How This Bay Area Boutique Beauty Business Thrived During The Last Decade

The direct-to-consumer boom amidst the big-box retailers have boutique and indie retailers working overtime to differentiate themselves in the competitive and ever-changing market. To get a better understanding of how boutique beauty retailers thrive today I sat down with Dara Kennedy CEO and founder of Ayla; an indie beauty shop with a loyal cult-following standing firm for over 10 years. In my conversation with Dara, I find out the keys to staying competitive and retaining long-lasting customers in the indie beauty industry.

Gary Drenik: Thinking about the shift to online shopping during the past decade, what are the key factors that allowed your in-real-life storefront to thrive and stay in business within the past decade? What’s the “secret sauce”?

Dara Kennedy: I think one of our advantages is that we started as an online business, then expanded to offline due to customer demand; this gave us a very clear vision of what we should offer in that in-store experience and a real desire to make the most of it. When you shop with us, whether it’s online or offline, it really feels like you matter. Our team of Guides is incredible in their ability to connect with each person, and that extends through the entire experience, however you shop with us – whether you’re doing a video consultation, getting a facial, getting a custom Bach Flower remedy, or opening your shipment to find a handwritten note from someone you’ve interacted with before.

Drenik: How do you envision staying competitive as an independent retailer amid rising competition, both from other online retailers and brands’ own DTC efforts?

Kennedy: I think what we offer is markedly different in the world of beauty. The way we curate products is very specific; the way we support each customer on their personal journey is distinctive; the relationships we have with our partners are unique; the way we care for the environment is intentional. We also know from a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey that over the past 6 months women are focusing on being more environmentally conscious in their daily lives; this includes how we shop, and our customers know they can trust our environmental ethos. And I think all of those things have an enduring appeal for a certain type of shopper. In a crowded marketplace, finding what you’re good at and really delivering on that is critically important.

Drenik: Do you forecast that retailers can be “here to stay”? Why?

Kennedy: I do! In a world that’s filled with more choices than ever, I think we all appreciate curators we can trust – and if that curation is paired with a great shopping experience that fits your needs, it makes your life so much easier. When you think about all the time, we otherwise spend shopping around, cross-referencing, and reading reviews… that’s a lot of time. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey we know that women of all ages are changing the way they shop to focus more on shopping local; according to that survey over the past 6 months around 10% of both Millennials and Gen-X women are focusing more on shopping local than ever before. These insights show us retailers are here to stay!

Drenik: What can boutique retailers do as a point of differentiation between online and in-real-life to encourage in-store purchasing?

Kennedy: More than ever, boutique retailers need to give customers a reason to come in – and that will vary based on each retailer’s specific offerings. I think it’s about focusing on the basics: make it easy to shop in person, highlight what makes you different and why that matters, and make sure every experience is a great one.

Drenik: If you could give three pieces of advice to boutique retailers, what would you share?

Kennedy: I would advise them to do the following:

  1. Listen to your customers because your ability to do this in person is gold. Every single time I talk to a customer in person or on the phone, I learn something interesting; you can pick up nuances in these interactions that you never could in a survey. And I think real insights often come from those nuances.
  2. After these interactions, follow up. Everyone wants to feel seen and heard and showing that you’ve thought about what your customers have expressed demonstrates how much you care.
  3. If the customer seems excited about further engagement, don’t let the relationship end there. Boutique retailers have a unique ability to establish real relationships, and our community is what our team loves most about Ayla. We learn so much from our longtime customers and love evolving with them.

Drenik: Thank you Dara, for your insights on the competitive retail space in beauty, what it takes to differentiate retail experiences for customers, and your advice for long-lasting successful boutique retail.

.

Leave a Comment