At SABON, you are at once immersed in a deliciously fragrant sensory frenzy encased within the walls of an urban oasis:
Ceiling-high mahogany shelves lined with sparkling jars of exfoliating scrub, curvaceous glass bottles filled with lightly-scented crème foam wash, and blocks of multi-hued, freshly-sliced handmade soap, saturated with vital oils, salts and mineral secrets imported from the Dead Sea. All Sabon products are environmentally-friendly with ingredients hand-picked by designers in Israel. No mass production here.
In every U.S. Sabon location stands a wide-mouthed stone basin fashioned in the style of an ancient wishing well. A crystal chandelier dangles overhead, lending an accent of relaxed elegance to the scene. Customers are invited by store employees to select a visceral delight with which to bathe their hands--Lavender Apple, Lemon Mint, Kiwi Mango, Chamomile Vanilla, Carrot or Coconut--to lather and scrub and slough away the stress of the day, a sensuous ritual set against a tantalizing, trickling soundtrack.
(We have never washed our hands like that before, by the way. It is something you must try for yourself. In Sabon's case, experiencing is believing. www.sabonnyc.com)
Notes On The Road, enraptured and inspired by our own experience at Sabon, went right to the source for an interview with CEO, Moran David, a quiet-spoken creative businessman whose refreshing honesty, hospitality and warmth is akin to the very essence of the brand. Moran provided us with a unique insider's look at the origins and health benefits of the company's dreamy product line and shared on the challenges presented in bringing whipped silk luxury at reasonable price points to shoppers in over sixty locations worldwide.
Can you tell us about Sabon's rapid growth over recent years?
Sabon is a brand originally from Israel, established in 1997. Since that time, the company has expanded within Israel, also to Europe and the United States. There are over sixty locations worldwide: Holland, Poland, Romania, Belgium, Italy, Canada and Japan, to name a few countries, and of course there is the U.S. Operation. Obviously all of the merchandise is purchased from Israel and there are major guidelines consistent with the parent company in design, but we also came up with many of our own ideas for stores in the United States, which includes the addition of the hand-washing well that was placed in each store. [smiles]
In the States, we established our first New York store on 10th Street and 6th Avenue in 2003, and it's still there. Since then we have seen great organic growth and we currently have several locations in the city, one on Long Island, Garden City, Boston and Chicago.
On the unique hand-washing experience you brought into the U.S. locations, was that something you designed specifically with the New York consumer in-mind?
Not specifically...it was more that we wanted to share the experience of the products themselves.
Sabon as a product and the brand itself was a proven concept by the time it reached the States, based on the great response it received in Israel. But I did not start Sabon as a company, I joined later, but the first time I used Sabon products, I remember getting a "Wow, this is really great stuff" feeling. And I decided when I came on board that I wanted to somehow share that experience with customers, to make them feel the properties of the products and how they really work...to experience it for themselves.
For example, in some stores they used to have small sinks in Israel, but it was usually in the corner of the store...so not a lot of people had immediate access...so we thought, why not make something out of that concept but improve upon it, to create a centerpiece for our stores...
The brand in Israel is named "Sabon Shel Pa'am" which means "Old-Fashioned Soap" - so the founders tried to form the concept of the company and the brand around that idea - of older fashion and tradition. In a way, the hand-washing centerpiece of our stores became a part of the Sabon tradition-if you come in, you have to wash your hands and try the products. The partners and the store managers all like to call Sabon an oasis...people just loved the ideas we implemented!
What are some of the differences, in terms of preferences, you have seen from customers all over the world?
I didn't work with Sabon in Israel, so I can't really speak to the differences between the consumer mindset in Israel or New York. I think generally speaking, I find businesses to be more service-oriented in the U.S. The same in Japan.
But we have seen some interesting differences in scents which people are drawn to and consumer patterns. In the beginning when we opened a store in the United States, our biggest fans were Japanese customers. I don't know exactly why, but very early on after only a year or two, we had a lot of Japanese tourists coming into the store with books that listed Sabon as a must-see place for when you visit New York. If you go to shop, you must visit Sabon.
