Kale: Check. Coconut milk: Got it. Wrinkle-fighting facial cream? Despite the growing natural personal care category, the list stops there for many health-conscious shoppers who still don’t believe “natural” and “efficacious” co-exist, particularly when it comes to results-driven beauty products such as in those in the antiaging category.
But behind the scenes, Colo.-based natural skin care manufacturer MyChelle Dermaceuticals has been proving otherwise for years, using an advanced dermatological machine called the VISIA to test results of products featuring plant stem cells, peptides, fruit enzymes and other bioactive ingredients.
The VISIA—which scans skin to offer a personalized analysis—is at many dermatologists’ offices (with a hefty per-session price tag). Last February, MyChelle made it accessible to natural products customers, selling the machine to Whole Foods Markets' Lamar store and 16 more locations in 2011 and early 2012. Each store offers the customized analysis, product recommendations and follow-up scans as a free service to customers.
Changing the natural skin care paradigm
“Ultimately, this is a big picture piece for us,” said Kristine Carey, vice president of marketing for MyChelle. “We look to build the idea of skin care not having to be either effective or natural.”
This technology is at the core of MyChelle’s plan to educate retailers and customers not just about its line but also the entire natural personal care category. After a year in Whole Foods stores, and now available to independent retailers, this technology and the accompanying business strategy is showing serious results—of MyChelle’s products on skin and of innovation and education on the company’s sales. It also may be what customers need to put natural skin care on their shopping lists.
“We’re about growing MyChelle. But we’re also about growing the category and helping the retailers bring their department to a different playing field,” Carey said.
The vision of VISIA
What do a coffee roaster and a facial imaging system have in common? Terry Tierney had the answer when he came on board as MyChelle’s president and CEO in 2009. For the former president and CEO of Allegro Coffee Company, who brought Allegro’s “café” concept into Whole Foods, both transform a product into a retail experience.
“He saw the VISIA machine as the same kind of opportunity to engage with the consumer and create a really strong partnership with the retailer,” said Carey.
Of course, the VISIA had another major boon: “Ultimately it would prove to the consumer and to the retailer that the efficacy of our product is there.”
How VISIA works
The technology scans the skin topically and subsurfacely, and then provides percentile rankings in eight areas: skin irregularities, wrinkles, texture, pores, UV spots, skin discolorations, vascular areas and bacteria and oil. Next, it matches customers with the right products from MyChelle, and a handful of other top-performing natural companies, and provides a follow-up analysis after customers have used the products for at least a month.
This year, MyChelle plans to make some changes to the system and marketing behind VISIA. Previously referred to as the MyChelle Imaging System, MyChelle is now using the technology’s official name—VISIA—already well-known in dermatology for proof of efficacy, said Carey. MyChelle also plans to fine-tune the technology to allow for direct email communication with customers to ask for product feedback and send follow-up scan reminders.
VISIA now available in other retail locations
Another key change: Whole Foods no longer has the exclusive, allowing other retailers to get in on VISIA. But, it’s critical that these stores meet specific criteria to best promote the VISIA’s success and prove a solid return on investment for the store, according to Carey.
“We really have to work with the retailers to make sure they have the right platform, the ability to bring in new customers, allow for someone to be trained in the store and to manage the VISIA machine. There are a lot of elements around it that they need to understand.”
The look and feel of the HABA department also plays a part in determining which stores fit the bill. A more intimate salon or department store feel is ideal for connecting to the beauty customer, said Carey.
Will VISIA transform natural beauty at retail?
MyChelle’s 2011 numbers were impressive, with VISIA playing a key role in the company’s strategy that led to double-digit sales growth overall and high triple-digit growth for stores with the VISIA technology. By the end of 2011, MyChelle was the top-performing brand from a brand share perspective in the natural facial skin care segment.
“We did a really great overhaul of how we were looking at our information and how we were talking to retailers, really emphasizing the VISIA analysis machine and moving a lot of category management into the store,” said Carey.
"Category management" will continue to be a buzzword for MyChelle, as the company works with retailers to hone in on fewer brands in order to effectively understand how the products work. This, according to Carey, is critical to educating customers in the natural beauty department.
In addition to the VISIA, the company’s recent repackaging also had category management in mind. According to MyChelle focus groups, customers look for products that meet their skin’s needs (dry, sensitive, acne-prone) as opposed to a product type (facial cleanser, moisturizer, mask). The new packaging clearly categorizes products in this way, working synergistically with the VISIA analysis, which analyzes the specifics of individual skin types, to meet customers’ needs.
The overall message: MyChelle’s growth is credited to the company finding new ways to effectively communicate to retailers and customers that natural beauty products really work.
“VISIA was that launch tool for us to be able to have that conversation and prove it,” said Carey.
Do you think VISIA will transform the natural beauty conversation at retail? Tell us in the comments.