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​​Malin & Goetz: Architectural Adventures in Retail

October 29, 2021 Carla Seipp
October 29, 2021
Malin & Goetz

A connection between two artistic neighborhoods—the Lower East Side and Williamsburg—the Williamsburg Bridge is not only a passageway over New York City’s East River and an architectural icon, but also the inspiration for the newest Malin+Goetz boutique, located in the buzzing Brooklyn neighborhood. The imposing structure of steel girders and suspension cables has been translated into a modern, minimalist space with the help of trusted collaborators Bernheimer Architecture. A grid of white square racks, offset by a pale sage-green wall color, draws in the eye to the focal point of the boutique: an antique sink. It pays homage to the Malin+Goetz design signatures: a found object, plenty of white to echo the brand’s apothecary roots and offset the colorful print on products, and juxtaposing contemporary with historical elements.

Just like their Brooklyn boutique, every aspect of the company’s retail strategy is carefully considered. Founders Andrew Goetz and Matthew Malin had their eye on the vibrant neighborhood for a while, previously completing a successful pop-up in the area, but patiently waited for the opportune address to become available. Fortune worked in their favor, landing them a spot on the main drag of Bedford Avenue. “The interesting thing about COVID is, it did afford us an opportunity to find locations around the world that might not have been available to us, but Williamsburg is a natural for us as a New York born and bred brand,” comments CEO Brad Horowitz. While the company was understandably passive on their retail expansion in the toughest phases of the pandemic, the past three to six months have seen them fire up all (retail) engines. “We never design the same store twice,” comments co-founder Andrew Goetz. “It's really important that each environment be special and inspiring. In the post-COVID world, where retail is taking a terrible hit, if you have a cookie-cutter model, consumers will be bored by that.”

To avoid the monotony trap, every store incorporates different influences in the form of inspirations, as well as creatives. “We like the freshness and perspective that a different architect can bring to a project, and reinterpreting the concept towards locale,” sys co-founder Matthew Malin. The brand operates under the Thomas J. Watson mantra that good design is good business. “Design has many functions. It's not static, it's smart, intelligent, engaging, provocative. Design is a key element to our brand and it motivates us on every single level. There's never a right or wrong answer, which is why we always do something different, because we're always trying to experiment and learn something,” Goetz comments.

Boutique locations aren’t sheer coincidence, but about taking the brand to the communities within urban cities that best embody its consumer audience, and creating a space which integrates into the local district. “We like neighborhoods that have a unique blend of mom-and-pop and individual stores, a lot of energy, sometimes privilege and youth culture depending on which neighborhoods. But we like ones that have a definable vibe. We always joke: these are places where we would like to live,” Goetz proclaims.

There are certain key values uniting their consumer audience across the globe. “Our customer is very different from your typical ‘beauty junkie.’ When you ask them about their interests, it’s food, travel, design, and architecture. Somewhere in the middle of the list, they’ll get to beauty,” Horowitz comments. In line with this more laid-back approach to cosmetics, the amenities business, a place of unexpected chance encounters with products, has built another core strategy. “It has to be doing the right thing first, before the sales opportunity. We're where the customer feels like we should be, that includes being in the right hotels, department stores, especially retailers. If we do those things correctly, then the revenue will come,” he adds.

Expanding in an authentic way is one of the most challenging premises for brand founders. For its leading team, that translates into smaller scaling and a carefully curated selection of business partners. “It has to be doing the right thing first, before the sales opportunity. We find the right partners, and we're where the customer feels like we should be. If we do those things correctly, then the revenue will come,” Horowitz comments. “It’s a very difficult position to be in as a small business, to stay really focused on who we are, not being too big or too small. That means building stores, designing products, development, our concept, it really hasn't changed a lot in 18 years. And that feels really good,” Malin adds.

Seven years into their working relationship with Manzanita Capital, Malin and Goetz have found a harmonious division of work with Horowitz, enabling the founding duo to direct their focus on all aspects of product development, marketing, and creative direction. “Having an operational team in place that allows us to grow, develop, and have an economy of scale, which is ultimately important for a beauty or grooming business because of your price point, has been essential. It has allowed us to remain competitive,” Malin comments.

To best understand the drive behind their successful expansion, one has to go back to the brand’s foundations. Created in 2004 by cosmetics buyer Malin and design marketing director Goetz, the brand was a response to Malin’s personal battle with skincare issues. Between his personal struggles and Goetz’s keen eye for design, a straightforward yet stylish brand was born.

