When it comes to the entrepreneurial journey, there is something to be said about the importance of creating a 5-year business plan. Turns out, there is also something to be said for trusting the power of serendipity and intuition, in addition to planning.
With a flagship location in Soho and a burgeoning wholesale brand, Chillhouse is strategically expanding on a global level, starting with its recent opening in Paris’ iconic department store, Galeries Lafayette.
Founder, CEO and “Queen of Chill” Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton always had Chillhouse’s international expansion as part of the master plan, but a specific strategy hadn’t been solidified when the opportunity with Galeries Lafayette came about last year.
“Chillhouse never really adhered to some sort of rulebook,” Ramirez-Fulton explains. “I’ve never said, Let me grab something out of the playbook of startups. That’s just not who I am, nor is it how I want to operate. I knew other markets would be a little while away and given that Galeries Lafayette was so keen on supporting us throughout the process, it became a lot easier to digest this launch from a logistics standpoint.”
Consider the fact, this is also coming out of the pandemic, which led to Chillhouse’s pivot of Chill Tips, one of its branded products. Chill Tips and its face and body oil are already part of the brand’s wholesale strategy.
But launching a line of branded products and diversifying one’s product assortment beyond services is one thing — expanding to a whole other continent is another.
Chillhouse first opened its doors in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 2017, as a café-spa serving as a space to seek some chill in New York City’s hustle. Now, its opening as part of the Wellness Galerie marks Chillhouse’s European debut, offering services such as nail art, manicures and massages, as well as products like its signature Chill Tips and facial tools.
Galeries Lafayette’s Wellness Galerie is a new space housing several wellness brands in a space measuring 32,290 square feet, in what promises to be the largest space devoted to wellness in Europe. Its soft opening took place July 4 while its official kickoff will be in September, perfectly timed with Fashion Month.
“Launching a business in a company and a country that you don’t know all the nuances of when it comes to operating a business, of course, that was the biggest concern we had,” Ramirez-Fulton shares. “However, I felt a lot better knowing that it was a store-in-store. I love the idea of being inside somebody else’s domain, so to speak, versus a standalone store in Paris.”
The Wellness Galerie offers a unique, holistic approach to wellness to balance the body and mind, “away from the hustle and bustle of the city” — a mission statement that is perfectly aligned with Chillhouse’s brand ethos.
After all, the wellness boom that surged since the pandemic isn’t slowing down anytime soon: according to the Global Wellness Institute, the world wellness economy was worth $4.4 trillion as of 2020 and is forecast to reach $7 trillion by 2025.
I spoke with Fulton-Ramirez about translating a brand to another country, how synchronicity played a role in the expansion, the importance of strong intuition as a founder, and why when you bet on yourself, the (chill) house always wins.
Here are her top six takeaways:
Trust the power of the universe and lean into it: “Given it was Galeries Lafayette, I was very impressed by the project and intrigued, but me and my husband — who is also my partner — left the first meeting thinking, this is going to be impossible for us. Every dollar that we invest has to be carefully dissected. And then I said, I think there’s enough driving us in this direction here. Let’s just sit on it and see how we feel in a couple of days, when we get back to the States.”
Be open to synchronicity (a.k.a. those moments when you hear about or are thinking about something, and then solutions or what seem like coincidences, arise.): “There was a chic French woman literally sitting right next to us at a café, who jumped in and helped us out while we were dining. So we started chatting with her and sure enough, she said, ‘I’ve worked with other brands and helped them establish a French presence and grow internationally.’ So she’s a consultant from the U.S. that lives in Paris, who helps brands open… in Paris. Nothing is random, so look up, and keep your eyes and ears open!”
Hire a local consultant, if you can, and make sure you hire people that understand the culture: “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without a consultant who really helped us dot the i’s and cross the t’s, who understands the intricacies of being a French employer. What are the rules and the laws? What do contracts look like? So we’re very thorough with all of it, down to our bookkeeping company, our recruitment agency, our contract lawyer — we have all of these people at our disposal for any questions, in addition to Galeries Lafayette who is a huge asset in knowing how to run a business in France.”
When launching a brand, it’s about building a universe — brick and mortar, as well as branded products: “If you’re in Paris, you can exclusively get our Chill Tips press-ons and a couple of our face tools in the store. And we’re working on getting more products to the store.”
Adapt to the market. “We completely revamped our lookbook just for the Parisian customer. We did a whole new photoshoot, edited our designs slightly and tweaked them so that we can ease them into it. I thought about what the Parisian customer would want and tailored it accordingly.”
Welcome this new customer into your brand — and listen: “Yes, I’m bringing our Chillhouse flair into the French market, but I’m slowly easing them into that New York energy — without completely shaking shit up.”