It can be said that Ada Polla was born into the dermatology business and turned her experience into one that’s fully beauty. One of four daughters to the first dermatologist to administer laser treatments in Europe, Ada helped out at the front desk of her father’s busy medial clinic, honing important customer service experience from an early age. It’s there where she also learned that looks can have a profound impact on how one feels, seeing first-hand the confidence build in her father’s child patients after laser treatment for port wine birthmarks dramatically improved their skin’s appearance. “It started with one product by feedback from moms. It was available for purchase at my father’s practice, and then we added a couple other products. By the time I was in the U.S. finishing college, we added a few more products and I thought, ‘Well, we have these five products in our medical spa in Switzerland, I think we could maybe make this into a real line, a real business.’ And so Alchimie Forever was born. CEW Beauty Insider recently caught up with Ada to discuss her business, future growth and what it’s like being an indie brand in 2018.
CEW: Alchimie Forever, where does the name come from?
AP: My sister and I decided on the name. We wanted the word ‘forever’ because our spa is called Forever Laser Institute. We wanted a word in French, because we’re from the French speaking part of Switzerland and we thought it would speak to that. And so we started brainstorming, and we ended up with the word Alchimie, French for alchemy; we liked it because alchemy is the science that created chemistry.
CEW: How many items are in the line now?
AP: We just launched our 15th product last week. We also have three travel sizes.
CEW: Do new products reflect more of what the market is looking versus what your dad is seeing in his practice?
AP: Product development happens very much in conjunction with what is being seen in the office. But the market also drives it. And, the feedback we get from our retail and spa partners is of course very important, too. The latest product, Advanced Retinol Serum, is meant to heal skin, so it’s meant to be an anti-inflammatory, for calming, soothing and anti-redness. Of course, retinol will create inflammation, but as my dad said, it was time for us to create something that’s like, ‘the big guns’.
CEW: What’s the hardest part about being an indie, with all the skin care brands flooding the market?
AP: The pace of new launches, whether it’s within brands or new brands, has gone a bit overboard. I imagine we’ll see at some point some kind of slow down or correction or maybe. But I think it just makes it harder to create that space for your brand, and you have to be very specific in your messaging and who you are. I think not jumping on every single trend is important. Sticking true to who you are, and not getting too distracted as a brand and as a product developer that you have to do all these things that everyone’s talking about and doing right now, because I mean that’s fine if it’s trendy, but if it’s not right for your brand it’s not right.
CEW: Let’s talk about distribution.
AP: We’ve always had a multi-channel distribution strategy. I’ve never believed in channel conflict being a real thing, I think it’s a thing in our heads—us, the industry—but the customer, she doesn’t think about channel conflict. It’s not because she buys on Amazon that she’s not going to go to the spa, or because she goes to the spa she’s not going to go to a [drugstore] like Walgreens. So from the start we were sold on our website, we have some key online partners, we have our own Amazon store that we started about two years ago, and we’ve always had independent mom and pop beauty boutiques, which I love, and we’ve always had spa for the professional side.
CEW: Talk about your partnership with Walgreens.
AP: Three years ago we started working with Walgreens, so we’re expanding more in that mass-tige pharmacy channel. Which I love, and I think our origin is very medical, and so this association of health and beauty, health and wellness, pharmacy and beauty is very relevant to our brand and it’s kind of a sweet spot in terms of where we are seeing growth. We’re in 110 locations, soon to be 120, in Look Boutiques, in Skin Wellness centers and in Beauty Evolution stores.
CEW: And what about outside the US?
AP: The U.S. is our core market and always has been; we’re also distributed in Switzerland and France through pharmacies, but it’s a very small market for us.
CEW: Are there any markets you’re looking to target?
AP: Outside of the U.S.? No. The U.S. is so big and we have so much work to do here that that’s our core focus.
CEW: What’s your next direction?
AP: My next direction is to continue to grow with Walgreens. There’s a lot of potential, they’re opening new stores, they’re developing new prestige store formats.I want to be with them for all of that.
CEW: I feel like wellness is so much more relevant to beauty positioning now, too.
AP: Yes, and I really like working with Walgreens, their vision of beauty is to make it as important to their company as pharmacy. It’s a big job to actually get there. I’m also interested in some of the regional pharmacy chains, I think that’s an interesting area of the market that doesn’t really get discussed a lot.
CEW: Are all the products made in Switzerland?
AP: No. Some are made in Switzerland, and some are made in California. We used to make everything in Switzerland but the logistics and costs of that is just not smart. But we still have products that our U.S. manufacturer cannot replicate correctly. Even though we own the formula, they just can’t do it. So those products are still made in Switzerland.
CEW: What’s the brand’s strategy on social media?
AP: For the last 10 years I’ve worked with the same full-time PR director. My investment in PR was going to be this full-time salary, and she has been wonderful. Obviously over the last five years on top of the normal PR, she does all of our social media, too. It’s absolutely necessary, it’s not optional. It’s also, in my mind, instead of traditional PR or traditional media it’s in addition to. And it’s like…I feel like every day there’s a new platform that we must pay attention to and have a strategy for. So it’s a lot. Overall, Facebook and Instagram are our core social media platforms. I think we do a pretty good job. Are we amazing at it? No. Do we have millions of followers? No. But for a very small brand I think we do pretty good.
CEW: Where do you stand on funding to help growth?
AP: I think in every situation of you have pros and cons. When you have great funding, the pro is you have a lot of money to do a lot of things and grow very quickly. The con is if you mess up, you mess up on a bigger scale, and you also have the pressure of the people who own you to grow, grow, grow, and go fast, fast, fast. We’ve always been—and this is perhaps also the Swiss philosophical heritage—much more slow and steady. And we’re in it for the long term.