Michael Pollak and Adam Ross, the co-founders of Heyday, reinvented the facial by taking it out of the spa and bringing it into people’s lives. Five years later, the lockdown forced them to rethink how they deliver such a personalized experience digitally with stores closed and customers stuck at home.
The beauty industry looked a lot different in 2015. Glossier had just launched its Phase 1 Set, Credo Beauty had just opened its first physical store, and Gloria Noto was laying the groundwork for her eponymous skincare line, NOTO Botanics.
Facials, that glamorous skincare treatment long the realm of vacation resorts, remained unchanged, as costly and time-consuming as ever. Five years on, it’s the kind of artifact that seems almost impossible to reckon with. Manicures and pedicures could be done on the go—why couldn’t facials?
Speaking to Michael Pollak, the co-founder of Heyday alongside Adam Ross, it’s here that the Heyday story begins. “The whole idea was to take the facial and the experience and knowledge of estheticians out of where they had always lived, which was a luxury spa that was tucked away,” says Pollak.
Recalling that time now, Pollak breaks down the category’s traditional barrier to entry and therefore the opportunity into three distinct factors: time, cost, and convenience.
1. Time: Take a facial at a spa. You change into a robe, wait in the waiting room, and then get your facial. In total the experience lasts around 90 minutes and that’s before you change back into your street clothes. Heyday could have you in and out the door in 60 minutes.
2. Cost: A spa facility in a luxury resort might occupy 10,000 square feet and offer multiple services and modalities with prices to match. By just focusing on facials, it lets Heyday change the entire model and make the service more accessible for more people. What typically costs north of $200 for a 50-minute facial at a resort, Heyday could charge half for.
3. Convenience: With so many choices, from sketchy corner places to luxury palaces, consumers don’t have one brand they can rely on. By focusing on facials and therefore needing far less footprint, Heyday could offer its services quickly and (relatively) affordably in bustling cities, while positioning itself as the brand for skincare and facials.
Listening to Pollak talk about this aspect of the business almost reads like a math equation: X + Y = Z. What the equation leaves out, however, are the softer aspects, the actual language of the brand. “We wanted to change the way people thought about facials through the way the brand speaks, the way the brand looks, the way the shops are designed, the way the brand is gender-agnostic.”
For Pollak, that meant flipping the script on facial stereotypes. Out with cucumbers on eyes and orchids in hair; in with memes, selfies, and checklists. The idea was to frame Heyday in the context of real life, the opposite of an extravagance reserved for birthdays and anniversaries. “We wanted the brand to be something people could envision integrating into their everyday.”
At the same time, Pollak acknowledges this mindset—taking something considered luxurious and making it accessible—was everywhere in 2015. “We didn’t reinvent the facial. What we did is deliver a classic facial treatment that stands up to any spa in a different environment with a different brand and different semantics that resonate with a new audience.”
“We wanted to change the way people thought about facials through the way the brand speaks, the way the brand looks, the way the shops are designed, the way the brand is gender-agnostic.”
When the brand was preparing to launch, Pollak was concerned he might have to convince facial skeptics of the benefits. Fortunately, enough people had a vague sense of what a facial was that Heyday was able to fold first-timers into its roster, a testament to the strength of the brand he’d been building and something Pollak attributes to recontextualizing the ancient treatment: “It’s never been in an environment or under a brand where people, especially people newer to the category, felt comfortable tapping in.”
The environment Pollak would go on to create mirrors the positioning of the brand itself. It’s one that stems from taking long-held beliefs about facials—that they’re intimidating, that speaking is forbidden, that you’re expected to know everything about your own skin—and turning them on their head. “We’re a conversational brand. While you’re getting a great facial massage that relaxes you, you’re learning something. That makes the experience more connected and much less intimidating.” Questions range from what products customers are using to any skin issues they’ve been experiencing.
Integral to making this experience work, of course, is the staff, Heyday’s licensed estheticians. “Our estheticians are investigators and listeners. They’re able to look at issues with a trained eye and understand things that are happening to your skin that people aren’t always clear on.”
Heyday refers to them as Skin Therapists, a nod to their daily work which sees them touching people’s skin for eight hours a day, while listening to their concerns and learning about their goals. It’s the kind of intimate understanding one would expect from, well, a therapist. The considered title can even be thought of as an extension of the Heyday brand, further reflecting its desire to take an historically stuffy practice and make it that much more relatable and approachable.