Launched from their NYC apartment, products were created in the context of metropolitan living—and the need for space-saving, shareable, and multifunctional products that come with it. Akin to their retail identity, there is a tie-in to the past, namely the apothecaries of yesteryear, which have a longstanding history, but always maintained the concept of a trusted neighborhood advisory for any of life’s medical or cosmetic woes. “The whole concept was, how did an apothecary operate in our grandparents’ time, and what does it look like today. This wasn't about being a man or a woman, or being dry or oily. This was about having an issue, going someplace local that you trusted, receiving a product, and having it be a great experience,” Malin states. “Within the beauty industry, we’ve over-marketed to people to believe that they need 1,000s of things, that it’s very specific to you in particular.”

In fact, he claims that about 90% of the customers walking through their doors have normal-to-combination skin, but simply used too many products and therefore sensitized their skin to certain ingredients. “If we can take it back to 100 years ago, to some of those tried and trusted ingredients that we all know work, and then really modernize them in ways that allows things to be that much more productive, positive, and beneficial to the skin through very gentle technologies that don't need to experiment or harm you, that’s the concept,” he states.

“Too much choice kills the choice, so we try to keep everything very focused and linear."
By Andrew Goetz, Founder, Malin & Goetz

Embodying the apothecary spirit led to the gender-neutral and streamlined packaging as well as formulation approach that have made the brand a bestseller, long before unisex brands or skinamalism became words du jour. “Gender-specific skincare is a mid-century invention, and marketing ploy. We went back to the roots of what an apothecary was intended to be and looked at everything as very equitable,” Goetz states.

Their product development process eschews trends in favor of maintaining brand authenticity. “Too much choice kills the choice, so we try to keep everything very focused and linear. We've never been lemmings going off the cliff following trends, we do what's right for the brand. And sometimes that's counterintuitive to what's happening in the marketplace. Trends come and go very quickly, but if you can build a really solid product that has integrity, it will last for almost an eternity,” Goetz states. Far from developing in the proverbial ivory tower of creation, the company keeps a sharp focus on customer feedback and response. “You want to make sure that what you're thinking and doing doesn't become insular,” Horowitz says. “We, in our heart, truly believe we’re making products for everyone, but if the research comes back and says something different, then it’s a wake-up call for us.”

Malin+Goetz’s investment into the physical retail space is a courageous move given the immense struggle the channel has had, but remains true to their sociable modus operandi. While some stores had to close during the most turbulent times, other locations like those in Hong Kong stayed open throughout. “We played it by neighborhood and municipality, but we opened up as quickly as we could,” Matthew Malin comments. “We remain that staple, where people could go and they trusted what they were getting from us. I want to feel that it was a respite for many people within their communities.” Curbside pickup remained another option for those apprehensive about entering closed shared spaces. “Over the last 18 months, we gained a lot of muscle in e-commerce, but the nature of our brand requires human interaction. It is important that we have retail as a piece of that piece of that playbook,” Horowitz states. In fact, the company’s retail stores represent 15-20% of total revenue.

Horowitz also sees a rise in orders from the amenities business for spring/summer of this year as a clear indicator of the growing desire to be back in physical spaces. With an increased need for human interaction and a commercial hunger for the holidays, the odds are looking optimistic for retail.

The brand’s imminent expansion plans are looking east. Malin+Goetz opened its first store in Asia with Hong Kong in 2018, launched in Seoul this year, and is looking to expand further into China via Shanghai, in light of the recent change around animal testing regulations. “There’s a lot of opportunity there, so that will be a priority for us,” Horowitz comments on their latest venture, adding that New York, San Francisco, London, and Los Angeles will also see further retail developments. “In each one of these cities, it's making sure that we tell our story correctly, about this minimalist, design-oriented, uncomplicated brand for everyone,” he adds.

A bridge-inspired retail space can be seen as emblematic of Malin+Goetz’s ultimate pursuit: a linear and easy-to-follow point of connection, while remaining true as steel through even the most tumultuous of conditions.

Matthew Malin and Andrew Goetz in conversation with BeautyMatter founder Kelly Kovack.

There are some brands that are built punching above their weight class. Success is not always based on size but the ability to execute on your purpose, your vision, your strategy and being profitable. Kelly talks with Matthew Malin and Andrew Goetz, partners in life and founders of (Malin + Goetz) who set out 16 years ago to create a modern apothecary and build a brand that would last with range of efficacious products, iconic packaging, and a store the corner from their Chelsea apartment. Click here to listen.

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