Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella claims to be the oldest pharmacy in the world, tracing its origins back to 1621 to a group of Dominican friars that experimented with herbal concoctions for healing.
The brand continues the tradition of producing colognes, soaps, creams, oils, as well as teas, honey and herbal liquors to this day.
Currently, the brand is owned by Italian investment company Italmobiliare, and is available all over the world including Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.
In 2018, Singapore-based lifestyle company Colony Clothing scored a contract to distribute the brand exclusively in the country.
For the first year or so, the brand was available in a single Colony Clothing retail store.
“We intentionally started small. Part of the reason why is that we weren’t sure how Singaporeans would respond to the brand. So, we introduced it little by little to the right people,” said Mayuko Vermeulen, brand manager of Santa Maria Novella Singapore.
According to Vermeulen, the owners of the brand have very strict directives when it comes to marketing.
“They are protective of the brand’s history, so we aren’t allowed to do any advertising or celebrity endorsements,” she said.
This posed a significant challenge for the brand, especially in the Singaporean market.
“It’s somewhat easier in markets like Japan because Japanese people value historical brands, even small ones. In Singapore, there’s more focus on brand names,” said Vermeulen.
As such, the company has had to rely solely on word-of-mouth to raise its brand awareness.
Vermeulen explained to CosmeticsDesign-Asia that the company’s strategy was to target key consumers from its existing network of customers.
“Many people who come to our store are well-travelled people that have known about the brand before and are excited that it’s now available in Singapore. This brand is not one with a lot of sparkles, it won’t catch the attention of new customers. So, we count on introductions from existing customers”
Vermeulen has observed a huge change in Singaporean consumers since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
She explained that the core philosophy of Santa Maria Novella is “healing people through scent”, and its holistic approach to well-being and lifestyle is now resonating more with Singaporean consumers.
“With the ongoing pandemic, I think people are becoming more conscious about how they spend their time at home. They think about what’s truly valuable in life so there’s more focus on the inner self, and the importance of well-being.”
Furthermore, with more appreciation of rituals and slow living, consumers are more likely to embrace the brand’s old-world allure.
“Santa Maria Novella is a very old brand with products that are so old sometimes it’s not practical, but I think that’s the charm of the brand. It makes people feel like they need to slow down.”
Under these circumstances, the brand has experienced an uptick of sales. It declined to share any figures but Vermuelen told us the company was very happy with the progress it has been making.
“At the beginning we really had no sales and now it’s like we’ve gone from zero to hundred. It’s really was the right timing.”
The growth was also driven by the unveiling of its flagship store in Isetan department store located in the shopping district of Orchard Road.
“We’ve always planned to open a store in a prominent location within three years, and now seemed like exactly the right time,” said Vermuelen.
With the new and more prominent location, the company will continue building brand awareness.
Vermuelen said it would focus on the brand’s physical retail presence more than online as it is a brand that needs to be experienced first-hand.
Moving forward, the company does not intend to open another store in Singapore, but instead is hoping to supply hotel spas, something the brand has done in Italy with prominent hotels like the Four Seasons.