What you do get when two industry veterans launch their own retail shop with a focus on products that actually do what they claim? h2o closet – Modern Apothecary, a boutique chain of two stores in La Quinta and Palm Springs, California. Read on to get a full picture of what makes this retailer stand out, and what founders Steve and Ken think is next for the #betterbeauty industry.
h2o closet curates its stores with exquisite, innovative products from around the world. Where did the idea and inspiration to start the shop come from? And how has your entrepreneurial journey been so far?
Ken got his start in this industry in New York back in 1981 as a stock boy while going to school. I [Steve] ended up going into cosmetics full time and one day said I wanted to own a version of Apthorp Pharmacy, where I started and which is still there. Along the way I did many things in retail, not just in cosmetics. In January of 2014, we decided we would probably grow old in the Palm Springs area so we went for it. The journey has been fun, maddening as we had to learn to be together 24/7, working side by side. I was in hospitality but am now the ‘nose’ of the store when it comes to fragrances; personal and home as well as being the display guru.
It’s rewarding to see it come to fruition, and exhilarating as every day is different and it is an extension of who we are. And yet can be exhausting as you do it all and really never take a day off, and humbling, as it can knock you down. But mainly it’s so gratifying to hear so many of our customers say h2o closet is the first place they came to when they arrived back in town. Or they wouldn’t buy their skin, bath, personal care products anywhere else as they trust us.
When you think about the vision for h2o closet, what gets you excited?
Retail, cosmetics and the beauty industry is changing every minute so we do also. Finding new products we love but think our customers will love and have been wanting to experience. Also not just new brands, but how those brands we have had for four years grow, change and evolve, we change and evolve with them. While staying true to who we are and continuing to learn. We will expand our offerings but it needs to make sense to us for h2o closet or it’s not going to make sense to our customers.
Spanning offerings from skincare to home and pet products—how do you go about discovering new brands and how do you decide which products to stock? Do you have guidelines in place that brands have to measure up to before you’ll stock them?
We spend hours searching the web, social media, following stores we think highly of what they are doing, and also going to shows/markets. Also in the summer when it is slow, and hot in the desert, we just head west, visiting different neighborhoods and become shoppers for h2o closet. We want our product offerings to be clean but effective, do what they say they are going to do. We try everything ourselves even if it is not really something right for us. Sometimes our skin or hair is a mess because we are trying new products.
We got a call from one magazine writer who liked our social media posts and he asked if we try everything, and the answer is yes, we do. He was so surprised. When we were bringing in lip tints, Ken was wearing them at home to see if they wore well, were really moisturizing and stayed on.
One perfumer said something in regards to not trying or wearing her white floral but we did. We have to see how it wears compared to all the others we have tried—lasting power on the skin, can it hold up to body lotion. We also have friends, along with customers who have become friends testing products for us as well, we make samples for them. Unfortunately it is difficult for our family to try stuff, as they are up in the Pacific Northwest.
We want our brands to be clean, effective (do what they say they will do) and be of good value. That is a word that we don’t hear much in this industry and everybody has a different idea of what value is. But to us it’s if the brand as a whole (the ingredients, the packaging) stand up to its price. We want people to use the product and finish what they are purchasing from us. When you want to stand on, cut open, squeeze out every last drop of a product because it was just so delicious to use—that’s what we want.
With both of you being so connected to the beauty and wellness industry, what important shifts or trends have you seen in over the last few years? And what do you think we can expect to see more of going into the future?
It’s amazing how quickly, in just four years for us, this industry has changed. It has gotten cleaner, more natural (even though some don’t like that word), actives in skincare that actually do something, consumers becoming more aware of what is in the products they use daily, put on their skin, or in the environment around them. Many people don’t care but more than 50 percent of consumers now are interested in what is the products they are using before they make a purchase. We believe that our country will get on board with so many others for transparency and safer ingredients.
What’s next for your the shop? What are your future plans for h2o closet?
As for now, we are fine with the two stores, as that keeps us going all the time. We might expand our offerings, as customers have asked us to bring different things on board, but it needs to make sense. We don’t just price something and put it on a shelf. There is a lot of time spent looking and researching for the right goods.