Interview: How Heyday Puts The Human Touch Into Skincare
Adam Ross and Michael Pollak, founders of growing skincare and facial shop mini-chain Heyday, discuss their focus on making expert-led, personalized skincare available to all
As the wellness space continues to boom, the industry is experiencing a democratization, with a plethora of services at a wide range of prices becoming increasingly available. However, an overload of options and lack of reputable experts in certain categories can confuse consumers, leading to seemingly never-ending searches for good advice.
This is something founders of facial shop Heyday personally experienced, and which encouraged them to found a research-backed, expert-led center focused on providing personalized skincare advice and treatments. In an interview with PSFK, owners Adam Ross and Michael Pollak explain how they are taking stock of modern consumers' needs, offering customized care and information to help integrate skincare into their everyday wellness routines.
PSFK: Adam and Michael, what are some broader trends you are seeing impacting retail today that you're leveraging in your work?
Adam Ross: Retail is clearly undergoing a pretty transformational shift right now. Certainly for experience‑based retail, we're seeing two themes. One is around convenience and the right touchpoints in store that address customers' needs and take a hospitality perspective, as well.
The second part of that is when you enable technology. When we look at it through the lens of Heyday, you want to do technology in a way that enables and enhances the customer experience, so it's not just doing it for the sake of doing it.
For us, every touchpoint within the store is to create that “wow” moment and be the highlight of the customer's day, and to leverage those technological touchpoints to give the personalized service we want to give and to make it a seamless and frictionless experience for the client.
How are you responding to this new era of retail experiences?
Michael Pollak: I think retail is undergoing a shift. I think a lot of the headlines of like, “Retail is dead,”—that's just not the case.
Ground floors are not going to go away suddenly. I think people are looking how to fill spaces and create experience and how much experience per square foot rather than sales per square foot, as I've heard it posed before. I think that's a really useful way to think about it. It's an offering, something that you can't entirely get online.
You can't get a facial on Amazon, and you probably won't be able to for quite some time. Certainly you can get products and you can go to every which blog and website to get skincare advice, but having a real, trained, human being personalize something, look at you as a person, touch you as a person and craft an experience—that's what we bring that's unique.
Services have always been around in a retail setting. I think a lot of brands are just figuring out how to bring service and product together in a way that is special and draws people in.
The innovation really was to take the facial out of the spa and into a space that felt a little bit more everyday. Skincare is an everyday thing. It shouldn't be something that you work with when you're on vacation or that anniversary or when you get that gift certificate.
For us, it was creating a space that was ground floor, that was accessible, that has a decor that feels familiar, music that feels great, not some rarefied kind of experience that either connotes this is going to cost me a lot or that I shouldn't be doing this. It's taking that indulgence out of it and making it more affordable and accessible to literally walk in on an hour lunch break or after work and really pull skin care into your monthly routine.
Can you tell me more about Heyday's accessible, streamlined customer experience and business model?
Michael: I think the world's pretty complicated. I think people are looking for less and less choice. We found, particularly with professional skincare, if you go to a traditional spa, you're faced with a menu with 18 options. You don't know quite what to pick. The consumer's oddly put in the driver's seat.
Similarly, if you walk into, say, a big box beauty retailer, you're shopping based on marketing. There's tons of products there. They all look great for this, that, and the other reason.
Really, what we wanted to do was put the expertise in the hands of our skin therapists who are trained and do this every single day and take the pressure off the client. We want to remove the friction of engaging here and then put the therapist in the driver's seat to actually craft the right experience based on what they're hearing from the client. That's I would say the kernel, the core of our client experience.
How would you say that the consumer perception of wellness and the spa industry has evolved in the last few years? Why do you think it's become more important as of late?
Adam: I think wellness is this huge multitrillion‑dollar category. It gets broader and broader in terms of its definition. I think when we step back and look at it within the context of Heyday, there's more of this holistic approach that our clients are having within this definition around self‑care.
That, I think, encompasses diet. Within that you've got food. You've got nutrition. You've got hydration. You've got sleep. You've got exercise, which is all‑encompassing in and of itself. You've got classes. You've got stretch. You've got yoga. You've got acupuncture. You've got other forms of body realignment. You've got mental health.
I think all these factors go into it. Your largest organ is your skin. I think people want to look and feel great, and that helps them put their best foot forward and make the most out of whatever they want to accomplish. All these factors are co-mingled and intertwined.
That's the challenge. For us, one of our mandates is to be the thought leader within skin care and in the category. I think with the spa industry, there's certainly a time and a place for that.
What we've found with our clients is there's a real benefit to looking after yourself. This is something you should be doing not just for today, but for tomorrow.
Can you tell me what led you both to found Heyday?
Adam: In a prior life, I was in investment banking and focused on working with a lot of beauty companies. I saw that from the banking side and in particular saw the focus around pushing products, doing that, as opposed to stepping back and giving customers what they actually needed.
I had some issues with my skin, so I started to see various facialists around the city. It was inconsistent, and it was frustrating. It wasn't until I was speaking with other friends and a bunch of my girlfriends in particular that validated they were all sharing similar frustrations to what I had.
