A Foot in Both Worlds

DUOLAB, an innovative startup of L’OCCITANE Group, selected direct selling as the platform to launch their latest innovation in beauty. Could this be a game‑changer for the retail market? Is a hybrid mixture of direct selling and retail the future?

Novelty is hard to come by within the crowded skincare category. With so many brands vying for customers’ attention, how does a company stay competitive? For natural beauty giant L’OCCITANE, innovation is key, and not simply where their products are concerned.

Alain Harfouche, who has worked for L’OCCITANE for the last 16 years, recalls how the company stood out as a trailblazer when it opted to diversify its sales across multiple channels upon its launch two decades ago.

“There were very few brands that did retail on one side and wholesale on the other, e-commerce and business-to-business,” he says. “Twenty years ago, we were one of the few global brands present in six to seven different channels.”

That foundation of fearless diversification was countercultural to what the mainstream luxury brands they shared the market with were accustomed to. “All the luxury brands said we couldn’t be in retail and wholesale at the same time,” Harfouche says. “We were one of the few brands who could grow successfully in two channels.”

That visionary broadening of their sales strategies laid a foundation for the launch of their newest innovation and set the stage for a leap into an additional channel that the leaders of the L’OCCITANE Group believe will be a move many competitors will soon seek to emulate.

Innovation by Example

That investment in innovation is paying off during this time of global uncertainty and instability. While retail stores are being forced to close their doors to the public and desperately scrambling to build their online connection with customers, L’OCCITANE’s early choice to diversify is setting the stage for the company to flourish in ways that traditional brands can’t tap into.

Like many of its competitors, L’OCCITANE’s sales are roughly 80 percent retail and 20 percent e-commerce with variations occurring dependent upon region. To strengthen and expand the digital side of the brand, they needed to encapsulate the in-person benefits of retail while combining the consistent and far-reaching connections of e-commerce.

So, when L’OCCITANE Group readied to roll out its latest innovative startup called Duolab, a beauty technology system that they believed would revolutionize the industry, they looked to the example of a L’OCCITANE Partner, LimeLife by Alcone. This cosmetics and skincare-centric direct selling company supercharged its sales through independent distributors, and after launching in 2015, is now 30,000 distributors strong.

“I’ve seen the power of how direct selling works for LimeLife in the U.S. and I really had conviction that it would be more powerful for the product to leverage the direct selling channel rather than retail,” says Harfouche, who is now Duolab’s Global Managing Director. “E-commerce has been growing a lot but it has a limitation in that it does not help you have the full experience. In direct selling, you have someone who can give you the full translation of the product and full trust, which is sometimes missing in a pure e-commerce approach. It’s the perfect link between traditional retail and online for us.”

For LimeLife by Alcone CEO and Founder Michele Gay, this move by such a giant brand serves as an incredible endorsement of the direct selling industry she champions. “Our partners L’OCCITANE are launching one of the most exciting new concepts in beauty and chose the direct sales model to do the launch, as opposed to having it go into L’OCCITANE’s retail stores exclusively,” she says. “Having a major beauty brand make this choice is really an amazing acknowledgment to the power of direct selling but also the new future of retail. I am constantly screaming ‘direct selling is the future!’ and this is one big piece of proof that it is!”

What is Duolab?

Duolab’s concept is built on three pillars: personalized skincare, highly natural and clean ingredients that are preservative-free and efficient, and a freshly blended formula. To meet those initiatives, Duolab introduced the Duolab device, which receives capsules of highly concentrated ingredients and then blends them to create an on-demand fresh blend of skincare. Customers purchase the device and then are able to personalize their skincare on a daily basis with individual capsules that can be blended each day at the moment of application.

“I really had conviction that it would be more powerful for this disruptive innovation in beauty to go through direct selling rather than retail.”
– Alain Harfouche, Global Managing Director, Duolab

For now, all capsules have been developed in partnership with L’OCCITANE en Provence brand and its experts in natural skincare, but the company has plans to expand through partnered innovation, which will invite other beauty brands internal but also external to the L’OCCITANE Group to offer their own line of capsules for use with the Duolab device. Also included with the Duolab device is a small ceramic bin and a postage paid envelope for customers to use as a catch-all for their spent capsule packets. When the bin is full, customers just need to fill their pre-stamped envelope and ship their used capsule packets directly to a recycling center. The idea is to improve skincare regimens without creating harm for the environment. “Our researches demonstrated that the bathroom is the room in the home where we recycle the least,” Harfouche says. “We only decided to move forward with Duolab the day we had the right solution for recycling.”

Category Creating Through Innovation

Duolab is just getting started, having launched in the UK mid-February of this year, with plans to launch in the U.S. in early 2021, but Harfouche is already seeing signs that their groundbreaking technology will be an incredible fit for the direct selling industry. Customer transactions are currently averaging between £300-400, and with such a high transaction rate, distributors are developing exciting visions for their earnings.

That earning potential couldn’t come at a more opportune time for those who have lost jobs or income due to the mandatory lockdowns across the world in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Government assistance will be a helpful Band-aid, but not a long-term viable solution, which is why many retail companies and employees who previously viewed work-from-home opportunities as inferior are now actively seeking ways to generate income from home. For Duolab distributors and the many active direct sellers across the globe who serve as the voice and face of the brands they represent, this unique moment in time will serve as an opportunity for them to help their neighbors and friends by providing a solution for their building financial crises.

“I am constantly screaming ‘direct selling is the future!’ and this is one big piece of proof that it is.” – Michele Gay, Limelife by Alcone CEO and Founder

L’OCCITANE’s competitors scoffed in those early days when the company chose to take a unique approach to their sales strategy, but their early adaptation to a hybrid model approach is reaping great benefits in an era of global remote and homebound work structures that could not have been predicted. Duolab’s leveraging of the original influencers—direct sellers—who serve as the trusted voice of their brand while using technology as their main connector, is simply a successful extension of the innovative and visionary example set by their parent company two decades ago. DSN

The Duolab Device: 90 Seconds to Skincare

Forget preservatives. With Duolab, customers can select the skincare dose that matches their needs on a daily basis. The Duolab system includes a device, a range of capsules—including three moisturizing bases and five targeted concentrates—and a skin diagnostics tool. The tool assesses the customer’s skin requirements, resulting in a personalized care protocol. Cycle after cycle, the protocol recommends different combinations of capsules for the morning and the evening, considering every customer’s specific needs. A patented emulsification process delivers a freshly blended mono-dose in 90 seconds. The Duolab thermo-cosmetic technology warms the cream to the skin’s natural temperature, thereby boosting its penetration and efficacy.