Beauty and the Beast Part III: Sam’s Snaps Up Sophyto

When Walmart gets intentional about accidental businesses, it's time to pay attention!  Walmart's recent moves in beauty and personal care point to dramatic shifts in brand, merchandising, and promotional strategy; and that, of course, means that whatever works will influence other retailers and other categories within Walmart (as we always say, "Lather. Rinse. Repeat!"). If the old Walmart was mousey brown, the new Walmart is sporting a hot pink mohawk! 

We're spotlighting their recent moves in these categories in a four-part series (Part IV will be our wrap-up of takeaways).  Here's Part III

Last week, I wrote about how Walmart has shown an unexpected shift in strategy by expanding its brand options and brand acquisition processes. This shift was demonstrated by Walmart’s recent launches of beauty brand, Hard Candy and the latest member of the Fat Hair family, Fat Foam . Walmart’s surprising move toward exclusive brand partnerships has spilled over to Sam’s Club, with Sam’s own unprecedented launch of Sophyto, a boutique cosmetic brand created in the UK by a woman named Karen Sinclair Drake and originally sold in 200 medi-spas and dermatologist offices.

Brand with a Plan

Like Hard Candy and Fat Foam, Sam’s August launch of Sophyto in 150 clubs was fairly quiet with little, if any, pre-launch publicity in the retail and business press.   However stealthy the launch may have seemed to the outside world, the early-stage direct-to-consumer and in-store marketing support that Sam’s unleashed on Sophyto would have been the envy of any national brand. Every launch store received sample cards, a 6-month sampling plan, and a twice weekly demo plan.  Add to that direct mail pieces devoted to Sophyto and a dedicated online brand space, and you’ve got full-spectrum, multi-channel mojo happening.

Power Position

Rather than just plunking it onto Sam’s standard metal shelving alongside the mega-packs of Olay, Neutrogena and L’Oreal and hoping that members would notice, Sam’s created permanent fixtures to support the product in the initial launch doors (a Sam’s first).  Also, at the time of my store visit, the Sophyto displays were NOT in the end-of-trip Siberia that is Sam’s beauty area, but instead were situated across the store, adjacent to consumer electronics and jewelry, just up from the front entrance. 

Full Strength (but not full price)

Sam’s was adamant that the exact formulas that Ms. Sinclair used in the original Sophyto products be used in the Sam’s packs and they were clear from the outset that the program would be more about volume than margin.  The kits that were created for Sam’s contain products that, if sold separately, would retail for $90 and up.  Sam’s has them out for from $14.98 to $34.98.

Sustainability in Spades

Even the crunchiest curmudgeons have lauded Walmart’s sustainability efforts and both Sam’s and Walmart have made it a point to incorporate green options in just about every category, even if it meant higher prices.Sophyto takes all of that a step further with packaging that proudly calls out that it is certified organic, vegan, and cruelty free, and it bears the U.K.’s Soil Association seal to boot. 

Beauty Blur

We continue to see beauty and health and wellness blurring at retail and Sophyto is a perfect example.  Sonya Gafsi, Sam’s senior director of private brands, stated, “For a long time we have been interested in expanding health and beauty. It is an opportunity area that is underdeveloped in the club channel, but it is important to incorporate a holistic vision of wellness, one that we want to develop across the club.”

Sophyto is technically a beauty brand; however, its green cred has it bleeding a bit into the health and wellness area, and achieving Sam’s overarching goals as a result.

Bundle of Benefits

What’s the take-away, here? Back in March, I covered a presentation given by Linda Hefner, Sam’s EVP and chief merchandising officer in which she outlined the new criteria that would guide Sam’s “portfolio analysis” process.  According to her, buyers are now being challenged to consider a “bundle of benefits,” not just price, when making brand and product decisions. She defined those benefits as: quality, brands, sustainability, service, pack size, and unit price. The Sophyto launch is the ultimate embodiment of the bundle – it hits all six.