With its user-friendly, unique website features and annual revenue of $40 million, Folica.com demands attention in the beauty-retailing arena. For more than a decade, the company has enjoyed consistent growth and innovation, continually stepping up its game to meet the needs of the increasingly sophisticated online consumer. To learn more about the company, the secrets behind its success and what’s ahead, Beauty Store Business spoke with David Giacomini, CEO of the New York City-headquartered, online-only beauty retailer.
What would you like to tell our readers about your company’s history?
GIACOMINI: The company started in 1999 as one of the first online companies to sell haircare products online. The emphasis of the company was to provide a broad assortment of haircare products at compelling prices. Part of this strategy included carrying gray-market products, as well as the development of our own branded products. The company was highly influenced by customers, who drove merchandising, marketing efforts and product development. Folica was one of the first companies to incorporate photos and videos into product reviews, and revenue grew fairly rapidly. The company grew to about $35 million in 2007. In late 2007, we received an investment from Stripes Group, and completely modernized our infrastructure, improved customer service and migrated to a newer, more robust ecommerce platform.
What makes your website unique, and how has it developed over time?
Folica.com is unique because of the rich depth of content related to hair, from informative how-to articles and videos to more than 70,000 customer reviews. You can even filter customer reviews by hair type. We are the largest online ecommerce site focused on hair.
Over the past several years, we have made huge strides in improving the site’s usability, providing customers with valuable content, improving customer service and improving our merchandise selection and brand relationships. For example, in the past, returns would often take up to a week to process; now, they are processed in [fewer] than four hours upon receipt.
Also, our call-center staff members are all highly trained hair experts and help guide customers through the complexity of finding the perfect product for them. If you were to call other beauty-retail websites and ask questions such as, “What are the benefits of ions?” or “What temperature flat iron do I use for keratin-treated hair?” you would likely be disappointed. In our call center, we have full-time, long-term employees with very little turnover, and they receive training and education on our brands.
What are some of the drawbacks and benefits of being an online-only beauty retailer?
The greatest challenge we face is the issue regarding gray-market goods. Customers do not understand the distinction and don’t understand why certain hair products are not available at Folica.com. It can sometimes be a struggle staying in stock with certain brands. We have worked tirelessly over the years to create rock-solid vendor relationships, and are proud of the 300-plus direct vendor relationships we do have. We make selling to us easy, honor MAP pricing, partner with marketing programs, incorporate brand feedback into creative elements, educate customer service about the products, etc. The only way to succeed with our business model is to establish long-term relationships with brands based on trust and respect. As we continue to grow and prove ourselves, we continue to gain more direct brands. We believe that various channels can all live in harmony, and some customers have a preference for specific channels. For those who prefer the Internet, we would like to serve that customer need rather than force them to an alternative channel.
One of the greatest benefits of being online is that we can fully take advantage of all the interactive capabilities. We find that our customers are often researching products, so being able to show reviews relevant to their hairstyle, videos, detailed product descriptions, etc., all help the customer make an informed decision. Even though we are often not the lowest online price, we find that customers still like to order from us due to our immense product knowledge and how we stand behind all of the products we sell.
[Left image: Noelle Morgan, merchandising team, wet goods. Right image: team member at the Folica.com warehouse]