“Improved customer experience.” With Romain Gaillard

Improved customer experience. Our ultimate goal is to provide customers with the same quality of service online as they expect in stores. We’ve increased our customer service team to make sure people get the rapid, thorough responses they need to address their concerns and get their questions answered. It’s already a stressful time — it’s […]

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Improved customer experience. Our ultimate goal is to provide customers with the same quality of service online as they expect in stores. We’ve increased our customer service team to make sure people get the rapid, thorough responses they need to address their concerns and get their questions answered. It’s already a stressful time — it’s our intention to make their experience as straightforward and painless as possible.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Romain Gaillard, CEO and founder of The Detox Market. He is a sought-after industry leader known for pioneering the movement toward safe, effective personal care products. Over the past decade, Romain transformed The Detox Market from a pop-up to an award-winning retailer in clean beauty and sustainability with a renowned presence in the United States and Canada.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When people ask me how The Detox Market came to be, they are often surprised to find out that my journey wasn’t always in health, beauty, or wellness. I grew up in Paris and moved to California over fifteen years ago to work in tech — a completely different industry that, albeit interesting, never resonated with me on a personal level. I always harbored a feeling that something was missing: a spark of purpose. That spark was ignited when a dear friend of mine received a cancer diagnosis. The more we learned about the toxicity all around us — particularly the harmful chemicals lurking in even the most basic personal care products like toothpaste, moisturizer, and sunscreen — it became clear that we were onto something. I realized that the beauty industry needed a massive paradigm shift, and that consumers deserved better. The first iteration of The Detox Market — a 2010 pop-up store on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California — was clearly ahead of its time, we were promoting clean beauty and clean living, we had a matcha tea bar and served cold pressed juice.

Our vision never changed: health, beauty, and wellness should be seen holistically.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

As in life, I’ve found that challenges often act as profound catalysts for career transformation and growth; the most interesting parts of life tend to be the demanding, even grueling, periods — these are the times that, in retrospect, push you to improve, evolve, and change for the better. Without a doubt, the most interesting chapter of my work life is the one I’m in right now. It is also the most painful.

Practically speaking, operating a retail company during a global pandemic is proving to be an incredibly complex experience, particularly in North America. Navigating the implementation of unclear, ever-changing safety guidelines — local, state, and federal — without guidance is a uniquely difficult situation, compounded by the fact that our response can have real societal consequences.

Internally, the pandemic helped me see the organization in a whole new way and pushed me to rethink how the company operates as whole. Not only did it present new pressures for our team, but it also spotlighted areas and processes that still need attention. Holding space for the excitement of accelerated, necessary growth in conjunction with pain points, aspects that need improvement, was a big learning moment. This pandemic has been uniquely challenging, but also uniquely empowering — it’s demonstrated to the world that progress cannot be postponed. Things need to change.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Absolutely. Where do I start? When you first launch a business, you have no idea what you’re doing — which translates to a lot of unrealistic deadlines and lessons learned the hard way. Making mistakes is part of the process. I look back now and laugh at errors that once seemed so monumental (like forgetting to price products at our first-ever pop-up!).

My biggest lesson came later that year when I decided to open two more stores — in addition to our Abbot Kinney location, which was struggling to survive — the same month I got married. It was challenging to say the least, and created unnecessary levels of chaos and stress that nearly led to our demise. The key takeaway: If something isn’t working, fix it before you consider expanding. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get swept away in the pursuit of exponential growth. Instead of rushing to capitalize on perceived or desired momentum, ensure your business model is working before you scale up. (Also: Don’t overbook your wedding month.)

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Our strength lies in our consistency and authenticity, along with our commitment to being part of the solution. As a leading clean beauty retailer, we recognize the importance of having a positive impact on an evolving industry. We are proactively championing diversity and inclusion through our Launchpad initiative — committing $1,000,000 over four years to help launch and accelerate BIPOC-owned green beauty brands by investing in media space, marketing, creative resources, and senior-level mentorship — while continuing to plant trees and invest in sustainability. Although the pandemic has impacted in-person gatherings, we’ve also remained dedicated to cultivating community through offering one-on-one, socially-distanced personal shopping appointments with our Detox Ambassadors, along with Instagram lives, founder takeovers, masterclasses, and more.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Disconnect with social media and reconnect with nature. These days, we’re inundated with opportunities to view our lives through the edited highlight reel of how others are presenting themselves online — which isn’t an accurate portrayal, and always results in a comparison hangover. Reconnecting with nature, away from screens, is grounding. Think about how great you feel after going on a hike or spending the afternoon at the beach.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

We’ve been really lucky to have a support system underscored by innovative team members, passionate angel investors, insightful advisors, passionate clients… Without each and every one of them, The Detox Market would not be what it is today.