“Everything we do, we do with zero judgment.”
From the beginning, Pollak set out to make the experience as inclusive and personalized as possible, an industry standard now but rare just five years ago. “Everything we do, we do with zero judgment. If you don’t have a skincare routine and you use bar soap: totally cool. Let’s talk about that. We’re also not going to then customize a 10-step routine because that wouldn’t be the right next step.”
The approach was designed to have a knock-on effect for Heyday, turning first-time customers into lifelong customers. “We want to understand what the customer’s journey with us will look like both with the products they take home and when they return for subsequent treatments.”
Fast forward to today and all of this brand building is paying off. Heyday counts nine stores in its portfolio—six in New York, three in Los Angeles, and one in Philadelphia. Make that 10 if you count the shop-in-shop in Nordstrom’s flagship. Such a remarkable rollout and investment in physical space, a must considering the nature of the business, begs the question: how did Heyday leverage its brand to deliver the experience its become known for during the lockdown?
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Reinventing a Reinvention
Heyday had always imagined itself as being a larger platform and solution for skincare. What the lockdown did is accelerate this shift, while giving them time to rethink strategies at both their brick-and-mortar locations and online. On the brick-and-mortar side, Heyday took the chance to come up with an even more personalized experience for when customers would eventually be allowed back in. (Facial services were permitted in New York in early September and Heyday’s revamped services can be experienced at all its New York locations with the exception of the Nordstrom’s shop-in-shop.)
The biggest changes, though, have occurred on the digital side. The challenge for Pollak had always been extending the magic of what you get in the treatment room to a much broader set of customers online. With the onset of the lockdown, him and his team were forced to tackle it much sooner than anticipated.
Delivering the Personalized Experience Virtually
One of the earliest solutions came in the form of virtual consultations. Heyday partnered with Hero to offer clients the ability to hop on video calls with Skin Therapists and run through general skincare routines or address specific issues. The team then extended this offering to frontline workers: “We saw frontline workers saying things like, ‘I’m wearing PPE for 12 hours a day and my skin’s freaking out. What should I do?’”
The two avenues proved something to Heyday early on: that the expertise of Skin Therapists could carry through to the digital world. For customers not yet ready for such a personalized experience, Heyday launched a skin quiz on its website, factoring in the kind of information one would provide to a Skin Therapist and recommending a number of products based on skin type and concern.
Recalling the brand’s mission from day one, “to take the facial and the experience and knowledge of estheticians out of where they had always lived,” Heyday introduced an ambassador program for its Skin Therapists. “Estheticians are getting texts and DMs all the time. We want our team to earn a piece of their recommendations—not just let the sale go to Amazon. We want them to monetize their knowledge outside of our walls, too.”
Beyond empowering its employees through initiatives like the above, Heyday nearly doubled its SKU count over the last six months, giving Skin Therapists a larger pool of products to recommend to customers, something Pollak realizes was a long time coming. “In a store like ours, 15% of square footage is dedicated to shelving. When you only have X number of brands it looks full, and then you go to a website and that same number looks really empty.”
Scrolling through the site today, the amount of products available speaks to the expertise of its staff and to what its customers are looking for. There’s a big enough library for Skin Therapists to choose from yet not enough to overwhelm customers. It again goes back to the ethos of the brand, complementing the original vision of offering customers a simple, unintimidating experience, while adapting to the demands of today.
Looking forward, Pollak sees this transformation as the beginning of a new type of retailer-customer dynamic—and the beginning of something permanent. “This period normalized more digital interaction. The old hesitation of hopping on video has gone by the wayside and it’s here to stay.”
For Heyday, that means working towards something far more ambitious yet absolutely doable given its brand positioning and the tools available to retailers and customers today. “We want to be synonymous with esthetician while redefining what esthetician means. If somebody loves doing facials and being in the treatment room and they don’t want to do digital things, that’s awesome. You can do that. If you want to diversify how you work and work with clients digitally because you love retailing and helping people build a routine, you can do that. At that level of skincare expertise, you can do both and meet clients’ needs wherever they are. That’s the ultimate goal.”
All images courtesy of Heyday.