, Vogue and Beauty Inc. To what do you attribute this reaction?
We started as outsiders in the beauty industry. We went to Los Angeles and immediately got two investors, Don Johnson, and Melanie Griffiths, who helped promote our brand to A-list actors in Hollywood. The reaction was so positive and did wonders for our brand awareness. The next phase was targeting beauty editors. Beauty editors are gifted so many products, that they can’t really try everything. We were lucky that Professor Bader’s unique story and research caught their attention and so they committed to trying our product. The editors were so thrilled with the results they became ambassadors and confirmed the benefits to their readers. Vogue wrote an article that said we were the one product being used by every beauty editor in the world. This has never happened in the history of skincare and the word of mouth really drove our brand awareness. So, when WWD organised a vote, which had a jury of 300 beauty editors, we were voted the ‘greatest skincare brand of all time’, by a majority of 170 out of 300 votes. We are a three year-old brand. For us, it is incredibly flattering to be recognised by our peers. The accolade is a proof of concept for our brand and has helped push our very ambitious plans. It confirms that our ambition isn’t too crazy. This was a huge endorsement of what we have achieved as a brand. They weren’t judging the best marketing campaign, but the best skincare product. Today, our number one asset is still our product. We may not have the same marketing budget or distribution as our competitors, but our product sets us apart.
The snowball effect: Organic celebrity endorsements, stem cell innovation and word of mouth helped skyrocket Augustinus Bader to cult status
Could you tell us more about your vision for Augustinus Bader in the travel retail channel?
2020 gave us some breathing space to re-visit our approach and although our overall strategy of launching in high-profile, high-traffic airports and downtown duty free stores remains the same, we are also responding to the significant growth in Asia. We are looking to establish a foothold in the new travel retail hotspots and welcome travellers back to the established travel retail stores. Our goal is to disrupt the travel retail market with our science-led, clinically-proven formulas. We also acknowledge the importance of being productive especially as a new brand in the channel. Our core hero products represent over 50% of the business and so in September we are expanding into two new categories. These new launches are clean, luxurious and integrate travel-friendly elements in the packaging. We’ve also created some travel retail-exclusive sets to offer our travelling shoppers a point of difference. Having a presence in Asia is very important in travel retail and we want to replicate the success of our brand awareness campaign in Europe and the US in the region. We don’t have a short-term vision for the Augustinus Bader brand, we’re able to make decisions based on what makes sense in three to five years’ time, which is why we are making continuous investment into the channel. Travel retail is a very important channel for us to achieve our global ambitions.
"Our goal is to disrupt the travel retail market with our science-led, clinically-proven formulas."
What factors led to the decision to launch in the travel retail channel this year?
We’ve built such great brand awareness in such a short amount of time and so before launching in travel retail, we wanted to make sure we were ready as a brand and all the elements were in place. You don’t exactly go to Hainan with zero brand awareness. Travel retail being a different animal, it’s a channel that needs the right mix of brand discovery and awareness, and I think we are there now. After three years, now is the perfect time to step into the beautiful sea of travel retail. We have high expectations and I think the timing is just right.
You’ve recently signed a very promising travel retail partnership to expand your presence in the channel. What more can you tell us?
We will be launching our first travel retail door in partnership with DFS in Four seasons Macau in August, a partnership born from the Virtual Travel Retail Expo last year. The team at DFS also became believers of our brand. It is a two-way partnership. As a new and independent brand, we don’t have a huge infrastructure and rely on partners who understand our potential and are ready to invest in us long-term. We’re very excited about our DFS partnership and we believe that it is a win-win situation. Although we have global TR expertise internally with Bethan Williams leading the division with support from Louise Marchesin — two seasoned TR veterans from Estée Lauder — we also acknowledge the need for local APAC and especially China expertise. Therefore, we have partnered with Ed Forrest, Beatrice Charreire and Jackie Pan, all former executives from LVMH Travel Retail Asia Pacific, to help with our regional launches. To ensure we are fully prepared for the return of Chinese travellers to South Korea, we have also signed a partnership with Two Hands International, a new company which specialises in launching niche luxury brands in this important travel retail market. Founder Jay Hwang has over 20 years’ experience on both the retailer and brand side and his partner Ed Forrest’s career spans over 20 years in Asia with LVMH. We have also started discussions with other retailers and look forward to sharing more exciting news with you in the coming months.
