Heritage bath and soap brand Crabtree & Evelyn is preparing to celebrate its 50-year anniversary in August, two years after a dramatic overhaul centered on bringing the brand back to cultural relevance.
Since its launch in 1972, Crabtree & Evelyn has served as America’s answer to Yardley’s London, with its British-inspired bath and body products. But being a heritage brand with a decades-long history can be a double-edged sword in the world of beauty. That legacy can lend itself to consumer trust and legitimacy, but in the case of Crabtree & Evelyn, a brand can also be pigeonholed as old and, worse, uncool.
“[Being a heritage brand] is a blessing and a curse at the same time,” said Ashley Souza, Crabtree & Evelyn chief brand officer. “Everyone knows us as being synonymous with high quality, which is incredibly important in this industry. But we lacked coolness, which is where indie brands are owning the space.”
Crabtree & Evelyn has been 70% owned by Hong Kong company Nan Hai Corporation since 2016. As part of its rebrand and business pivot in 2019, the brand became DTC e-commerce-only when it closed its 150 traditional retail stores across eight countries, shifted its manufacturing and distribution to third-party providers, and sold an Australian warehouse. Its portfolio of 450 products was also culled to 50, though the brand simultaneously launched 60 new products in 2019. New product collections are focused on sexier scents, like the island of Bali, and the expansion of a gender-neutral range. This was all in a bid to attract Gen-Z and millennial customers, as Crabtree & Evelyn’s core customer was 55 years old and older.
“It’s important to be true to your brand DNA,” said Julie Stahl, founder and CEO of creative agency Blonde + Co. “Although brands need to be relevant to consumers through cultural trends, it can be very risky for a brand to move too far from their heritage and core audience. Rather than pivoting 180 degrees, brands can evolve in authentic ways.”
Stahl listed L’Oréal Paris’ iconic tagline, “Because You’re Worth It,” as an example of a “subtle evolution.” The brand took the original tagline from 1971 “Because I’m Worth It” and evolved it to “You’re Worth It” in the 1990s and then “We’re Worth It” in 2011.
According to Nan Hai Corporation’s 2020 annual financial report, published on April 21, Crabtree & Evelyn’s efforts have so far succeeded. Its new customer base grew by 803% in 2020, compared to 2019, and its year-over-year e-commerce sales increased by 67%. Souza said brand sales have grown 50% from 2020-2021, and the team is anticipating similar growth from 2021-2022. Since 2020, Crabtree & Evelyn has expanded back into retail partnerships. It’s currently sold through Verishop in the U.S., TMall Global in China and Hudson Bay in Canada, and is in negotiations with Skinstore in the U.S. Souza said the brand’s current core customer is a 28-year-old urban millennial.
In many ways, the 50-year anniversary is a celebration not only of the brand’s long history but also of its success in reigniting itself. Crabtree & Evelyn has created a campaign based on the “past, present and future” of the brand, said Souza. Anniversary-theme product bundles will be for sale on the e-commerce site alongside a “Golden Ticket” themed contest to win a trip to Greece. At the same time, the loyalty program will be relaunched to, in part, incorporate the ability for customers to donate to local communities as a redemption offer. Digitally, Crabtree & Evelyn is working with over 20 nano-influencers and four micro-influencers to disseminate the campaign across Instagram and TikTok. Crabtree & Evelyn joined TikTok in March 2020 and has so far accumulated almost 35,000 followers and over 780,000 likes.
“We wanted to focus on relationship building and loyalty before we focused on rapid growth. We are testing a few macro-influencers on Instagram and [speaking with the] press in the next few months [to] see what that does for us,” said Souza. “TikTok was an interesting space for us, as we didn’t necessarily do it in the most commercial way. We put a mix of people on it, and told them to have fun with it and see what happens.”
After the campaign and through the rest of 2021, Crabtree & Evelyn will focus on promoting its upcoming Greek lifestyle product collection, which debuts in September. That will be followed by its holiday product collection focused on exploration.
“We have really returned to our roots by taking a more digital-social community-driven approach, while still keeping the quality of heritage of the brand name,” said Souza. “It’s something that we’re still trying to figure out day-to-day, regarding how we can pay respect and homage to our [past], but also move into this new version of ourselves and appeal to a demographic that really likes smaller, more niche brands.”