Arnaud Plas is banking on a bespoke French machine to transform his Brooklyn-based niche hair care company, Prose, into a beauty juggernaut.
Arnaud Plas, the co-founder and CEO of Prose, is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a machine weighing around 18 meters and 10 tonnes that he spent two years custom-building. Currently in spare parts on a boat somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, en route to Brooklyn from Normandy, the new equipment will allow him to expand his ultra-luxury shampoo business by producing up to 30,000 bottles of personalized shampoo. per day. Each bottle will cost $ 25 for 240ml, about ten times the price of a regular Pantene bottle. If all goes well, it will arrive at the end of August, and it will soon be able to increase production speed by 30 times.
Arnaud Plas thinks he can sell all that expensive shampoo – and more. Prose is on track to hit $ 50 million in revenue this year, more than triple last year’s figure and beyond its most optimistic “pre-pandemic” forecast.
The company also expects to be profitable for the first time next year, helped by a large number of loyal customers (55% have repeated purchases in the past 12 months, which is well above the 30% for in industry, according to what Arnaud Plas says). The company, which has raised $ 25 million in venture capital funds, is valued at around $ 350 million.
“We knew that [without the machine] we were a haircare brand in New York City, which was not the ambition of the company,” said Arnaud Plas, 39, who previously worked at L’Oréal. Its ambition, on the contrary, is to grow: to make its young shampoo company a major player in the high-end hair care market, which weighs around 850 million dollars.
A projection that does not seem out of reach. After all, before the pandemic, people were already rushing for expensive hair potions from brands like Bumble and Bumble ($ 25 and up for 225ml) and Olaplex ($ 28 for 240ml).
Premium products are only a small part of the hair care industry, which is worth around $ 13 billion, but this segment has seen double-digit growth in recent years and has remained stable during the pandemic, while that overall sales of beauty products have plummeted.
Lots of things could go wrong. There could be issues with Arnaud Plas’s machine or, like many beauty brands, Prose could simply run out of steam as the country settles into recession and fickle consumers move on to the next product.
But Arnaud Plas, who has spent most of his adult life marketing consumer products, is not discouraged. He grew up in the southwest of France, in a small town called Brive-la-Gaillarde, known for its large food market. His father worked as a production manager in a factory; her mother was an accounting assistant. As a child, he wanted to open a bakery. “I’m French,” he said with a smile.
Instead, after earning a master’s degree in marketing from French business school NEOMA Business School, he got a job as a manager of a laundry detergent brand at German consumer products giant Henkel. In 2010, he joined L’Oréal to supervise Elseve. In 2014, he was based in New York as L’Oréal’s vice president of digital strategy and e-commerce.
It was there that he first came up with the idea of using technology to improve products, rather than just introducing new ones to take over in-store real estate. We said, “We have shampoo for dry hair, so why not create shampoo for very dry hair, and that will increase shelf space with two references at Walmart and Target,” says Arnaud Plas.
He presented the idea internally at L’Oréal. “They said to me, ‘Arnaud, you are not here to disrupt the industry,’” he says.
Frustrated, he left L’Oréal in 2016 and quickly decided to start a shampoo customization business. With Paul Michaux, whom he had first hired as an intern at L’Oréal, Nicolas Mussat, former technical director of the real estate company MeillAgents; and Catherine Taurin, one of the best hair chemists in France, he launched Prose in 2017. (Paul Michaux, 30, is now vice-president of the company’s products, while Nicolas Mussat, 40, is its director technical, based in Paris. Catherine Taurin remains a consultant but is not part of the start-up full time).
After a false start with standard software that turned out to be slow and clunky, Prose built its own version. Based on customer responses to a detailed online survey of 25 questions covering hair type, scalp health, and even zip code, the software quickly determines what mix each individual should get. According to Prose, it can provide up to 79 trillion possible blends using more than 160 ingredients, ranging from prosaic (coconut oil) to exotic (butterfly pea flower). As with any business that relies on data and machine learning, the more customers who complete the Prose questionnaire (over 2 million to date), the more information it has to refine its products. Prose’s new subscription plan, which provides members with a 15% discount and personalized hairstyling advice, helps retain these customers.
Arnaud Plas affirme que ces mélanges ont aidé Prose non seulement à attirer des clients qui auraient pu autrement faire leurs achats dans des centres de beauté comme Sephora, mais aussi ceux qui achetaient auparavant des mousses bon marché comme Pantene.
Il est essentiel de faire en sorte que ces consommateurs continuent à payer, surtout si le ralentissement économique dure longtemps, pour pouvoir créer une entreprise plus importante. Il en va de même pour les espoirs d’expansion de Arnaud Plas, au-delà du shampoing et de l’après-shampoing.
Il pense que l’entreprise pourrait d’abord se lancer dans des domaines connexes (la couleur des cheveux, peut-être) et éventuellement aller plus loin (vers les soins de la peau, peut-être, ou d’autres catégories de soins beauté).