(Left) Professor Augustinus Bader and (right) CEO Charles Rosier set out to create ‘the Hermès of skincare with the Augustinus Bader brand
What factors do you think a brand needs to achieve ‘cult status’ and how do you think your brand strategy will evolve in the next five years?
We’re not marketing geniuses. We just have a great product and are privileged to benefit from years of Professor Bader’s extraordinary research. We are thrilled with the tremendously positive response. We had some organic endorsements from Charlize Theron, Gal Gadot, Victoria Beckham, Elizabeth Olsen, Courtney Cox, Hailey Bieber and Gwyneth Paltrow. We have enjoyed the huge privilege of achieving what we have achieved without having the huge financial means of other beauty brands. Our strategy is to grow organically through an increased presence in different channels. We’ve been quite successful in the US. Conquering Hollywood is an excellent proof of concept and we want to replicate this in other regions and fuel the growth by expanding to more channels, which is why travel retail offers so much potential. Ecommerce distribution and the way influence is structured, not just by traditional media, has helped us grow. If you have an effective product like ours, where your own customers become the greatest brand ambassadors, you see a snowball effect and it’s hard to stop a snowball.
In the last year, the Augustinus Bader range has expanded steadily and now includes a Gel Cleanser, Face Oil, Cleansing Balm and even a hand sanitiser. Tell us more about your product strategy, and what other product lines you are exploring for the Augustinus Bader brand?
We have a proven track record of out-delivering distributor expectations. When we launched in Sephora.com we were sold out twice in ten days. For 12 months, we only had two products, which helped certain retailers increase their overall turnover significantly. This shows that the productivity of our products can be a powerful growth driver for our retailing partners. You don’t need to launch 100 new products to grow, the engine of growth is focusing on the quality of your product and enhancing distribution. We have 11 highly curated products, and our goal is to become the Hermès of skincare. The two lines we’ve been working on are haircare and food supplements, which I believe are both natural extensions of the Augustinus Bader brand philosophy. All our products go through three months of rigorous clinical trials and no product get released unless their efficacy has been clinically proven. We think that our upcoming hair care line is very disruptive, and the food supplements have been proven to have a visible impact on the skin after one month of use.
In travel retail, China and particularly Hainan, continues to be the shining light of recovery. How important China is to your business today and what are some of your plans to expand in the region?
China is our second market today, and in 2022 it will become our top market. Early on, we became part of TMall’s cross-border activation for new brands and were chosen as one of the two winners. This really boosted our brand awareness in the region. The Chinese consumer is very savvy and are always on the look-out for the latest trends, so they’re not totally unaware of us. I remember talking to a top beauty executive who said that “China is the north face of Mount Everest,” and that it might be better to wait until the Chinese consumer discovers you. I said, we don’t have time for them to discover us. We’re going to take on that challenge. In 2018, nobody could even spell Augustinus Bader, and now we have been named the greatest skincare brand of all time. Now, when we do expand in China, we are backed by our cult brand status and 49 global beauty awards. So, despite that market being super competitive, we know we can take on that challenge and reach the peak of Mount Everest.
What are your strategic priorities for the year ahead?
We want to be the top skincare brand in the US, grow to become a big player in the travel retail channel and be part of one of the top ten luxury skincare brands in China. These goals are ambitious and require a lot of focus and investment. It might be crazy, but we have a big vision, and we have the means to achieve it.
The Moodie Davitt eZine Issue 296 | 26 May 2021
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