To my mind it seemed like there was this huge opportunity for a younger demographic that the market wasn't structurally set up to serve, that wanted access and wanted a sort of democratization of the skincare category that was so overcomplicated and overwhelming. That was the light‑bulb moment for me. Through small New York circles I linked up with Michael.
Michael: In high school I was totally one of those teenagers that struggled with acne and was sent to the dermatologist. Took Accutane, took Tetracycline, ruined all of my pillowcases with all of those bleaching creams and all that stuff.
Really there was no other solution. That's what you did. You either shopped for Clearasil products or you went to the dermatologist. That was just how it was dealt with. Then fast forward many years. I was in New York City here and working out a lot. I used to teach spin classes on the side, so I was constantly at the gym.
I had my first facial, and the facialist knew right away why I was experiencing adult breakouts on my forehead and temples. They were like, “Oh, you work out quite a bit. Are you cleansing? How are you cleansing between your workouts and all that? Is your hair product getting in your face?” Asked all these questions that we tweaked one thing in my cleansing routine after workouts, and it cleared everything up.
I think there really isn't a brand or place where they have a platform to be celebrated for the studies that they do, what they know about skin every day, what they know about products, and to make those recommendations. If we can champion that craft, I think that that's something that should be more available to more people, period.
How do you plan to gain market share in this space?
Adam: I think customers have become more and more discerning over time, with prevalence of information online, and I think it's a combination of where you drive the conversation with thought leadership, and for us, I think really getting ahead of it with services, with products, with modalities to become that trusted brand for clients.
There is a lot of noise in the space. To some extent, as well, you balance that with listening to the customer, and what the customer wants and needs. I was reading recently, it's always sort of an interesting check.
I think for us it's a combination of listening to the client, and that's where I think having physical stores has been invaluable for us to hone the value proposition, and understanding this disconnect between what the market thinks customers want versus what they actually need.
Then using our amazingly diverse and talented team of skin therapists, that have this content and this thought leadership, where I think we can elevate the discussion of skincare, and do it in a way that filters out a lot of noise, and gives customers exactly what they need that's relevant for their own personal objectives.
Michael: I think the easy answer with market share is, open more doors, and invest more. I think it starts with that bedrock of trust. We always said that the first few units we would operate like family restaurants in the way where you get to know your clients, you get to know your team.
You get to know, like Adam said, what the customer wants, and to build that trust, that's the currency that lets you expand with the right energy and the right trust.
Adam: It's actually a great point that Michael made, because when you are brick and mortar initially, and you can't grow exponentially, like some of these digitally native brands can, you've actually got to focus on giving an absolutely sort of amazing in‑store experience so your customer becomes your ambassador and spreads word of mouth for you.
Where we've got this wonderful ecosystem that's not transaction-based, and in the bulk of our new clients that actually walk in through our doors, are referrals from existing clients. To our mind, I think that's been a couple of the most gratifying statistics in the few years that we've been open, because you're not building a transactional brand, and you're growing revenue the right way.
Who would you say is the Heyday customer?
Adam: I think the customer for us is more psychographic, versus demographic, but the thesis initially was we're generally out to get sort of a younger female consumer that's like early 20s to mid‑30s in age.
They may or may not have had experience with skincare. I think they get to a point in their life where they want to take skincare seriously, they want to look after themselves, but they just don't know where to start and how to go about it. That's our primary customer.
I think what we've seen a little more recently, with some of our downtown and uptown doors is that customer is skewing a little higher. That's for some clients that use us as a bit of a freshener or top‑up in between their dermatologist appointments.
I think others that, when they experience us, and have the chance to engage with us, they then switch to Heyday as their primary skincare solution. You don't want to be broad and target everybody, but again it comes back to, I think, those that fall within wanting to live this holistic approach to self‑care, as opposed to a specific demographic band.
What sorts of strategies are you using to reach these customers?
Adam: I think there's a real thing within our treatments within our stores that is around personalizing the facial. In terms of how we grow the business and how we're getting our customers to keep coming through the doors.
There's stress, there's diet. There's so many things that do impact the skin. I think also importantly, people not knowing how these combinations come together and what products they should be using, and importantly how they should be using them.
In some cases, little tips, tricks, and advice can have these wonderfully positive effects. Different people have got different wants and needs. I think for us, just personalizing that is this theme that is going to become increasingly important.
We're seeing these themes on personalization across different categories generally. I think that trend is only going to become more and more important, but for us, to get the results you need to get in skin care, that is critical.
Michael: For me, I would add, it's really like reaching our client with the right content, being in the right content community and customization or personalization. Giving them the right information that they need to know about their skin, based on what we know about them.
Community, are we showing up in the right places, where they are outside of Heyday, where they work out, where they eat, where they work, all under this theme of personalizing the experience.
We've got a lot of work to do on that front, which is exciting for the near‑term road ahead for us. We're in a category where we get to know your face. We talk to you for 50 minutes.
You mentioned community. How are you incorporating community building into your marketing strategy?
Michael: There’s a lot of great work in the works on that front. As Adam said, about a third of our clients come once a month and they're on our monthly membership plans. We have this built‑in cohort of customers that are excited about what we do.
