Raymond Cloosterman may be the founder and CEO of Dutch home and body brand Rituals but he himself has some interesting rituals that he follows religiously. "I have two morning rituals to recommend," says the Dutchman, in an email interview with Friday. "An important one [is] to start your day with an ice-cold shower. I do it every day, it’s the perfect wake-up call for body and mind.

"The second is to always make my bed in the morning."

The latter was inspired by a novel he read called Make Up Your Mind, which underscores that by doing so, it starts your day with something positive and improves your productivity throughout the day. "[Also] my wife tells me to!" adds Raymond.

Named Mr Perfect by a Dutch magazine and as the Dutch version of James Bond by Vanity Fair, the head honcho prefers instead to be called Mr Perfectionist. "When you’re building a global brand like Rituals, you have to strive for perfection: all the way, every day. And you have to do that with passion and a healthy dose of obsession," he says.

Steering a company that enjoys "creating beautiful things that help change everyday routines into special moments" is surely no easy task and demands a certain sense of perfectionism. "It all has to add up: the perfumes, the products, the designs, the stores, the service, and the experience. If we can achieve all that and keep up with it, our mission is successful."

Clearly, the scent of success wafts around Rituals. The fastest-growing beauty brand in Europe, it notched up a record year of growth in 2020 powering forward as a more digitally driven company, while also opening 40 new stores globally and a flagship store in Amsterdam.

"It felt strange to open our most important store amid the lockdowns in Europe, but we believe that in times like this, you must invest in new ideas and new concepts," says the man who steered the company while global trade was experiencing perhaps one of the most difficult times in recent history.

"We could’ve grown much faster," says Raymond, admitting he used the crisis to reinvent the company. "At the end of day, we’re in better shape than ever."

Excerpts from the interview:

How has Covid impacted your personal and professional life?

On both levels, personal and professional, in times of crisis, you realise you need each other more than ever. Business wise, we reinvented our company. Despite growing by 20-40 per cent each year, for the past 10 years, a reset like this has been very useful. We set new priorities, invested heavily in new technology, putting digital first and preparing ourselves for the next 20 years. The landscape is different now and we’ve adapted with it. Despite the crisis, we continued to invest heavily in the brand, introducing 200 new products, opening 40 stores globally, including in Dubai Mall.

Initially, the crisis was tough and so much was unclear. 850 stores in lockdown, 0 income, and 100 million dirhams of bills every month in terms of store rent and staff. I was angry and sad at the beginning. I’m an entrepreneur and I want to fix things: but the ending was unclear, so we had to get through it.

The first two weeks we concentrated with our team on creating a worst-case scenario and a goal to make it to Christmas. After that, we had our spirit back, our positivity back, and started to create new business models to work on solutions. That was an incredible experience. As a team, we became closer than ever. Looking back, we turned it into a very successful year.

On a personal level, my world was upside down. No travelling, spending a lot of time at home, with the kids and the family, but making the best out of it. In parallel to business life, we became closer than ever at home too.

How do you think Covid has affected the way we shop for personal care products?

In times like this, work-life balance is more important than ever. We want to change a house into a home, we want to pamper ourselves. It’s about rediscovering the magic in the everyday, and Rituals is at the heart of this, with our philosophy centered on changing everyday routines into small meaningful moments. In that sense, Covid has strengthened the popularity of our brand and our products, and it’s clear in our results.

The demand for luxury home-care products, including candles and fragrance sticks has grown, and the need to create an ambiance to change a house into a home is more relevant than ever. By offering our beautiful fragrances in products for the home, created by the best perfumers in the world, has been pivotal to keep up with this demand.

From a channel perspective, we’ve seen the rise of e-com grow tremendously. Our e-commerce platform grew by 400 per cent in the first months of lockdown and structurally it has doubled in share due to our investment in new business models such as the VIP shopping where our customers could experience a private shopping experience through an online booking system. Then there is the Ship from Store initiative, where we guided the internet orders to a store nearby, and delivered those orders within an hour, straight to our customers. Around Christmas time, I too went around on a bicycle in Amsterdam with my colleagues to deliver packages. A more personal service is hard to imagine. This was to meet the demand of over 100,000 orders, on top of our robotised B2C channels.

How was the WFH experience for you? Our research says men found it to be as tough as women did.

I found my own way through the crisis, 50 per cent working from home, 50 per cent still at the office. Wherever possible, I tried to visit stores around Europe, by working from the car on the road. My car was my new office. This was crucial to motivate the teams, to show that we care just as much as they do about our customers and to show solidarity. Although I’m a bit old fashioned as I love working from the office and truly believe it’s how you create a culture together, Covid made me realise it’s also very efficient to work from home. On a personal level, I quite liked working from home, with meetings starting on time and ending earlier. Less [wastage of time], more productivity. At the same time, it was also tough, because you run in circles between your WhatsApp, emails, and Teams meetings, and by the end of the day I had more action points than when I started. At the same time, the two hours I spent in the car getting to work, I use to play tennis, play golf, and stay fit.

You come from the land of Gezelligheid. What does it mean to you and how do you incorporate it in your daily life?

Gezelligheid is a Dutch concept and there is no direct translation in any other language, but it comes close to the feeling of being cosy. It’s essentially about being together, enjoying each other’s company, and taking things as they are. Gezelligheid has everything to do with the concept that life is what you make of it. You have to celebrate every possible moment.

Rituals is now a 20-year-old company. What are your plans for it?

Over the next 10 years, we want to take the brand and the company to the next level. We’re going to new regions within the Middle East, and together with the Apparel Group, we want to grow from 25 to 100 stores. Our eye is on Saudi Arabia next year, especially after the great store openings in Dubai Mall and Kuwait Avenues. We also want to solidify our presence in other areas of Europe such as Italy and Poland, and maybe Russia. However, our biggest challenge will be to become successful in Asia, which is a big project of ours. On top of that we’re looking for new business models, including the introduction of the House of Rituals with 600 new stock-keeping units (SKUS), which are currently only available in our flagship store and online. Through our database of 8 million and through our 1,000 stores, we’ll be able to sell the 600 new SKUS globally, which will mark the extension of our flagship start-up in addition to our existing brand. Now that we’ve established the brand, we would love to create a community. On our app, you can already find meditation and yoga exercises, and House of Rituals will add another dimension to this.

Finally, in 2021, we want our momentum back by opening 100 new stores across the world and hitting our €1-billion target, which we aim to double over the next five to 10 years.

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