Scion of jewellery empire on board local skincare brand

As adviser of brand and strategy, Mr Francois Arpels will focus on how Skin Inc can interact with customers through social media, among other avenues.
As adviser of brand and strategy, Mr Francois Arpels will focus on how Skin Inc can interact with customers through social media, among other avenues.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Mr Francois Arpels, whose grandfather founded Van Cleef & Arpels, joins the board of home-grown brand Skin Inc

The scion of French jewellery empire Van Cleef & Arpels, Mr Francois Arpels, now sits on the board of local skincare brand Skin Inc.

His new role as board adviser of brand and strategy, assumed in January, will have him "challenge thoughts" and contribute ideas to the decade-old home-grown brand founded by entrepreneur Sabrina Tan.

The dapper 50-year-old, who spoke to The Straits Times last month, met Ms Tan three years ago through a mutual acquaintance. They became fast friends and Ms Tan invited him to sit on the board. Though based in Delhi, India, Mr Arpels will be in Singapore quarterly for meetings and receive monthly updates via video conference calls.

The Frenchman agreed immediately as he wanted to help the label continue its global expansion and contribute to what he described as the brand's "constant innovation".

Referring to the trait, he says: "Brands should never just rest. You should reinvent yourself constantly, be challenged regularly and have the resources to look at every angle and be on the edge. Or else you lose market share and the edge that you have."

Founded in 2007, Skin Inc is known for its 10 serums which can be blended to generate more than 100 customised combinations. This concept offers customers personalisation, which Mr Arpels says helps to create an "emotional attachment" to the brand.

Even when you come to the counter to pay; how the products are wrapped and handed over to the client; the packaging and the posture of the salesperson. These are part of the ceremony and impact the clients' perception of the brand.

MR FRANCOIS ARPELS, co-founder and managing partner of private-equity fund Brands & Beyond

Today, Skin Inc is available at more than 400 distribution points worldwide, in more than 69 cities such as Milan and New York. It opened its second standalone store in Singapore last September at Scotts Square and plans to open two more here by June.

Ms Tan, Skin Inc's chief executive officer, says that Mr Arpels' appointment to the board happened organically. "I asked him very casually actually. We've always been exchanging ideas. He is very passionate about the brand," says the 42-year-old mother of two.

Mr Arpels, a father of one, joins five others on the board, including Ms Tan Yen Yen, Asia-Pacific president of telecommunications company Vodafone Global Enterprise, and Dr Ronald L. Bisset, who has 32 years of skincare research experience with consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble.

Mr Arpels will be focusing on how coherent the brand is across its many customer touch points - the products, the packaging and the marketing offline and online.

"I will also help look at the brand's data - how it can extract from its database to understand its customers better and how to interact with them and how to be present in their lives," he says, adding that this is important when reaching out to the elusive millennial shopper.

"Brands need to speak to millennials in their own language, use personalities that they follow and trust and like to be associated with."

To do so, he says, brands must use all forms of social media and feed live content to users who want instant gratification. "It is about being with them, on the go all the time," he says.

The co-founder and managing partner of Brands & Beyond, a private-equity fund focused on investments in lifestyle and luxury brands, knows how to snag the customer.

As a teenager, he spent his holidays working as an apprentice in his family business, luxury jewellery label Van Cleef & Arpels, founded by his grandfather and developed by his father.

At the retail stores of the famed jewellery house, with celebrity clients such as Princess Grace of Monaco and actress Elizabeth Taylor, he greeted customers, answered their questions and learnt about the intricacies of handling well-heeled shoppers.

He went on to work officially at Van Cleef & Arpels for more than a decade before leaving in 1997.

He says that "customer ceremony" - a term he coined to describe client engagement from start to end - is an area that Singapore retailers can improve in.

"The client ceremony is whatever happens as soon as a client gets in touch with a brand to the time that he leaves the store or the online platform. It should be scientifically designed from start to finish," he says, adding that this includes the look, feel, colours and decorations of the store and how the staff are trained to interact with customers.

"Even when you come to the counter to pay; how the products are wrapped and handed over to the client; the packaging and the posture of the salesperson. These are part of the ceremony and impact the clients' perception of the brand."

As for the future of Skin Inc, he says, simply: "I think there is a lot of potential for market growth.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'From selling jewellery to skincare'. Print Edition | Subscribe