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Be the Tortoise, Not the Hare: anatomē's Brendan Murdock on Creating a Brand Built to Last

Published March 26, 2024
Published March 26, 2024

Upon first glance, Brendan Murdock is the quintessential modern gentleman: a friendly and approachable yet astute individual with his finger on the cultural pulse. With anatomē, Murdock envisioned the modern apothecary, taking herbal remedies to arm cosmopolitans and rural dwellers alike with the tools for better energy, sleep, and states of mind. Beyond procuring the highest-grade essential oils, the founder took things one step further, creating sophisticated aromatic oil blends (in partnership with perfumer Anastasia Brozler and nutritionist Winder Ton) and a chic visual identity. Products range from supplements to teas, from home fragrance to skincare, all fortified with premium natural ingredients and developed in partnership with aromacologists, sports scientists, dermatologists, and nutritionists. Too often, the realm of nature-based solutions was confined to slightly dowdy, bland, and uninspired retail environments, but not so at anatomē. In fact, the brand differentiates itself as an aromachology rather than aromatherapy-based brand when it comes to creation of their aromatic products, because they take a science- and evidence-based as opposed to a holistic approach.

Visiting the brand’s flagship Marylebone store, counter at Selfridges, or various past pop-ups throughout London, one will find a consultation and customer service-focused experience that puts priority on personalized product recommendations and applications, complete with oil blending workshops and sleep consultations. The stylings of the retail venues perfectly encapsulate the modern apothecary concept: large mason jars and flasks filled with aromatic raw materials, vintage wooden vanity desks with shelves full of products, and of course, the brand’s sleek, color-coded products, catering to everything from menosupport (menopause support) to cognitive function and gut health.

There’s certainly an interesting zeitgeist around botanical-based practices, as ingredient-focused consumers prioritize the healing powers of flora and fauna, as well as seek easy-to-incorporate routines that help calm their minds and bodies in an increasingly hectic world. Functional fragrances, Ayurvedic aromatherapy, and multisensorial wellness practices are a few recent examples. Murdock’s own journey of founding the brand in 2018 was informed by a period of intense stress. Using essential oils as a means of self-care, he found a lack of refinement and olfactory pleasure in the existing market. 

Prior to anatomē, as a brand consultant and futurist at Verdant London, he lended his expertise to other beauty, fashion, and lifestyle entrepreneurs. His own business journey began in 2002, with the founding of Cru Restaurant, a wine bar and restaurant focusing on international small producers spread across a 3,000-square-foot space in London’s buzzing Hoxton neighborhood.

“When I started off with a restaurant, I had no knowledge of food really,” he humbly reflects in London on a sunny afternoon. Marrying an education in flavor, organic wines, and the culinary creativity of a Mediterranean menu with the right customer service landed Murdock a success. “A lot of that knowledge that I developed there, and fast forwarding to today, have some form on anatomē. What I brought into Murdock then was, there was a whole stress surrounding a restaurant and not being able to control every aspect, but I was interested in apothecaries and chemists. I thought, let's do a barbershop; there was a movement around grooming, and I felt that men weren’t being catered to in a democratized environment that would speak to different constituencies of the gentleman: from the robust man to the suited man to the millennial man.”

He founded gentlemen’s grooming brand and barbershop Murdock London in 2006, which incorporates facials, self-care practices, and a refined environment into the client experience. Thanks to Murdock’s business acumen and anticipatory sense for a sophisticated men’s salon and wellness culture, the business grew from an initial £20K ($23K) into £3.3M ($3.8M) revenue.Though selling other brands, the time at Murdock quickly led to in-house fragrance product development. “I started to learn about the power and history of fragrance; fragrance that came from a place for holistic benefits not just pure sensory pleasure,” he remarks.

“The consumer isn't necessarily buying everything they need from us but is coming to us for some of those key things where we can build that loyalty with them.”
By Brendan Murdock, founder, anatomē

After ending his share in the Murdock London business, he came back to the chemist and apothecary business. “My own taste palette had developed and I thought there was a future in looking at essential oils in a different way and dispensing preformulated formulas that we had worked on. That took me to the anatomē launch but the anatomē today is a little bit different from what we initially created,” he says. “That idea of the apothecary that historically dispensed a lot of weird and wonderful ingredients and was the precursor to the pharmacy as we know it today. The consumer trend is that individuals are looking for that holistic approach.”

Whether it’s gastronomy or hair artistry, Murdock cut his teeth in some of the most high-stakes and high-pressure customer service-orientated industries. anatomē is the fusion of his emphasis on excellent client care, aesthetic eye for ambiance, and discerning product development process—the next evolutionary stage for a future-thinking businessman. And that finesse shows: 18 months in, Murdock was able to launch the brand at upscale locations Bergdorf Goodman, Net-A-Porter, and Soho House. That list has expanded to include Mecca in Australia and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. Today the brand has annualized turnover of 1.2M ($1.5M) and a 58% returning customer rate.

