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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putting Body and Soul Into Shopping for Soap

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When approaching his new business, Nicolas Megrelis thought not only of the customer's body, but of their souls as well.

When his Nina Ricci franchise store on Tverskaya Ulitsa went down with the 1998 financial crisis, Megrelis decided to move from expensive cosmetics and cater to a broader audience with a more popular concept — like Body Shop or Soapberry Shop, but less expensive.

His first shop, Dlya Dusha i Dushi, or For the Shower and Soul, on Myasnitskaya Ulitsa, marked its second anniversary earlier this month.

"It's only in Russia that you can make a brand in two years, anywhere else in Europe it would take at least 10 years," Megrelis said.

Apart from this, there are other reasons to celebrate, Megrelis says.

His business is booming, and more shops are set to open with new products on their shelves.

In mid-May, Megrelis also marked the creation of the open joint-stock company Dlya Dusha i Dushi, which runs all of his shops in Russia.

Megrelis, 32, earned a degree in textile engineering in France and came to Russia in 1993 to work in his father's consultancy.

Two years later he set up his own business, a company called Syntrading, which got a contract with perfume designer Nina Ricci. Megrelis' Nina Ricci shop on Tverskaya had an annual turnover of $1.5 million, but that fell six times during the crisis, and Megrelis closed shop in August 2000.

In the meantime, he was already thinking of a concept that would appeal to more customers — a chain of body- and soul-friendly shops that would be more friendly to the customers' wallets.

One such shop, a franchise of the Canadian Soapberry Shop chain, was one of the most popular cosmetics venues in Moscow before it pulled out in 1998 after the crisis.

He spoke to Soapberry Shop and other distributors of perfume, skin care and bath products like French L'Occitane and British Crabtree & Evelyn, Ltd. about starting a new business in Moscow, but then began working on his own concept and the idea of creating a Russian brand took over.

"I talked to Soapberry Shop. In fact, the idea came from that. I wanted to open another one, and met with [Soapberry founder] Natasha Rajewski in Canada, but she went bankrupt. And then we decided to start our own concept — a Soapberry Shop, but cheaper," Megrelis said.

His Dlya Dusha i Dushi chain now has 16 shops in Moscow and four in the regions. And his team now counts 150 employees from just 10 he had in Nina Ricci.

Megrelis is waiting to open four more shops by the end of May. Altogether, Megrelis says he wants to have 40 shops in Russia by the end of the year.

"It was boring with Nina Ricci, even for the shop assistant, with just one or two customers a day — I wanted to create traffic," Megrelis said.

Today some 35,000 people shop in his stores per month, Megrelis says.

The shop sign has a green tree with the letter "N" for a trunk — an idea that along with the name took two months of brainstorming.

"We wanted to reflect the symbol of nature in our brand, and one of our artists came up with this design," Megrelis said.

"And in the name we created a pun on the word dush, or shower, which gave it a catchy sound."

In his shops, which measure about 30 square meters by 50 square meters and are normally set in street pavilions, he sells everything from shower gels and body lotions to sauna accessories and potpourri — about 1,500 different items in all.

Almost all the products come from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and the United States.

But Megrelis' most cherished ambition is to have all the products he sells produced domestically.

Some accessories, however, are made in Russia. Megrelis even made veniki, or bunches of twigs used in banyas, but they were too fragile and fell apart in the stores.

"I want to create Russian products, of which half will be produced in Russia and half in Holland in about six months," he said.

For the idea to take off, Megrelis got start-up capital from the French company EXA International, which he describes as a family business that deals with oil and engineering.

His company, Syntrading, also got a credit line of $130,000 from the Bank of Austria, which he plans to pay off by November.

Megrelis is cautious when speaking of profits, saying only that his company's turnover has increased twofold in the past year. His biggest shop, located in the GUM department store, makes around $1 million in sales a year.

"I am not interested in short-term profit. All the money we get we reinvest into new shops," he said.

"For the first five to six shops you need investment, and then you just use profit from the other shops to move on and expand.

"I am interested in setting up a big retail [chain] of 200 shops — a Russian brand with a huge quantity of stock," he said. "Then I will go public, hopefully in four to five years."