The future of the luxury beauty industry: an exclusive interview with La Prairie CEO

CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed one of the leaders of the luxury beauty industry, Mr Patrick Rasquinet, President and CEO, La Prairie Group.

What are the DNA elements of La Prairie as a luxury brand?

The DNA of our brand lies in luxury, innovation, performance, high-touch service and Swissness. When we say Swissness, we mean the qualities associated with that country: purity – precision – innovation – craftsmanship.

This is who we are and have been from our onset in 1978. We have never drifted or shifted from these values.

Do you think increased visibility, especially through travel retail, may cast an ‘’affordable’’ perception over the awareness of your brand?

Travel Retail has been and remains to be an important part of business for La Prairie. In terms of casting an “affordable” perception, La Prairie believes increasing visibility through Travel Retail shows our commitment and focus on the global consumer – that is our key consumer after all.

We have sought to invest our funds in growing distribution and brand awareness to our core customer groups in Travel Retail, which we treat as its own region. They’re keen on commodities, and they want to access product “anywhere, anytime.” We’re here to fulfill that need.

La Prairie Travel Retail has presence in over 300 doors total, in 65 countries. For the first half of 2014, Travel Retail in Asia accounted for 46% of La Prairie’s business, followed by 26% from Europe, 17% from the Americas and 10% from the Middle East.

How does La Prairie relate to lifestyle?

Amongst the entire selective skincare market we see consumers that are looking for choices. She’s basing her shopping decisions on two key factors: her lifestyle and her skincare desires. Drivers for the entire category of luxury skincare are products that are multi-tasking and innovative. Today’s woman wants her luxury anti-aging products efficacious, beautifully textured and portable, and we’re here to offer her all of this and more.

We always say La Prairie offers our customers the luxury of choice – this extends to choice in texture, benefits and price points. La Prairie is a reflection of the lifestyle of our consumer.

Our brand has always been the choice of discerning women – they’re the reason our brand exists. The affluent customer is an educated, well-traveled one. She is well versed in fashion, travel, beauty, décor, technology, trends. She’s savvy. She’s information “junkie” with a full calendar and multi-faceted life. She responds to brands that listen to her wants & needs. She’s at the top of her game and pushes brands to be at the top of their game.

In your product development, which are the key guiding elements? Do you develop specific products for specific geographical regions / skin typologies?

During the creative process of product development we take into account as many trends as possible that are relevant to the project – we take into account new ingredients & technologies – we take into account our client’s needs & desires. Then we work towards incorporating all of the above into a reality.

We do offer Asia-exclusive products. In particular the White Caviar Illuminating Clarifying Lotion is an Asia-exclusive product (launched in January 2013) as well as the entire Swiss Cellular White Collection. These offerings speak heavily to the desires of their offered region, whose skincare concerns highly focus on brightening and illuminating the skin.

Some of our stores, services and merchandising layouts vary based on locale so we can meet the specific needs of our customers. For example, in Asia we tend to stock a few lighter shades of foundation than in Europe. In the Middle East we tend to have more fragrances available than in the other regions.

With organic based beauty products gaining ground, do you consider developing such products in the future?

At La Prairie, we are committed to offering our consumer high tech innovation and perfection in both function and form when it comes to her skincare.

The possibilities for expansion into new beauty categories is certainly something we’ve considered as a brand, but at the moment we remain focused on what we do best – skincare innovation.

Which are, presently, your best performing international markets? (growth rate) 

In terms of regional breakdown for business / net sales, for the first half of 2014, EMEA accounted for 34%, Asia 24%, Americas and Oceania 19% and Travel Retail and Special Distribution Channels 23%.

Excluding Travel Retail, among the top selling markets for our brand are the United States, Hong Kong and China.

We plan to outpace the global market development by growing twice the market growth year after year.

Some luxury beauty companies have been pursuing a mono-brand (stand-alone) retail strategy in major emerging markets such as China or India. What is your approach?

The opening of our (first in Travel Retail) freestanding boutique at Zurich Airport in June 2012 was a fantastic success. We had a growth of more than +35% in 2H2012.

Since then, in January 2014, the brand opened its first China freestanding store and luxury facial treatment cabins at the IFC Mall in Shanghai. This a completely new channel for the China business building on the very successful Hong Kong free standing stores. We’ve seen a very positive response from Shanghai customers as the store has traded above expectations since opening.

On June 10, 2014, we opened a La Prairie boutique at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz located in the popular holiday area, Heidiland, in eastern Switzerland. Located in the spa foyer, the 18 square meter boutique has specialist beauty advisors providing personal skincare consultations.

In terms of opening additional stand-alone boutiques, we remain open-minded. We have seen a great deal of success with our current stand-alone boutiques but our approach is extremely refined in order to maintain the exclusivity of our brand while also reaching our consumer to provide her with the highest level of service possible.

We have a saying at La Prairie that we like to surprise and delight our consumers…and I can say with certainty that our plans for expansion for the remainder of 2014 and early 2015 will do just that.

In the past years, La Prairie has been expanding its presence in luxury spas. Tell us more about the importance of this business line.

We currently have 36 Art of Beauty locations in 15 countries around the world.

Our more recent spa openings include Hôtel Le Bristol Paris (France), The Darling Hotel in Sydney (Australia), Four Seasons Hotel Milano (Italy) and The Crown in Melbourne (Australia).

La Prairie’s spa philosophy has been hyper-focused on quality. We open with partners who are synergistic with our approach to luxury and customer service in locales that could benefit from a La Prairie spa.

We are interested and evaluating gateway cities, large metropolitan cities or exclusive resort destinations. We are considering partnering only with five stars (or more) hotels or very exclusive properties, knows for the elite clientele and phenomenal customer service. We complement the hotel offering, while creating brand awareness to a very exclusive, new target population who travels in luxury.

Which are the most effective communications platforms nowadays for your brand? Has your strategy changed in any way due to the booming development of social media?

Communication with our clients is of utmost importance; our business depends on ensuring these discerning clients are satisfied and enamored by our brand.

The opportunities are endless when it comes to interacting with the global consumer, and as a brand, we are heavily invested in various communication tools to ensure a high-touch experience for consumers no matter where they interact with us – whether it is at-counter at their preferred department store in their hometown or via our Facebook page or new e-commerce website; at one our Travel Retail counters as they travel between countries and continents or with a signature facial during an Art of Beauty spa excursion. No matter where our consumer is, or how they’re experiencing the brand, it is up to us to communicate and captivate them with the magic that is La Prairie.

At La Prairie, we continue to grow our international social platforms as an extension of brand to reach out to our customer and give her an experience beyond the beauty counter.

What is your view of the men’s beauty market? Do you consider introducing a specific men’s line?

I believe both men and women have an active interest in maintaining healthy, young looking skin. We have certainly seen a rise in the trend of men’s grooming and personal care.

At the moment, there are no plans for a male-exclusive offering. However, many of our loyal clients are men as our products are formulated for both types of skin.

There are several products in particular that men tend to gravitate to, including the Advanced Marine Biology and Anti-Aging Collections, as well as Cellular Hydrating Serum, Cellular Eye Contour Cream, Cellular Revitalizing Eye Gel, Skin Caviar Luxe Eye Lift Cream and Skin Caviar Luxe Cream.

Patrick Rasquinet, President and CEO, La Prairie Group