Q&A: Crabtree & Evelyn Dials Up Digital, Direct

WoodsideThere have been some rough times for Crabtree & Evelyn, the retailer best known for its botanical soaps, lotions and fragrances. But its U.S. stores emerged from bankruptcy a year ago, recession-weary women are craving a little extra soothing, and the Woodstock, Conn.-based company has tapped Tom Woodside as VP/marketing and e-commerce. He says that while the company may draw its inspiration from John Evelyn, a botanist and conservationist who wrote in the 1600s, its new marketing plan is purely 21st century. Marketing Daily asked him to explain what's ahead for the brand, and its 80-plus U.S. stores:

Q: What's your marketing mission?

A: My new role is to make the company much more data driven, and be able to create more enduring relationships with customers. Being a multichannel business is all well and fine, but some customers are more valuable than others. We've been good about attracting customers, but we want to understand who is coming in -- we want to think and act like a database marketer. We've partnered with 89 degrees, a digital, direct and social agency, to do that -- to bridge our customer data across wholesale, retail and ecommerce channels. We're also going to use that information in our real-estate strategy as we expand.



We want to drive more sales by connecting in-store purchases with email and online browsing activity, so we can customize messaging across the entire purchase cycle. Once that's happens, we can get more multichannel usage, through digital marketing, and social media. When I got here, our Facebook presence was very little. We're working on that.

Q: Who is your typical customer?

A: We have a strong core customer base -- consumers love our products, and are very loyal. When I started in October, I spent two days working in our stores, and I was really impressed with how effective they say our products are. I spent seven years at Bath & Body Works, the Limited chain, and compared to that audience, our shopper is a little older -- mid 30s, and a little more sophisticated. She is more affluent, and often coming to us not for herself, but to buy gifts.

Q: What's the best way for you to win new customers?

A: We have a huge initiative around sampling, creating what we call "indulgent moments," giving women a hand massage with our products, both in stores and at sampling events.

Q: This has been an interesting category from an environmental standpoint -- many brands have been accused of greenwashing, and there's been a demand for higher labeling standards. On the organic spectrum, where does C& E fall?

A: Our brand, which has used essential oils and taken its inspiration from botanicals since it was launched 35 years ago, was inspired by the work of John Evelyn, a 17th-century botanist who had these beautiful estates and experimented with plant properties. So right from the beginning -- before the Body Shop, before Bath & Body Works -- we had this natural positioning. And we've taken the bad stuff out of our products -- the parabens, the phthalates, the synthetic binders.

But we're not 100% organic. A few years back, we did come out with a line called Naturals, and it wasn't as successful as people thought it would be. I think that's because the green zealots -- the women who are really committed to that LOHAS lifestyle -- are very politically engaged. They are more likely to be buying products at some place like Whole Foods Market. Our customer likes the idea of being more natural, but there's a wider interpretation.

Q: What about its global appeal?

A: About 12 years ago, the brand was sold to a Malaysian company, and it has really become a global presence. Hong Kong is one of our top markets, and the appetite for luxury in that region is enormous.

Q: What are some perennial bestsellers?

A: Handcare products, and our heritage soaps. The India Hicks collection is very popular.

Q: Any exciting new launches?

A: Yes, we're just starting a sampling effort for Citron. We launched the handcare version last year, and we're expanding it to a bodycare line -- it's citrusy, with honey and coriander.

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