Groomed to perfection
BY SANDY STRASSER
People have always been in search of beauty and wellbeing. Even in Ancient Egypt, women and men were concerned with finding the right care for the skin. It was the Ancient Egyptians who developed the first cosmetic products to protect their skin against sand and the hot and dry air. They also loved beautiful fragrances, as these were said to delight the gods. But what about today? The hype around the topic of beauty has never been greater. We have forgotten how to consciously take time to do something good for our souls. That is why we arranged to interview Raymond Cloostermann, Founder and Managing Director of “Rituals” to talk with him about the philosophy of his brand and the inspirational source it represents.
Where did the idea for Rituals come from? And when did this happen?
Raymond Cloosterman: When I finished my MBA I began working at Unilever. I spent 13 years there. It was an extremely good time. In my last position there, almost 15 years ago, I was working for someone from top management in Paris and Brussels as Senior Vice President New Businesses. The idea was to gain some new insights into this area – how to build a brand and build whole new enterprises. I did not know how to go about it. It was like writing a book. How? What about? When? I decided to go on a journey of discovery. I would go out, meet new people, go to inspiring places where innovative thinking is going on, and where I would meet inspiring people. And I would take it from there. I would try to observe everything I saw through the eyes of a child. So I went shopping, for three months, in New York, London and Paris. I went to meet trend gurus all over the world. To hear what was in fashion, and to see research centres from the inside to get a technical understanding of certain production processes. I came back with new ideas and a wealth of knowledge that would influence the sector I was working in in a postive way. Then I asked my boss to give me two more months to see if I could develop something out of this analysis, and my observations. To see if I could come up with a creative idea based on these new insights. That was the starting point for Rituals. The impressions I brought home from this voyage of discovery are still very important for the brand today.
Could you explain the business concept behind this?
R. C.: If you look at what it is that makes Rituals so special, I would say that it is our passion for helping people to rediscover the magic in their everyday lives. We are living life on automatic pilot. This is something that came to me as early as 2000 when we came up with the idea. We want to create little moments of happiness. We want to change daily routines back into meaningful little rituals again. This is one of the pillars of the brand, and also its big anchor. To do this, for every product we search the cultures of the Far East for ancient tales and rituals. We take these tales and the natural ingredients from thousands of years ago to create new products and perfume experiences. In this way every Rituals product has at its heart a story, one developed from a creative perspective. It is a completely different approach and brings much more depth to the brand.
Why this big and beautiful office in the centre of Amsterdam?
R. C.: Rituals is a young brand with an old soul. We have been looking for a special location to reflect the essence of the brand. Therefore we searched for a very stylish office in an old canal house. When I launched the company in 2000, it was also here, at the side of the canal, but in the basement with only three people. It was like a student hostel with a great deal of energy, and boxes lying around everywhere. After a few years we moved to an office above our first store in Amsterdam and after 12 years we had three different office locations and then we decided to move into this office. To have everybody together and to create an office that is more in tune with the philosophy of the brand. We are very proud to be here in this office now, as it represents the brand so well.
What kind of philosophy do you pratice here?
R. C.: The idea of our office is an open one, with for example no fixed seating plan. I don’t have my own desk either. Like the others I just sit anywhere. That is nice. There are no telephones anymore, only iPhones. We have telephone booths, for private or business calls, and that works very well. Besides that, everything is in the Cloud anyway, we work practically without paper. We also have a beautiful reastaurant that serves good and healthy food. That way people stay together instead of disappearing off in the lunch break.
What product range do you focus on? Why the combination of Body and Home?
R. C.: One point is the philosophy of changing routines into rituals, which is almost Buddhist. Living in the moment – that has everything to do with quality of life. Another reason is the combination of care of the home and care of the body, the basis on which we launched our first store many years ago. At the time it was a very unusual concept for many people. But if you talk to consumers around the world, you will find out that the world of home and self are merging. The home is becoming an extension of your personality, almost like your second skin. If you talk to trend gurus and anthropologists, they all claim it comes from the current pressure of having to perform perfectly. Many people seek a safe place to retreat to.
That was how we hit on the idea of making products for both personal body and home care, for example exclusive creams and shower products, candles, scented sticks or teas. The most important thing, however, is that each and every product has its own story.
What target group do you want to reach and why?
R. C.: More and more people are looking for prestige brands, the demand for this is growing worldwide. But there is also a trend for customers to be more cost-conscious. For this reason I wanted to create a very elegant and chic brand with very impressive looking stores and high-end quality products, to compete with the very best on the market . The result is Rituals today. Our brand is unisex and ageless, which is very unusual. People of all ages buy our products and each has an emotional attachment to the brand. A brand for both men and women, for young and old. All sharing the same passion for quality and design.
With nearly 400 stores, more than 1000 shop-in-shops and four City spas in 21 countries worldwide, you are, as it were, at home almost everywhere on the globe. Your products are also offered by leading department stores, on planes and in 800 top-class hotels. What strategy are you pursuing with your presence across continents and in different sectors?
