Bucking the Trend

Source Vitál Looks to Get Bigger and Better with Expanded Showroom

As brick-and-mortar retail faces an uncertain future, the Houston skincare company hopes its custom products will bring people through the door.

By Abby Ledoux July 20, 2018

Source Vitál's expanded showroom includes more space for its custom bar, pictured here on the left.

Much like Taylor Swift, Source Vitál Apothecary has come a long way since 1989. What began then as a line of natural skincare products for professional use in day spas—specifically Houston's Sanctuary Spa, one of the first in the country, owned by Source Vitál's founders—is now a one-stop-shop for your customized beauty regime.

In fact, that's the reason for the company's recent showroom expansion. As more and more customers seek skincare solutions tailored to their needs, Source Vitál needed space to grow its custom product line—which now includes the popular "Facial Cocktail" serum, DIY mask kit, and, most recently, custom bath salt bar. After knocking down a few walls in front of the N. Post Oak lab where the small-batch goodies are concocted, the newly renovated Source Vitál Apothecary and Beauty Market was born.

The space smells amazing—Source Vitál was a pioneer in aromatherapy-based skincare, after all—and rich, multicolored walls match the jewel-toned product labels that correspond with Source Vitál's areas of expertise: orange for personal care, from best-selling natural deodorant to post-workout spray; lavender for aromatherapy, including travel-size inhalers for relaxation and mix-and-match essential oils; green for facial care, filled with cleansers, toners, serums, and scrubs of all scents and functions; and, finally, blue for bath and body, including lotion, recently reformulated body washes, and aromatic bath soaks.

The showroom displays relics of its nearly 30-year history, like these "original gangsters."

Source Vitál's all-natural, hand-crafted products have earned plenty of devotees over the last nearly three decades, but it's the company's pivot toward customized offerings that are bringing more people to the showroom.

"Our philosophy is there's no more effective product that you can use, either on your face or your body, than one that's made specifically for you," Source Vitál CEO Paul Colgin told Houstonia. "Basically, we want you to make the most effective product you can."

Since Colgin took over the family business in 2015, he's work to shift the company's focus to the consumer, hence the recent push for more individualized products. Twenty years ago, Colgin said, most people bought their products directly from the spa where they sought services; since then, "everything's shifted online, and they're going to big box retail. You're seeing the Ultas and Sephoras of the world; you're seeing things like Amazon launch a luxury beauty section and independent beauty section on its website. For us, going to where we could get our products in the hands of the customer was key."

That's the goal of the showroom, a full sensory experience where, unlike Ulta or Sephora, customers can leave with their own custom concoction (or a finished product that was made just steps away). Still, in the age of proliferating e-tail, Colgin knows expanding his physical store is a gamble.

Source Vitál CEO Paul Colgin mixes up a custom facial cocktail serum.

Image: Abby Ledoux

"This is a test run for brick and mortar," he said. "We were looking to open up a store [somewhere else] ... [but] we thought, there's a whole lot of people closing down. You've got to really have your ducks in a row to make retail work ... and let's see. If we can bring people here, we can bring people to a store somewhere."

Beyond more room for Source Vitál's custom bar, the expansion also added space to stock complementary products from other independent lines with otherwise limited distribution. "You're not going to find these in a Target or Nordstrom," Colgin said, gesturing to the wall of shelves stocked with everything from organic toothpaste to hand-crafted vegan candles. "They're very similar to our lines in terms of philosophy, in terms of distribution, and in terms of ingredients."

That means "clean" products focused on wellness and free of chemicals and synthetic compounds like parabens or sodium lauryl sulphate. Colgin also wanted to bolster fellow Texas brands, so Source Vital customers will now find activated charcoal oral care from New Braunfels-based My Magic Mud, small-batch bar soaps from San Saba, sunless tanning products and bath bombs from Beauty by Earth out of Flower Mound, and organic kid's sun care from New Heights Naturals here in Houston, plus more from other small brands around the country Colgin's met through independent beauty expos.

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