In Brands, Insight, Retail

Although perceived as the quintessential English brand, Crabtree & Evelyn actually originated in the US. Founded by Cyrus Harvey, the brand started out as a small shop, The Soap Box, that specialized in selling soaps from around the world. The shop eventually began to sell products under the name Crabtree & Evelyn.

News came early this year that the brand was shuttering all branded stores with the exception of one new concept store in Islington, London, for an online-only worldwide operational strategy. However, the business isn’t totally walking away from retail—they will be testing pop-up concept stores in key cities.

“We knew we had to reconstruct everything. That meant our brand, our products, our business model—to be welcomed into the curious, global community of global explorers, and to be authentic. There could be no half measures. So we made the daring decision to discontinue all of our existing products, close all of our existing stores, and reintroduce the brand behind a dynamically different product range and a social and digitally driven business model,” said CEO of Crabtree and Evelyn David Stern.

The business has undergone yet another significant rebrand at the deft hand of Bartlett Brands  under its new ethos “Born Curious, Grown Wild” to appeal to the sensibilities of Gen Z and millennials. The brand also launched two new product ranges, Evelyn Rose and Crabtree, that feature minimalist packaging. This is a significant departure from the rebrand done at the hands of Pearlfisher in 2014 that leveraged an illustrative approach to highlight ingredients.

“For me, this mantra is not just a reflection of our founder Cyrus Harvey, who explored the world in search of ingredients and inspiration. It’s a reflection of today’s Millennial and Gen Z ‘Zillennial’ consumers. This group are more curious than ever, using knowledge as currency, experiences for growth, and demanding that brands feed these desires. It’s no longer about traditional retail, it’s about connecting to our consumers whenever, wherever—on their terms. Traditional media has also evolved, with influence in the hands of the many, rather than the few, which is why we too have evolved to become a social-first brand that exists digitally, and uses authentic storytelling to echo the modern values of our brand, and our audience,” said Nicole Cowell de Gruchy, Global Social Director.

Founded in 1972, this legacy brand has had a bumpy ride under the guidance of various owners. It was sold to Malaysian multinational Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhand in 1996. The business was bought by Hong Kong investment company Khuan Choo International in 2012 for US$155 million before being sold to the current owner, Nan Hai Corporation, four years later.

Legacy can be a liability or a unique differentiator; there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to unlocking the value in a brand’s heritage. Every business has a different history and takes a different path, walking the tenuous line of respecting a brand’s DNA while remaining relevant in the continuously shifting beauty landscape.

Doing things the same way is simply not going to work, but making such a dramatic pivot comes with short-term implications. Nan Hai Corporation warned shareholders in March of an impending loss from the scaling back of the Crabtree & Evelyn business. Whether or not you agree with the new business direction and rebrand of Crabtree & Evelyn, you have to respect the constitution it takes to make such a bold move. Sometimes the only way forward is to take a step back to create a clean slate and new foundations.

Photo: via Crabtree & Evelyn 

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