Interview: Beauty Brand Erno Laszlo CEO Talks Big Plans For China Expansion

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Erno Laszlo’s members-only The Institute in New York’s SoHo. (Courtesy Photo)

Late Hungarian-American dermatologist Erno Laszlo’s eponymous skincare brand turns 88 next year. Coinciding with the auspicious anniversary (the number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture) is a China-centric expansion plan that includes the launch of 10 stores by 2015, the second of which will open in Shanghai later this month. The company also aims for 100 counters in the next five years, according to CEO Rochelle Weitzner.

The brand’s official entry into mainland China is part of a larger effort to combat slowing sales in recent years. The new expansion strategy, with a focus on the United States and Asia, included executive restructuring with former CEO Charles Denton assuming the role of Executive Chairman and Weitzner named as CEO earlier this year. The company has also reopened its members-only The Institute in SoHo in New York.

While beauty continues to rank among China’s fastest-growing luxury categories, the market is also a crowded one, and major brands have been known to pull out altogether. Marketed as the “celebrity’s skincare,” with legendary devotees that include the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, Erno Laszlo hopes to make its glamorous heritage appeal to Chinese consumers. Jing Daily recently spoke with Weitzner about the brand’s China expansion plan, where she discussed the brand’s marketing strategies, most popular products in China, and new Asia-specific whitening line.

Your first two China stores have been in Shanghai. Why did the brand choose Shanghai over other cities? 

Shanghai was really the starting point for us. Our customers’ experience in Shanghai is of course pollution and environmental stress on the skin. We found that the Shanghai customer is really more likely to commit to a serious skincare regimen and take preventative measures to really protect their skin.

In 2015, we will likely go into Beijing and other cities. We will also be online on Tmall. They are very strict for requirements for authenticity, which is great, because I know there are lots of grey markets out there, so we are having to get them the documentation to prove we are the official Erno Laszlo. We hope to have 10 doors open by the end of 2015 in mainland China, and over the next five years we hope to be in a hundred counters. So, big expansion plans.  

The skincare market in China is extremely competitive. How do you differentiate yourself? 

There is no other skincare brand that has a loyal following and devoted clients like we do. We’ve got some clients that have religiously used our brand, anywhere from 30, 40, 50, even 60 years.

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Erno Laszlo CEO Rochelle Weitzner. (Jing Daily)

What is the main concept behind your China marketing strategy? Can you share your pricing strategy as well?

The way we have always marketed the brand is based on word of mouth. One of the things that we are doing is we are working with a PR firm locally in China to make sure that we can get product into the hands of influencers and people who have the ability to reach a large audience and talking about our products.

All of our products are made in the United States, so one of the things that you are going to see is a little bit of differentiation in pricing for products in the United States versus overseas.

Do you incorporate popular social media platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, or others into your marketing strategy? If so, how?

Yes. Social media is the way to go right now. You can reach so many people, which is great. It is important that we connect emotionally with our customers, and using social media we will be able to do that.

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Erno Laszlo products at The Institute in SoHo. (Jing Daily)

How has the reception for your products been so far? What are the popular products? 

Our most popular product is our iconic cleansing duo, the Sea Mud Soap and Phelityl Pre-cleansing Oil. This is really our ritual. The other product that we have is something called Hydra Therapy Skin Vitality Treatment Mask, also known as the pink mask. The famous pink mask meets one of the other major concerns both globally but especially in Asia, which is hydration.

Are you creating any specific product for the China market?

We are launching a new line called “White Marble” the first quarter of next year that focuses on lightening and brightening, so (it is) luminosity, which is a key concern. Caucasians tend to be more prone to fine lines and wrinkles, so we focus very much on anti-aging products in North America. In Asia, the concern is around hyper pigmentation and so what we are looking to do is help even out skin tones and that is what the White Marble line is designed to do.

 

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