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The Art of Healthy Living

In Focus
NAME:Alexander Schmidt
LOCATION:Würzburg, Germany
Kneipp draws on the hydrotherapy and holistic healing practices of its Founder Sebastian Kneipp, known as the ‘Water Doctor’, in its range of relaxing bath and skincare products. But there is so much more to the brand, says CEO Alexander Schmidt.

Self-care has many faces, particularly today. In an era when stress and uncertainty have become an unwelcome part of everyday life, it’s more important than ever to prioritize it. How you choose to carry out that care comes down to personal preference, but rest assured, your needs are covered by a thriving and luxuriant self-care industry – no matter what floats your boat.

And if, appropriately, that happens to be water, you’re in for a real treat. German natural bath and body care company Kneipp has a generous range of shower gels, bubble baths and more to soothe the joints of a society out of joint.

The ultimate refinement of Founder Sebastian Kneipp’s 130-year-old hydrotherapy and holistic healing philosophies, the Kneipp line-up uses natural ingredients to achieve its comforting ends with a contemporary twist. The company and its staff share Sebastian’s firm belief in the power of nature and the effectiveness of water and restorative plants, something that can be hard for outsiders to understand at first glance. 

When Austrian-born Alexander Schmidt joined the Kneipp team in late 2017 fresh from a five-year term as Dyson’s Managing Director, his preconceptions about the company were immediately challenged. “I was obviously aware of the brand,” he recalls. “And I had a certain image or perception of the brand, which was very solid, very trustworthy, very traditional, but maybe also a little bit dated.”

“I feel Sebastian over my shoulder every day, making sure we behave and don’t do anything to the business or brand he wouldn’t have done.”

The closer Alexander got to the brand, however, the more he began to understand its power and potential. “There’s a huge wealth of traditional knowledge and insight in the brand,” he says. “I thought maybe it just needed a little bit of shaking and polishing to really become that true treasure, the pearl that was increasingly revealing itself to me.”

Chief among his discoveries was a deeper understanding of the ‘Water Doctor’ Sebastian Kneipp’s methods, so unorthodox in his day. “He actually wasn’t a doctor. He didn’t study medicine, so he was challenged a lot and faced much criticism,” Alexander explains. “And I think to a certain degree that has found its way into the Kneipp DNA because, today, we’re challenging the norms, challenging competitors and we’re successful in what we do.

Alexander found his induction into such a storied company a humbling experience. “You’re taking somebody else’s legacy and making sure it stays the course for another 100 years,” he says. “I feel Sebastian over my shoulder every day, making sure we behave and don’t do anything to the business or brand he wouldn’t have done.”

So far, so good. Alexander believes any developments at Kneipp have yet to disturb the founder. “I think he’d be quite content. The company has developed very well, and it’s significantly larger than anything he could have dreamed of.”

But what does it take to sell wellness? According to Alexander, it’s more than just a name on a bottle. “It’s about an attitude,” he says. “It’s about mindfulness. And it’s so wrapped up in taking care of yourself as opposed to following someone else’s lifestyle. You can’t fake it, you have to be authentic.”

To do so, Kneipp has embarked on an innovation drive that has spanned decades and shows no signs of slowing down. “We will continue to drive innovation in the categories in which we excel, including bath, body wash, body care and over-the-counter healthcare products, but at the same time, we’re looking at new categories where we might play a bigger role in the future,” Alexander reveals.

In line with this, an extensive digitalization process is planned, in part to improve supply chain efficiencies and the smoothness of operations.

“Now is the time to turn the ship a little bit more towards men. We’re also looking more to a younger clientele, particularly in the lipcare realm.”

October saw Kneipp release a new range specifically catered to men, an indicator of another part of that future direction. “Now is the time to turn the ship a little bit more towards men,” Alexander says. “We’re also looking more to a younger clientele, particularly in the lipcare realm. We recently launched a new colored lipcare line that enhances the market and expands the category, which is wonderful.”

The US is a major focus for the company as it expands beyond its home market of Germany, embracing international bathing cultures as it does so. “We’ve made it to a lot of European countries outside of our home market of Germany,” he says. “We’ve made it to the US and we’re in Asia, where we resonate with that region’s strong bath and bodycare culture.

“Bath salts, soaks and water therapy were the pioneering success of Sebastian’s work as well as the Kneipp products, and that is certainly where Kneipp leads the market in Japan, and it’s also the major focus of our efforts to gain awareness in the US.” 

In the US, Kneipp is now distributed by Ulta Beauty, CO Bigelow and Amazon as well as through hundreds of day and destination spas across the country. Organic supermarkets are also among the physical retailers eagerly picking up the line. “Living well is more than eating well,” Alexander stresses. “Nourishing a body also takes place from the outside in – and that’s what we do best.”

The company’s products are now beloved by many celebrities and influencers such as YouTube vlogger Jaclyn Hill who has shared her love of Kneipp’s Bath Salts. Additionally, beauty pioneer Tata Harper is a fan of Kneipp’s Eucalyptus Bath Oil while actor Rebel Wilson uses Kneipp’s Dream Away Bath Salts.

However, Alexander admits many struggle with the pronunciation of the brand’s name. “In the US, we tell people, ‘It’s pronounced Kuh-nipe, like type,” he shares.

As he says, the challenge of carrying on Sebastian Kneipp’s ways is a daily one, and not always readily apparent. “Tomorrow’s offerings could be different from what we do today; whether that means more personalized offerings or digital offerings will come in time as we meet the demands of our consumers.”

Whatever face Kneipp takes tomorrow, Alexander is sure it will revolve around authenticity, one of the company’s success pillars. “We mean what we do, and that hasn’t changed,” he says.

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