Crabtree & Evelyn - British Royalty

Quintessentially British, Crabtree & Evelyn is a brand steeped in tradition. However, with new partnerships and product launches aplenty in the past few years the brand has started to embrace new beginnings while still nurturing the old.

Quintessentially British, Crabtree & Evelyn is a brand steeped in tradition. However, with new partnerships and product launches aplenty in the past few years the brand has started to embrace new beginnings while still nurturing the old.

Although a stalwart of the UK C&T market, it is often overlooked that Crabtree & Evelyn actually originated in the US. In fact, the brand started out as a small shop, The Soap Box, that specialised in selling soaps from across the world and was founded by Cyrus l Harvey. The Soap Box then started to sell some products under the name Crabtree & Evelyn, London in 1971 with the first standalone C&E store opening in Philidelphia in 1977. The brand hit British shores three years later when the first UK flagship store opened in London. Success was imminent and due to the continuing demand for products the company began setting up manufacturing sites in the US, France and the UK, with most emphasis placed on the latter.

The business went from strength to strength and continued opening stores in the US and the UK with gusto and, a few years later, made the acquisition of Scarborough & Company, manufacturer and distributor of potpourri/home fragrances. Such was the dynamic nature of the company that in 1994 Crabtree & Evelyn was asked to design a toiletries range exclusively for British Airways Concorde and First Class passengers.

Following this flattering accolade, it wasn’t long before big companies began to see the potential of this brand and in 1996 the company was bought by Malaysian multinational KLK (Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd). Better known for its activity in plantation, manufacturing, retailing and property development this was KLK’s first foray into personal care. With this new financial backing, new product ranges were launched and the appeal of the company grew further afield. However, one thing that held firm amidst the change was the story on which the brand was originally built.

Bretton Essex-Evans, marketing manager for Crabtree & Evelyn says: “The foundation of Crabtree & Evelyn products are influenced by the English ‘still rooms’ of the 17th Century, where the lady of the house would distil fresh flowers, herbs and fruits to create fragrant waters for the bath, soothing essences for the skin and fruit preserves and sauces for the kitchen. To this day, it is this unique relationship to the garden and nature that Crabtree & Evelyn diligently seeks to preserve. Englishness is one of the core values of the brand.”

Another point that the company prides itself on is that it was well ahead of the wellness trend that is now saturating the C&T market. “Long before the ‘natural’ and ‘wellness’ movements became popular, Crabtree & Evelyn was producing ranges featuring fruit, flower and plant essences,” says Essex-Evans.

Moving on up

It was this much needed skill of tuning into consumer needs that has placed Crabtree & Evelyn where it is today. Following the conception of the brand the company has moved swiftly to become recognised worldwide as an innovator in the wellness world. “We have used our unique heritage and real product expertise to establish the brand in new markets. Today you will find Crabtree & Evelyn in 40 countries including the UK, US, Canada, Mexico, most of Western Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand. Our products are sold in approximately 350 stores across the world, with 41 branded stores in the UK alone. We also sell our brands through selected department stores and speciality retailers. We’ve come a long way from one store,” says Essex-Evans. On top of this, the success in 2008 alone is worthy of note. Crabtree & Evelyn opened its first store in the Republic of Ireland in 2008 and also launched in Germany with a new store in Hanover. It also added to its London portfolio with a boutique shop in Westfield, White City.

Global dominance, it seems, is in the offing as the company also plans to enter Russia and Poland in the near future.

However, the company is not letting the geographical expansion overshadow the brand itself and the attention given to the product is clear. “Bath and body products are what the company is known for, they build upon our rich heritage and are the hero products. Second to this is the fragrance category,” says Essex-Evans.

Indeed the company’s portfolio is impressive with collections such as Gardeners and Naturals boasting a loyal following. Essex-Evans, however, feels the key drivers are clear: “The La Source brand is consistently popular across the world. New introductions such as the India Hicks Island Living collection, Naturals and Aromatherapy Distillations have proved successful and are introducing a new customer to our stores.”

A range that has delivered above and beyond expectations is no doubt the India Hicks Island Living range. Born through a mutual respect, Essex-Evans is optimistic about their future together. “When we were looking for a creative partner India was a perfect fit for the Crabtree brand with her design heritage and background matching with her individuality, attention to detail and sense of fun. Sales of Island Living exceeded all our expectations, selling three times more than initially forecast. In the US, Island Night (Hick’s new range) has already proved to be a major hit and we expect this to be repeated in the UK this spring.”

Its desire to continue evolving with the times is ongoing, with a few noticeable changes taking place to move the company in a new direction. Dropping facial skin care from its portfolio is one such change while the launch of the Aromatherapy Distillations range in October took them further into the booming naturals market sector. Meanwhile with the current packaging, being deemed ‘a barrier to sales’, will all be replaced over the next 18 months, which is hoped to give the brand a fresher look whilst still maintaining the core values. Alongside this six new fragrances will be launched this summer, as well as the continued attention to new ingredients and scents to create natural and innovative products. The company no doubt has a busy year ahead of them.

Close competition

Savvy as Crabtree & Evelyn is within the C&T market, it is all too obvious that there are new brands popping up almost every other day to challenge it. So how does Crabtree stay ahead? “There are so many competitors in today’s beauty market from department stores, new niche brands, internet beauty retailers and the mutiples. However, we believe that we have a unique positioning, our stores are staffed by ambassadors who believe in the brand and our customers trust us and our products to deliver.”

Appreciating that many customers are now seeking natural packaging alternatives as well Essex-Evans is philosophical: “Crabtree & Evelyn isn‘t an eco brand but everything we do is governed by sustainability. We commit to not overpackaging products, using only what is required to ensure safe shipping. Our Naturals and Aromatherapy Distillations ranges are also SLS and paraben-free.”

With the economic climate as it currently is Crabtree & Evelyn is wisely hedging its bets about the imminent future. “Due to the crisis we have seen a softening of sales throughout the global business, with the exception of the Far East.” However, in the UK its online business is booming and growing above the industry average. This is just one indication that the brand, which is obviously deeply rooted in the heart of not just the British but also the global consumer, is solid enough to withstand any problems it might incur in the future.