A 10-minute livestream of Antica Farmacista products hosted by China’s top beauty influencer last week drew an estimated 10 million views and sales of thousands of the fragrance company’s scented oil and reed diffuser sets in just a few minutes.
It was a moment for the Seattle company, whose name means “Ancient Pharmacist,” demonstrating that the success co-founders Susanne Pruitt and Shelley Callaghan found in the U.S. has the potential to be replicated in China, the world’s largest consumer market. The livestream was facilitated by Alibaba Group’s Tmall Global Overseas Fulfillment program.
Antica Farmacista’s strong China debut comes as home fragrance – long popular in the West – gains traction among China’s house-proud consumers. They’re increasingly seeking and shopping for sophisticated and affordable luxury products for their abodes.
Antica Farmacista was founded in 2003, building its reputation on selling home-ambiance diffusers – a century-old type of product from the Mediterranean – in high-end U.S. department stores, such as Nordstrom and Bergdorf Goodman.
The company used a direct-sourcing approach from day one, said its co-founders. This meant building personal relationships with overseas manufacturers, instead of working through industry brokers or consultants. By taking such a “hands on” approach and arguably more-challenging path to production, Pruitt and Callaghan made a decision to get scrappy and resourceful. But it has paid off, lending a distinctive air to the scent-focused company.
“One of the things I think how we differentiate ourselves from a lot of other businesses is our flexibility and size. We chose to not work with middle men and we got very creative and were able to find these end manufacturers through Alibaba,” said Callaghan.
The two female entrepreneurs sifted through a long list of international manufacturers and countless rounds of due-diligence but eventually sniffed out the right suppliers on Alibaba.com. The B2B e-commerce site quickly became a go-to platform for Antica’s various sourcing needs, including raw materials like boxes, reed sticks and bottles.
“Once you can develop your own direct relationship, not only are you saving yourself a lot of money, but also a lot of time, and there’s more direct communication with the person doing the actual manufacturing,” said Pruitt.
To date, the company still takes pride in its ability to procure unique ingredients, handmade production process and self-developed formulations. As a result, Antica is able to create unique and long-lasting fragrances that aim to have customers follow their noses to a certain location, moment or season. Some of its best sellers include the Casablanca, Daphne Flower and Prosecco collections.
To reproduce Antica’s domestic sales success to China, another part of Alibaba’s ecosystem came into the picture – Tmall Global, Alibaba’s flagship cross-border B2C marketplace. Its Overseas Fulfillment program works as a consignment model for smaller brands without any China-based operations to test the waters in China.
Antica for example, has been leveraging Alibaba’s global warehouses in Los Angeles since 2019, keeping a flexible inventory of products in stock there. Once an order is placed, Tmall Global ships the product directly from the U.S. It arrives from warehouses to consumers in China in 7 to 10 days.
Additionally, the program effectively incubates international brands for China’s import shoppers. To this end, Tmall Global offers a slew of digital tools and support, such as KOL collaboration, online marketing and livestreaming to ensure continuous brand growth.
“If we look at China, Tmall Global is the leader in direct-to-consumer, and especially with a beauty-driven, luxury-based product like ours. You throw in influencers like Austin Li, and it only compounds to how big this could be for us. In terms of reaching that luxury-driven Chinese customer, we feel like Tmall Global is absolutely the way to go,” said Callaghan.
The home fragrance category has really taken off in China over the past year, explained Tony Shan, head of Tmall Global for the Americas. The pandemic and its related lockdowns caused many people to stay at home for months at a time. As a results, feel-good products and products that can enhance the home environment became widely popular.
“Home diffusers are a mood-lifter, and I think during the pandemic we need as much mood lifting as we can get, and we’ve seen that response from our customer base,” said Callaghan.
Though Antica already has 500-plus hotel partnerships and is on the shelves of retailers from coast-to-coast in the U.S., the brand is leaning towards a direct-to-consumer approach with Tmall Global after last week’s livestreaming success in China.
“As a result of Covid, we were, as with the rest of the world, shocked, stunned and nervous about the future of our business, and it’s been really rewarding for us to dig a little deeper with our customer base and really focus on direct-to-consumer sales,” said Callaghan.
Given how fragrance and perfumes are still in a nascent stage in China, Tmall Global predicts further category diversifications in the future and hopes to introduce expanded brand selections from around the world to meet consumer needs.