Since its inception in 1989, H2O+’s business model has truly evolved. Founder Cindy Melk, an entrepreneur and ocean-lover at heart, along with her R&D team launched the skin and body care brand in the U.S. with innovative gel-based, oil-free formulas that were viewed as more natural alternatives to traditional heavy creams and lotions. Her original brand vision was to harness the power of the ocean to create water-based beauty care products that protect and transform the skin. As the company celebrates its 25-year anniversary in 2014, that concept has not wavered.
From its Chicago base, H2O+ came into the marketplace via free-standing retail stores in prime shopping street and mall destinations in North America. Melk then cued the company up for worldwide success in an unorthodox manner. Instead of taking the standard route through Europe, the brand debuted on the international scene in reverse fashion; H2O+ was one of the very first skincare brands to successfully launch in the Chinese market and by doing so gained an early and very strong and valuable foothold in Asia.
The brand enjoyed a great presence internationally, and those in the beauty care industry took note, particularly the company’s current owner, Pola Orbis. In July 2011, H2O+ was acquired by prestige skincare leader, Pola Orbis, Japan’s fourth-largest beauty company. One of the key factors that attracted Pola Orbis to H2O+ was its impressive global footprint. Pola Orbis, the Tokyo-based powerhouse certainly is well-versed in building high-quality skincare brands during its 85 years in the business, so when it purchased H2O+, the decision was backed by the knowledge of H2O+’s strong suits and a detailed vision for growth.
With Pola Orbis’ world-renowned reputation, strong financial support and strategic view of the business, H2O+ has been able to attract and retain top industry talent. New personnel have been added into every function of the vertically integrated company, blending it with the existing teams to create a cohesive leadership team. It has set the foundation for achieving growth goals in the last year and given it the necessary steam to go after new business.
H2O+ prides itself on being a global sea-derived skincare brand.
Over the years, H2O+ has identified ingredients like seaweed and seawater, as well as other ocean elements teeming with minerals that have skin-enhancing benefits. One of the reasons they are so efficacious is because the chemistry of human skin is very closely aligned with the chemical make-up of these sea-sourced ingredients. It’s a beauty message that is very in-tune with the wellness focus playing out in the industry today. In fact, investment wonks speculate that the health and wellness trend is the next trillion-dollar industry.
Today the brand boasts a robust portfolio of products designed to suit a wide variety of skin types for women of all ages around the globe. It is also in a very envious position in terms of its target market. Customers are introduced to the brand at a young age through the Oasis Collection and tend to stick with the brand and graduate to one of the other brand families to address more advanced skin concerns such as anti-aging with Sea Results or even skin tone with their WaterWhite Advanced Collections.
As it builds out its family of products, H2O+ continues to optimize the efficacious blends of sea-derived ingredients and scientific enhancements that define its products. The product development team continues to enhance the ocean’s skin-renewing qualities with proprietary formulas. Lab specialists along with consumer panels are constantly testing products before they ever hit the market. An average H2O+ formula might include 10 to 15 ingredients, but many can include upward to 30 to 40 raw materials. The H2O+ team has even partnered with its parent company to develop a premium line, Total Source, launched in 2013.
H2O+ packaging and planograms are optimized for shopability to make sure each and every consumer knows exactly what the various products do and which ones will provide their desired solution.
H2O+ has sought out the very best international distributors and partners in each market and diligently work together to develop healthy businesses. The company relies on their network’s expertise to assist in adjusting to the market-centric needs.
A part of H2O+’s strategy, is to expand into new regions. The brand has a presence in more than 40 countries, and this last year, H2O+ focused on bolstering existing markets while entering new ones. For instance, in China, which is its second-largest market outside of the United States, H2O+ went from working with distributors to establishing its own operation there through a joint venture.
Choosing to take a bigger stake in the Chinese market and invest in a joint venture, which is majority owned by H2O+ served two purposes: 1) Gives the company a deeper knowledge of the market, and 2) provides greater influence over its brand positioning in one of the most important regions of the world.
H2O+ launched into Russia with retailer L’Etoile, whose stores are similar to Ulta Beauty or Sephora here in the United States. The chain has a major market presence with more than 815 locations and the H2O+ brand is featured in every one of its stores.
The brand performance in the Russian market has been nothing less than phenomenal. Within five months H2O+ enjoyed a top-five ranking among premium global skincare care specialty brands at L’Etoile. The brand went from non-existent to being one of their best-selling thanks to strong distributor support.
One of H2O+’s key focuses is to also expand its sales channels in the U.S. and Canada. In its early days, H2O+ grew via its own brick-and-mortar stores, but the company has found retail partnerships to be a more effective outlet for the brand. It has developed strong U.S. relationships with leading retailers such as Ulta Beauty and Beauty Brands, which carry H2O+ chain wide. In 2013, H2O+ became a marquee beauty care brand at all 300 of the new Kohl’s Beauty Concept stores.
An exciting relationship for H2O+ is a 10-year strategic alliance signed with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. H2O+ and Disney have enjoyed a vendor-customer association over the years, but this new bond entails a much deeper involvement and greater presence for H2O+.
H2O+ went from a supplier to a global alliance sponsor with Disney which equates to a bigger global business responsibility. H2O+ provides in-room amenities for the Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line and Disney Vacation Club properties as well as Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland which means whether you’re visiting a Disney Park across the globe or setting sail on a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico H2O+ products – shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, soap – can be found all throughout those locations.
The new alliance has led to several co-branded products. H2O+ lovers can purchase full-sized co-branded items in stores at various Disney Resorts and online via Disneystore.com
The products will also make a special appearance at prized D23 events, which can be described as premier events for Disney aficionados. The ‘D’ is for Disney and ‘23’ is for when the iconic company was founded, in 1923. These brand advocates are totally into the topic and get up close and personal with all things Disney. It is an opportunity for H2O+ to be exposed to some of their most passionate guests and become an integral part of the bigger Disney experience.