This later led to someone approaching us and making a deal with a Japanese investor group, which enabled the company to open Sabon locations in Japan. They are just doing amazingly now. That was unexpected but great!
We have an interesting phenomenon online as well, through our website sales. Naturally, through using analytics, you can see customers from all over the world. The majority of customers are from New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, California...and that was expected because we have a presence in those places...but also we are getting a lot of traffic from Texas! It's definitely a great target market for us, but the diversity of our customers from Texas all the way to Japan - it's really amazing to see, with so many people shopping online.
For Sabon as a business, what would you say is the biggest challenge in maintaining brand consistency across all the locations, all branches and stores, within the U.S. and worldwide?
Hmm. That's a very good challenge...I don't think we do it well enough in some ways, there is always room for improvement. In terms of branding, consistency is a very good goal...but there are challenges. For example, you cannot dictate a window display in Israel for Christmas. Of course Israel is diverse but the majority of people in Israel are Jewish and therefore Christmas would not necessarily be relevant...worldwide, those types of things have presented immense challenges and we are trying to find a formula that works across the board.
But within the United States, it seems most locations are under our control in the sense that we can keep things consistent from the displays to customer service, language, music in the store and atmosphere...
What can you tell us about the design and creation process of Sabon products, in how such pristine quality is maintained?
[smiles] Well...the actual formula is a secret - it's mainly a combination of Dead Sea salt, other salts, and oils. To be honest and as frank as I can be, with the variety of products that we offer, obviously there are some that I really like or I think are excellent products and some that I am not a huge fan of, if I feel they have not reached the very highest in quality. I would be the first one to be honest about it if there is a product I do not think is the best quality. But I try to be as objective as I can be, because I had that objectivity before I joined the company, and I believe it is important to maintain it now.
We have no competitors in the body scrubs market...for the most part, it is an average market, some are better, some are worse-but the body scrubs by Sabon are really great, made from fantastic good oils imported from France, things like that. The designers and makers are very particular, they are going personally to buy oils from the vendors - we are not about mass production at all.
What are some of the health benefits of Sabon products?
Well, we all know that exfoliating dead skin once in a while is good "practice" for the skin for renewal and rejuvenation. There are a lot of products out there for the face...and good oils actually give the skin moisture, so the skin feels very soft and not dry at all...
Obviously the Dead Sea Minerals are very good for the skin. The Dead Sea is considered a destination for those afflicted with skin diseases; it's a combination of good sun and the altitude of the Dead Sea, 400 meters below sea level, which is a result of the Syrian-African Rift Valley. If you ever get the chance to go there, it's great...amazing, a very different experience. Not everyone likes it, but you float just at the surface of the water and it's unbelievable. The oils in the water are great for the skin.
Apparently, those minerals and the mud have many health benefits for skin diseases, psoriasis and things like that...the sun is strong there but filtered by an additional 400 meters of atmosphere layer, so you get good qualities of the sun. A lot of people go there for a whole week because it's of the dry weather in combination with the sun and mineral presence. But for people who cannot make the trip there, Sabon packs those miraculous properties and brings them to other parts of the world.
Can we look forward to a full-fledged Sabon spa one of these days?
Oh yes, well, we have all sorts of plans...we always explore all options. We are often approached by spas who would like to carry our products, and for different logistical reasons, we have not yet taken that path. But we have considered the idea of a Sabon Spa, which would use our products exclusively, and another concept we were considering - of half manufacturing the soap right there in the store with glass so people can see the process - we want to share the experience with people in another way. A completely new way. We are just conceptualizing it now, so we are dreaming and imagining how it could be...with the well for washing your hands, it turned out really well and people love it, but now we want to go to the next level. So we are talking about many exciting things right now. We are also working on a new website right now, hopefully to launch on July 15, to give our users an even more enriching experience.
What is your personal favorite product from the line?
I always make time to try the different products and I enjoy that, but I would have to say that my all-time favorite is the Milky Soap Patchouli Musk.
What do you do in your personal spare time?
Definitely traveling, and I do a lot of hiking. And...[laughs]...poker!