Beginning life as a neighborhood apothecary in New York City's East Village in 1851, Kiehl’s has amassed a dedicated worldwide following over the past 165 years—one free sample at a time. You know you love their Amino Acid Shampoo; here are some things you might not know about the famed purveyors of natural beauty products.
1. FOUNDER JOHN KIEHL BEGAN WORKING AT THE STORE THAT WOULD EVENTUALLY BEAR HIS NAME WHEN HE WAS 20 YEARS OLD.
A first generation American from a German family, John Kiehl worked as an apprentice at the Englehardt & Huber Apothecary on the corner of Third Avenue and 13th Street in New York City in the 1880s. He worked for the second owners of the store, which had been serving area residents since 1851. In 1894, Kiehl purchased the pharmacy from his bosses and rebranded it with his own name; in 1921, the store passed from Kiehl to his own apprentice, Irving Morse, and eventually Morse’s descendants.
2. A TREE OUTSIDE THE STORE WAS MORE FAMOUS THAN THE PHARMACY.
The location of the first Kiehl’s at 109 Third Avenue in New York City's East Village is an intersection known as Pear Tree Corner. It's named that for a tree supposedly planted in 1647 by one of the city's earliest settlers, Peter Stuyvesant, which would have made it the oldest tree in New York. Unfortunately, the tree was the victim of a collision between two horse-drawn carriages in 1857, but a new pear tree was replanted at the location in 2003. Both the original Kiehl’s and the new pear tree still stand.
3. MALES COMPRISE A LARGE PORTION OF THE COMPANY'S CUSTOMER BASE.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
When Aaron Morse took over the family business, he expanded the company's product line quite extensively, including creating much of the men’s line. It's a good thing he did; today, it's estimated that males make up between 30 and 40 percent of the the brand's customer base.
4. A CHIMPANZEE DELIVERED PRODUCTS TO CUSTOMERS IN LOS ANGELES.
When Kiehl’s started selling products outside its New York store for the first time, Aaron Morse, who inherited the company from his father, trained his pet chimpanzee to deliver Kiehl's products to new customers in Los Angeles. The chimp would usually pull up in a white limousine or red Ferrari, walk to a customer’s front door, and ring the doorbell.
5. EVERY EMPLOYEE ATTENDS A FOUR-WEEK RESIDENCY SCHOOL.
Kiehl's employees need to earn those white lab coats. New “retail partners” go through four weeks of training, where they learn about the chemistry, use, and application of Kiehl’s products, and the expectations of being part of the Kiehl’s team, including never sending a customer away without a sample. Employees are encouraged to think of themselves more as pharmacists.
6. KIEHL’S SELLS 1.5 BOTTLES OF CREME DE CORPS EVERY MINUTE.
Originally introduced in the early 1970s, Kiehl’s Creme de Corps lotion has been one of the company's bestselling products for more than 40 years now, selling an average of 1.5 bottles every minute. It doesn't hurt the product's reputation that it's a go-to item for some of the world's most influential celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, who mentioned it during a segment on Good Morning America.
Creme de Corps isn’t the only Kiehl’s product that has gained some famous fans. Andy Warhol loved Blue Astringent, a colorful (it really is blue) multipurpose herbal toner that can be used as spot treatment and as an aftershave as well. In the last five years, the company has sold nearly 900,000 bottles of the big blue.
7. KIEHL’S GIVES AWAY MORE THAN 12 MILLION SAMPLES A YEAR.
All those free samples add up; altogether, those freebies equal about 80 percent of the company's marketing budget. Rather than lure customers with flashy ad campaigns, Kiehl’s has relied on word-of-mouth and the quality of their products to attract people to their stores since the 1970s, when Aaron Morse started the tradition of doling out generous samples to his customer base—the idea being that, after trying that Blue Astringent for themselves at no cost, the customer will be back to buy some.
To illustrate the use of botanicals and natural ingredients in beauty items, over the years, Kiehl’s has donated more than 100 products and artifacts, including the original formulas for many of its early products, to the Institute’s Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Collection. Part of the Medicine and Science division, the collection aims to highlight the relationship between medicinal and cosmetic products and document the change in America’s ideas on beauty over the years.
9. THE HELLS ANGELS ONCE SERVED AS THE COMPANY’S SECURITY TEAM.
Aaron Morse’s interests outside of beauty products and training chimpanzees included motorcycles; in addition to showcasing his vintage motorcycle collection at the flagship store in New York City, he hired members of the Hells Angels as security for the store in the 1970s.
10. KIEHL’S HAS LAUNCHED ITS PRODUCTS INTO SPACE AND SENT THEM TO MOUNT EVEREST.
When the company wanted to debut its new Oil Eliminator with a bang, Kiehl’s focused on the fact that an ingredient in the product, aerolite, has also been used by NASA, and decided to send the Oil Eliminator skyward. The mini-spaceship was launched and landed in rural Pennsylvania, but it wasn't the first time Kiehl’s went to great heights to highlight its products. In 1988, the company sponsored an expedition to Mountain Everest and equipped the mountain-climbing team with lip balm and moisturizer, amongst other swag.