Interview with Ms. Noelle Cheng, Vice President, Aromatherapy Associates (Asia)
Founded in 1985, British brand Aromatherapy Associates has been the leading expert of aromatherapy for over 30 years. “To be a thoughtful, ageless brand that does everything with intent, excellence and allows people to find balance in their busy lives. ” is the brand vision.
The story began with two passionate aroma therapists in the early 1970s. Ms. Geraldine Howard and Sue Beechey believed deeply in the incredible effects of aromatherapy to enhance the state of the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and were dedicated to sharing the power of aromatherapy with the rest of the world. These two founders also helped set up the International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA) in the UK in 1985, the first and most recognized and respected organization to regulate and accredit standards in Aromatherapy for practitioners and industrial professionals.
Combining 30 years of experience and heritage in the finest natural hand-blended essential oils with the latest technology, today Aromatherapy Associates delivers an array of award-winning luxury bath, body and skincare products with therapeutic benefits to enhance the state of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It is used and highly recommended by professional therapists and experts in holistic wellness in the finest luxury spas around the world.
In end 2016, Ms. Noelle Cheng joined Aromatherapy Associates, with her creative style and strong leadership. With over 12 years of experience in leading international luxury beauty brands in Asia including La Prairie and Giorgio Armani, Noelle has extensive knowledge in building strong branding and developing market-driven business strategies in the retail, spa and luxury market. Prior to her senior management roles in the beauty industry, Noelle was a business consultant in Arthur Anderson Consulting. She holds a Master Degree of Business Administration. SpaChina interviewed Noelle about the future development of Aromatherapy Associates in Asia.
Tell us about the distribution network for Aromatherapy Associates.
Aromatherapy Associates is used and recommended in 700+ luxury Hotels and Spas around the world. The treatments and products are found in Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Maldives, India, Australia and many others places. We work with International hotel groups including the Mandarin Oriental, JW Marriott, the Hilton Group and Four Seasons. We also have a retail presence worldwide, including to name but a few: a concept store at Harbour City Hong Kong, Lane Crawford, ISETAN in Japan, Shingkong Mitsukoshi in Taiwan, Fortnum & Mason, Liberty, Selfridges in the UK, and Nubonau and SpaceNK in the US. And we also have an online retail store.
What trends do you currently see for skincare and aroma products?
Over the past few years, we have seen a growing interest and demand for natural or organic beauty. Consumers are more discerning nowadays and are keen to understand more about the products they choose, such as what ingredients exactly go into the products, the origin of ingredients, the methods used for R&D , their quality and effects etc. Consumers tend to look for safer, cleaner and “greener” options to achieve younger and healthier skin.
Women are tending to put on little makeup or have “nude” makeup. Consumers are concerned that cosmetic products may contain chemicals or artificial fragrances, which may induce skin problems. Hence, they select skincare products which can strengthen their skin health and improve skin appearance. Makeup becomes a side need. Consumers prefer wearing as little makeup as they can.
Nutrient skincare has become one of the top trends. Customers are not just concerned about cleansing, hydration or anti-aging, they are looking for nutrients for the skin. This is the same as how we treat our bodies with food supplements and vitamins.
Personalized skincare or beauty products is another big trend. The ability for brands to design unique and bespoke offerings and experiences becomes the key.
On top of these, there is a growing consumer demand to address holistic wellbeing, incorporating physical, mental, emotional, spiritual dimensions into offerings. Daily skincare and body care is not just to make people look good, it becomes a new form of looking at wellness.
What benefits can Aromatherapy Associates bring to the hotel spa business?
AA is not just a product supplier, we are a close business partner, or we can say “teammate” to our Spa partners and play a key role to help our clients succeed in the following areas:
- Reputation and brand image building
It is always our company’s mission to educate people in the power of aromatherapy, the art of living well and leading a balanced life. We are keen on supporting our hotel Spa partners from training, consumer workshops, events to customer relationship programs with the aim to promote wellness. Clients love to visit and return to spas where AA’s treatments and products are found.
- Extensive support from professional team
Our energetic AA team reaches out to our spas partners and provides extensive support on account management, marketing, brand building, training and education, logistics and purchasing. We constantly share the latest trends in aromatherapy and spa offerings. We care about the emotional and physical wellbeing of our therapists and strongly believe that all therapists should have beautiful healing talents and the know-how to take good care of themselves, then they can take care of their customers. Therapists will participate in mindful moments with their guests during the treatments.
As an industry pioneer, AA will lead the way and soon launch our “WE treatments” (Wellbeing Treatment) which are a series of modern day techniques developed from ancient practices. They can be practised as part of meditation, but can also be used in everyday lives to give mental clarity, relief from distractions, aid in focus and promote overall wellbeing.
Do retail shops and counters in department stores and also online retail impact on the retail business of the hotel spas? What kind of support do you provide to the spas?
Only a small percentage of consumers in China have had the opportunity to experience Aromatherapy Associates through our physical stores or spas. An increased level of brand awareness will support retail sales across all channels in China, including hotel spa channels. We have seen similar and very positive results in other markets, such as Japan and the UK, where increased levels of brand awareness have elevated retail business in the spa channels.
We always have a goal of building and enhancing brand awareness and exposure, ensuring a consistent and premium positioning in all settings, and driving retail sales across all points of sales, both offline and online.
Consumer purchase decisions are driven by 1) brand recognition, 2) influencers and 3) the information obtained at the point of purchase. We focus on these areas when we provide our support to spa partners in driving their retail business.
What are the advantages and challenges of doing business in China?
Local distribution networks, buying habits of local consumers and regulatory requirements can make China a very difficult market to access. What’s more, the market environment is completely detached from most other economies in the world, making it difficult to take the first steps. In terms of consumer preferences, there has been a sizeable class shift in China over the past few decades, and the consumer environment is far more diverse than it once was.
China is now top of the list of countries for whoever wants to expand and invest internationally. Its growth in recent years has turned it into a major importer of Western products. Coupled with the size of its population and the rise of the middle class, this offers any international company doing business in China access to one of the world’s most important markets for an immense variety of services and goods. Chinese people have a very strong work ethic and look to develop a wide array of professional skills. As a result, we are dealing with highly committed and competent individuals who are keen to excel. This makes doing business in China not only profitable, but also highly rewarding.
What is the future plan for Aromatherapy Associates in Asia?
We continue to build and be passionate about our founders Geraldine and Sue’s legacy, which was to help people feel better. As a brand, we always want to have meaning and intention in everything we do as a company. We want to help people find balance in mind, body and skin. And we want to educate and provide the tools to living an all-round healthy life.
As well as being experts in Aromatherapy, we also want to educate people on The Art of Living Well so we have a panel of Wellbeing Experts and Ambassadors to help us get our message across. For example, Dr Neil Stanley who is our sleep expert, has been involved in sleep research for over 35 years. Having organised some of the largest sleep studies in the world, his discoveries show that sleep plays a key part in the Wellbeing Triangle; nutrition, exercise and sleep. We will continue working with experts worldwide to promote wellness.