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Founded in 1851 by John Kiehl, Kiehl’s began as a homeopathic pharmacy located at 3rd Avenue and 13th Street in the East Village of New York City. In 1921, Irving Morse, a former apprentice andRussian Jewish émigré who had studied pharmacology at Columbia University, purchased the store. Morse was involved in the development of many Kiehl’s products that are still popular today, including Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion and Creme de Corps. Irving’s son, Aaron Morse, who also studied pharmacology at Columbia and was a former World War IIpilot, took over the store in the 1960s.
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The younger Morse was credited for propelling Kiehl’s from obscurity in the 1950s to international recognition as an upscale natural cosmetics shop in the 1980s. Aaron transitioned the store from the traditional pharmaceuticals his father preferred to develop skin care lines. After he died in 1995, his desk and some of his vintage motorcycles were prominently showcased in the store. By then, Aaron’s daughter, Jami Morse Heidegger, had been operating the business since 1988. Described as “a clever marketer,” she relied on word of mouth and extensive free samples and gifts to market Kiehl’s products, rather than traditional advertising. L’Oréal acquisition
The L’Oréal Group acquired Kiehl’s in April 2000 as the Manhattan-based cosmetics company faced difficulty handling the growing volume of orders for its popular products. In April 2000, the French beauty and cosmetics company L’Oréal acquired Kiehl’s for between $100–$150 million. L’Oréal had pursued the purchase of the company for more than two years but the real catalyst for a deal came when Kiehl’s had difficulty handling the growing volume of orders due to the company’s growing popularity.
Morse Heidegger, then president of Kiehl’s, said, “We took a long hard look at the situation, and we felt that in order to keep up with the demand, in order to not be out of stock, in order to fulfill our destiny, if you will, we needed to take on a partner.” With the purchase, L’Oréal stated it planned “to increase the brand’s presence but maintain it as a luxury line rather than a mass-market one.” Kiehl’s would also be expanded internationally. At the same time, Kiehl’s newly appointed president Michelle Taylor said, “The thing most important to me is to keep Kiehl’s true to what it is. Respect for old-fashioned values is really who we are.”
For the first 150 years of the company, Kiehl’s only ran one store with its products also selling in high-end department stores such asNeiman Marcus, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Harvey Nichols. Following its acquisition by L’Oréal though, the company expanded from its one Manhattan flagship store to more than 30 stores today. Kiehl’s sales have also more than quadrupled, increasing from $40 million in 2000 to past $200 million in 2009.