We do events occasionally with our members, and we really want to pick that cadence up with them. It's not always about skincare all the time, but what are the other things that would interest our clients.
People view a brand as an extension of themselves. I think it's not always about just what the brand sells or does in that moment, but what it stands for, what it believes in, what it likes to do in its own free time. We want to sort of show up that way with our clients.
I think that it's going to be an increasingly important part and pillar of how we build community, build excitement around the brand. I think it's native, it's more natural. Like Adam alluded to, so much of our business is through word of mouth today that that only helps amplify that effort in a really natural way.
Adam: Skincare is also a difficult category to have the right relationship online. I think online can certainly complement what you do in person, but what we've found is at some of these events, those that are sort of skin care specific, just the chance for our clients to engage in speech with our therapists.
Could you speak to me about the development of your first shop?
Adam: The first shop opened mid‑2015, in the NoMad area in New York. Michael and I looked at a few different areas, but I think for us it was such a central location that combined the sort of perfect work, leave, play combination to test the thesis.
Before you open your doors, you have an idea of what you think the customer wants, or who you think the customer is. This was a fantastic location to give us the best chance to understand that.
Michael: In this age of where it's just so little friction to start a business, to start a product, all these wonderful digitally native brands can just pop up online. But this is still brick and mortar, and you have to make a bet. You're spending nine months from the time you're find a space, negotiating a lease, putting a ton of cash out to build out a space for a concept that you don't really know how it's going to turn out.
We had good hunches, but that was certainly the nerve‑wracking part about that. I think we see all these brands that are digitally native, and suddenly they open a retail store. We almost came at it the reverse way, in starting brick and mortar, and moving our business more and more online and connecting the digital experience to the physical.
You've got this large, multibillion dollar category, players are playing to an outdated playbook. There seems to be this huge, massive market that's been totally ignored. Some of the questions that we got from the investors before we opened our first door was like, “Why doesn't this already exist?”
Can you speak about the decision making behind the curation of brands that you sell, and how you go about choosing them?
Michael: I think when we started, we went into it knowing that the skincare conversation has changed a lot since we opened, put it that way. I think when we opened in 2015, there was a lot less consumer conversation around skincare.
Since then we've seen so many brands and curators come up in that space. It's been amazing to see how informed clients are about the space, how much attention there is. I think that only benefits us.
In terms of how we choose what we choose, obviously we lean on the talents of the team who work with ingredients day in and day out. I think, really, our way in is about ingredients. If you were to helicopter into our training, on our first day, really that's where we start with everything.
The therapists, the products they use are the tools of their craft. If you break that down even further, it's really ingredients. If you flip over the label on any product you can tell right away the quality or how it's built, or what's its purpose is.
We want to make sure that everything that we're using with them is purposeful, is results‑oriented, but is safe, and is with brands that we think are doing a good job leading that conversation in the marketplace.
Do you have any plans for more brick and mortars in the future?
Adam: The simple answer is yes. I think for us, a key strategic focus for the brand openings for a couple of years, is to replicate in L.A. what we've done in New York. I think we've got a market that, while it's sort of different in a number of respects, you've also got this huge market that wants to look and feel great as part of this holistic approach to self‑care.
I think Michael and I are incredibly excited to take the brand to other parts of the West Coast. It involves more time on a plane, certainly. I think that the chance to become a national brand for us is incredibly exciting. I think as we put the right flag there, we're going to have a better sense of what then the right sort of national sequencing looks out physically.
Then I think we tie it together by elevating the online experience, and technology in a way where we do become omnichannel. I think we've got a thesis that channels are ultimately merging in the category, and to be the right brand, to engage us the right way with clients, you need to play a role in all of those channels.
Michael: If I had to sum it up, it would be to create a more connected and quality experience for our customers. I'll break that down in two parts. The connected part is, now that we have this footprint in the brick‑and‑mortar space, which was the best way to be introduced to our brand and the expertise we offer.
How do we better support both the good work that our therapists do and all of the inputs we have from our clients in brick and mortar in a digital way to help them take care of their skin throughout the month or months that they're not with us. We can certainly do a much better job linking that experience. Similarly I, obviously being the space, participate in the Reddit Skincare Addiction and Facebook groups.
It's amazing to see how many people are reaching out for advice. They take a picture of their face or their medicine cabinet and say, “Hey, people. Hey, friends. Hey, strangers. What do you think?” To see the good intentions of hacking solutions together is pretty astounding. This goes back to my point of there's a missing character in all of this.
How do we take the good work that our team does in the shop, blast that out of our four walls, and connect that to clients that we have in our cities that we're in but also the places that we're not yet? That's exciting.
Then on the quality front, to me that's just something as a brand grows, that’s the hard work we have to do to keep that quality high and consistent across locations, across shops. That's the meat of any hospitality‑business challenge, is to do that so that your customer has the same experience the first time as they do the 24th time.
Heyday's commitment to personalized service is just one example of retailers going above and beyond to add value to their offerings. For more examples of similar inspiring retailers catering to consumer demand for more customized retail experiences, see PSFK's reports and newsletters.