Partnerships with yoga studios incorporating the brand’s daytime oils drove the retailer’s presence in the wellness category. While the founder initially assumed sleep wouldn’t be a popular category, it has now become one of the brand’s best-selling ranges. The brand offers three separate sleep categories: those for the overactive mind (focused around Somali frankincense), the stressed mind (Cornish lavender), and restless mind (Roman chamomile)—all available in formats such as  bath oils, bath salts, pillow spray, and sensory point oils (the latter two which are especially popular).

“Sleep has been the real driver with supplementation. The consumers are health epicureans; they’re age defiant. They want to learn how to sleep better in a post-Covid world; are more self-aware about what they need. They're looking for guidance on how to live better, and there's more knowledge in the role of supplements that you can't necessarily get everything from your day-to-day diet. You have to lean in on supplementation in some way,” he adds. Ingredients such as ashwaganda are one such example, which anatomē incorporates into solution based-compounds for supplements ranging from hormonal health to focus and concentration. With a customer described as a cosmopolitan urbanite, the brand attracts those looking to enhance their lives from the inside out, be that women over the age of 35 looking for more luminous skin, or middle-aged men combating andropause. 

When it comes to staking its claim in the highly competitive supplementation market, Murdock notes, “It's being honest and direct on what works. You need tangible evidential insights that work and will help the individual. You can feel there's too much choice, and so our point of difference is we're not rewriting the book. We're making it clear for the customer to gravitate to what they need, to create that product to the best we can, to make sure that the customer feels the physical, emotional benefits when taking the supplement.”

Building trust and a relationship with that consumer from the very moment they step into the store has been key for returning loyalty, and helping to build their awareness about the other ranges the company has to offer. “The consumer isn't necessarily buying everything they need from us but is coming to us for some of those key things where we can build that loyalty with them. The collection is thinking more about a modular range. They come here and we can talk about their sleep. Sleep is linked to gut health. It's linked to immune health. There's a heightened awareness, and I’m now even hearing young people talk about it. So we'll have to innovate as a brand and be competitive. Supplementation is constrained by innovation, and there's even more regulation, so you cannot necessarily make a solution that leans too far into the medical world. It all has to be about creating wellness practices,” he explains.

“Some brands in the influencer world ascend really quickly. We're a little bit of a tortoise who wants to be here beyond my lifetime.”
By Brendan Murdock, founder, anatomē

Those wellness practices—underlined by in-store consultations which span the worlds of nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress management, and more—create a 360-degree approach to feeling like one’s optimal self. Further elaborating on the in-store customer service experience, Murdock comments, “The staff that we have, those relationships are key, being able to listen and be empathetic and not purely transactional. There are other priorities for consumers in this day and age, so when they're coming here they need to feel at ease, relaxed, and be able to say some of the things they wouldn’t normally say in a store about what's going on.”

For the future, Murdock is further looking to expand on the brand’s skincare category, which currently contains a cleansing balm, face oil, and moisturizer. Its publication, ​​The Modern Apothecary: How to harness the power of botanicals to support your health and improve wellbeing, was published in January 2024. The brand has ongoing partnerships with Swedish bedding manufacturer Hästens and electronics brand Bang & Olufsen. Expansion isn’t just happening on a product front, with the company revving up its international presence and launching a membership/subscription-based digital platform.

Growing and scaling the company was an underestimated challenge Murdock recalls. “There was an artificial moment coming out of Covid where people started to shop again, and then there was a return to being at home. We were caught in the winds slightly. We had pop-up stores and were really engaging with people, but I don't necessarily believe you can support a start-up business that's now 20 years old and has an established customer base that can support physical retail developments 12 months of the year. In this era, you make more mistakes sometimes than you expect. It's part of brand development, but you also then have to adjust and if you stay in the same position you can fail; anatomē has adjusted and evolved now into a strong position,” he states. Support has come in the form of outside funding: in February 2022, the company raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding. Its Crowdcube campaign launched in 2024 to support the launch of its six wellness performance perfumes (Order, Energy, Focus, Balance, Support, and Expression) quickly hit its 150K ($170K) target, making anatomē followers and customers stakeholders in the process and also drawing testament to the support of its loyal following. The company is hoping to raise a bigger Series A round at the end of this year.

With pop-ups in France and the US came further valuable insights to inform the brand’s strategies. “We understood we needed to position the brand as a little bit more luxurious and timeless. We needed to rewrite the handwriting of the brand,” he states. What followed was  a packaging update and redesign, increased use of video communication on Instagram, and a website repositioning with videos explaining each product more thoroughly. Its digital redesign was done in partnership with Founders Factory.

Aside from becoming more digitally accessible, the company is also looking to remain mindful of keeping entry available for all. “Wellness is in danger of becoming only accessible for the rich. Keeping anatomē accessible and within reach of a broad brush is important,” he explains. Part of that accessibility will be through partnerships with gyms and airlines, as well as making travel-friendly formats of existing SKUs. “We need to create an anatomē universe that exists beyond the product. That's where those partnerships and innovations are key,” Murdock adds.

In today’s industry, scaling at break neck speed can be tempting, but sustaining that growth can be an Achilles heel. Given Murdock’s strength in navigating the peaks and pitfalls of multiple industries, his approach with anataomē is one of patience and consideration. “Some brands in the influencer world ascend really quickly. We're  a little bit of a tortoise who wants to be here beyond my lifetime,” he concludes.


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