R. C.: We would like people to discover us. Our strategy is to open our stores in strong locations such as shopping malls and High Streets, ones that really stand out. And we already have about 400 such “Stand-Out-Stores”. We also have shop-in-shops in leading department stores and leading perfumery stores. In Germany we cooperate with Douglas for example and have partnerships with leading high-end department stores such as KaDeWe, but also with Karstadt and Kaufhof. For us these channels are very important, to create high visibility and credibility. At the moment we are building a company on four pillars. The first is retail, the epi centre of the brand, where customers enjoy a hand massage and a cup of tea, while trying out the products. Second are luxury department and perfumery stores. And the third is travel retail such as airport shops, airlines and hotel chains. We are now working in collaboration with Saudia Airways and Katar Airways, for example, which offer our products in First and Business class. We believe that the whole topic of airports and travel is a universe of its own.
And lastly there is of course e-commerce. Our aim is to generate 20 percent turnover. This may seem absurd at the moment, but it is the way we want to go in the next five or ten years time. You just have to take a closer look at the Rituals app. We believe that the application, the website and all the other things that create virtual shopping experiences are all connected with each other. That is the direction the world is going in. So that is where we should be too.
In your opinion, which markets are easier to penetrate than others?
R. C.: In some countries we are still very small and only at the beginning of building a new brand. Sometimes the competition is very tough, like on the British market. In countries like Belgium, Holland, Spain, Sweden and Germany we are big and succesful. Every market is a new adventure and has to be approached step by step, customer by customer.
Inspired by ancient oriental traditions, each of your products tells its own story. What is this fascination that Asia and its roots has for you?
R. C.: Together with anthropologists we immersed ourselves in different traditions, to find out what is really important. They sometimes lead us to places which under normal circumstances we would perhaps not discover. For example, in a traditional Hamam we found that the treatment of the skin is very rough. So we began to process authentic ingredients, in this case mud and olive paste. Now we have created the first “Shower mud” in the world.
Or three years ago, when we decided to create a line on optimism and energy, we searched for old stories to convey the corresponding messages. This way we hit on the Buddha figure, which brings good luck. This figure was the basis for our product line based on sweet oranges, which used to be a symbol of good luck.
What about your Samurai line?
R. C.: This represents the historical story of the Samurai, which was once the elite army of the Japanese emperors. Before going to war the men always had to be groomed to perfection because they believed it would give them strength and confidence. For this they used ginger and basil. We took this and created a product line for the “Samurai of today”, the modern man. They too are also expected to be perfectly groomed and turned out every day.
How important is design for the marketing of this range of wellbeing products?
R. C.: We are trying to create the most beautiful packaging in the world. With materials made from wood, for example, which look very elegant and stand for sustainability. Thus behind every packaging there is a particular design concept.
What advice do you have for people who travel a lot?
R. C.: Pack your sports gear and explore the city on an early morning run. It is a great chance to see your surroundings in a completely different way, and to clear your mind and focus yourself at the start of a busy day.
What do you think about ways of giving the everyday things more meaning in working life?
R. C.: I think it is important to take a step back once in a while and really enjoy what you have been able to accomplish so far, rather than the things that are not working And it is very important to give yourself and the people around you a small tap on the shoulder who helped you get there.
What goals have you set from a business perspective for the coming months?
R. C.: Rituals is becoming more and more of a luxury lifestyle brand. People fall in love with the brand and the products, and they buy little gifts for themselves or somebody they care for. In many countries people don’t have the money to buy a new couch or a new car, but they can buy something small and beautiful for themselves, and discover something new. I think that in times of crisis our promise of good value helps us to grow very fast. We are opening one or two stores every week. Some weeks ago, for example, we launched our first store in Paris, and next will be Dubai and Sydney. The trick is quite simply to invest in one’s ideas and to try every day to do things better.
What’s the secret of your success?
R. C.: We are often described as a young company with an old soul. I think this has to do with these stories and the paradoxes of our work: East and West, old stories and modern technologies, very exclusive and yet affordable products. I like this tension and I think that at the end of the day we have quite simply a beautiful philosophy. However, you have to pass the test. It is true that people also buy our products because they look beautiful, but the secret of our success are the subtile fragrances and the quality of the products, which we sell at an honest price.
Where do you want Rituals to be in five to ten years time?
R. C.: My dream is to transform this brand into a global initiative. And I have time. I am not in a hurry. The journey has just begun. And although Rituals has been on the market for almost 15 years now, it feels just like it did on the first day. But we are very confident, as we can see the development. The biggest challenge has always been not to lose the ability to dream, but to follow those dreams with passion and commitment.
What is your credo for a balanced, positive spirit?
R. C.: “If you can dream it, you can do it,” from Walt Disney. What matters is the ability and the courage to dream great dreams, and then to try to bring them to life. You will be amazed how much you can actually achieve if you really believe in your dreams.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue Q2 2015. Picture credit © Mireira Rodriguez