Another person that comes to mind is someone who I met one time over a decade ago through a mutual friend, when The Detox Market was just beginning. His name was Louis Urvois — he was the former chief executive of Loewe, the Spanish luxury goods company, and had worked in beauty. We met, and I spent 10 or 15 minutes explaining what we were doing. Louis responded, “Well, Romain. That doesn’t make any sense.” But then he added, “That’s exactly why you need to do it.” His reaction always stuck with me. Oftentimes, meaningful ideas don’t make sense in the beginning — but you can’t innovate or push the market forward unless you’re bringing something new, or unfamiliar, to the table. If it was an easy road, everyone would be taking it.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

As both an online and brick-and-mortar retailer, we’ve had firsthand experience adapting to the effects of the pandemic. Social distancing has fundamentally shifted the way consumers shop — and, along with it, our approach to meeting their needs. The chief focus is on accelerating our digitalization, a process that was already well in progress pre-pandemic, but needed expediting in order to adjust to the new reality. Here’s what we’ve done — and what we’re doing — to make the customer experience as seamless as possible.

  • Enabling live chat + video calls

When it comes to shopping for beauty products, there’s nothing like in-person, face-to-face interactions between employees and customers. Having access to real-time conversation helps people determine what formula will work best for them while also minimizing the need for returns — the last thing people want to worry about these days. By enabling live chat and video calls, we’ve made it easy for people to get in touch with our Detox Ambassadors for recommendations, questions, and consultations.

  • Launching BOPIS + delivery options

In addition to offering one-on-one, socially distanced in-store personal shopping appointments (that can be booked online), we’ve also implemented alternatives for consumers who want to keep contact to a minimum. Our buy online pick-up in-store (BOPIS) service has gained serious traction since we launched it a few months ago, and starting in November, we’ll be available on Postmates for same-day delivery.

  • Expanded content

Many people are recognizing the massive shift to digital and are attempting to capitalize upon it by launching brands left and right. Staying relevant (and maintaining credibility) during a time of growing online saturation requires more than just great products — increasingly, it requires compelling content. We’ve upped our copy, photography, and design game, expanding our online presence to offer more than merchandise. Take our editorially-inspired 2020 Holiday Gift Guide, featuring gorgeous images and charming product descriptions. Engaging communication has become a valued, precious commodity.

  • Improved customer experience

Our ultimate goal is to provide customers with the same quality of service online as they expect in stores. We’ve increased our customer service team to make sure people get the rapid, thorough responses they need to address their concerns and get their questions answered. It’s already a stressful time — it’s our intention to make their experience as straightforward and painless as possible.

  • Sustainability

As digital booms and shipping demands increase, we’ve significantly doubled down on our sustainability efforts, particularly when it comes to packaging and shipping. We’re asking ourselves important questions: How can we reduce waste with our boxes while protecting the products inside? How can we rethink our warehouse processes to minimize our carbon footprint? Moving forward, things will be different — people’s spending habits will remain digitally-oriented. It’s up to us to proactively anticipate the environmental impacts of this shift, and make decisions accordingly.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

There’s no question that stores and malls will continue to exist — with a number of caveats. Some predictions: there will be less stores and more affordable rent; some malls will suffer and fold while others will adapt, reinvent themselves, and emerge stronger; and stores will either be forced to evolve into more experiential environments, or transform into what would essentially be considered fulfillment centers.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

When analyzing thriving retailers and what they have in common, I’ve noticed a few general traits that typically stand out: a strong e-commerce presence (company has an intuitive, easy-to-navigate website); vertical integration (product assortment features a high percentage of the in-house brand, if not entirely); and a solid underlying market (the supply is meeting a demand). For Kroger and Costco, everyone needs food, and in Lululemon’s case, wellness and athleisure are showing no signs of slowing down.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

There are two major trends I see shaping up right now: direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands and marketplaces. Neither serves the customers’ best interests. If you go to a DTC brand and ask for a recommendation, their only choice is to push their own product, even if it’s not a good fit. If you go to a marketplace, you’re at the mercy of an algorithm determined by who’s paying the most or which brand the marketplace wants to highlight. Both models lack authenticity and reliability — customers are discerning, and I believe that the brightest future lies in multi-brand retailers. It’s the best way to build a long-term, lasting relationship and a better bottom line — prioritize what actually works for the customer.

How can our readers further follow your work?

R: You can find me on LinkedIn and follow us on Instagram @thedetoxmarket!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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