Empire Of The (Hampton) Sun!
Get your SPF on, chicsters! How a flash of poolside inspiration turned real estate broker Salvatore Piazzolla into Southampton’s unlikeliest beauty mogul.
How did a real estate guy end up creating a line of sunscreen products?
My partner [casting director Grant Wilfley] and I have a home in Southampton, and we were sitting poolside and had a basket full of sun products from all over the world. We just felt everything was very generic and prescriptive, and there was nothing luxurious about any of the brands in the basket. We remembered when products were sexy and glamorous, and we wanted to bring that back.
What was your strategy?
We wanted to create something with new technology and the highest-level ingredients. Our tagline is “Smart, Serious Sunbathing.” Be smart and serious about the sun protection that you choose. Grant came up with the name Hampton Sun®. Next thing I knew, I was on my computer looking up to see if the name was available—and it was. That was our first sign that we had something. The excitement and adrenaline kept going. I have an entrepreneurial background, and I was looking to do something different, and what that was I didn’t know. But I knew when Hampton Sun® came to mind, I’d never felt this kind of excitement before.
What happened next?
Grant and Michael Kors grew up together, so he called him and he was our first point of contact. We ran the idea by him and he was very excited, and he put us in contact with [Bath & Body Works brand merchandising president] Camille McDonald. She gave us her guidance, and she thought it was a wonderful idea. She made an introduction to someone else in our circle of friends. Because Grant is in film and television, a lot of people in our circle are in film, fashion, and beauty already. We didn’t realize we had friends in perfume packaging; and all these contacts kept falling into our laps. We got lucky!
The rest is history…
The New York Times wrote that we aim to erase the border between skincare and sun care. That was a good day because not only did we make it into the Times, but also Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine. It was incredible.
Did you see a big bump from the Oprah effect?
Absolutely. That gave us credibility, and the awareness sales definitely increased. We leveraged that as an opportunity to let everybody know about it. It really drove business tremendously.
What were the challenges?
There was a lot to take in and process. People think you take a formula, put it in a bottle with a cap on it, and boom—it’s a done deal. There’s an enormous amount of testing, and not every ingredient reacts the same to a given formula. It’s the whole process: gaskets, springs, spray pumps, and the list goes on, but nobody seems to understand that part of the business.
So are you a niche brand?
Nobody was playing in the space. It was all mass brands like Hawaiian Tropic and Banana Boat, and skincare brands like Clarins that had sun products but, really, as an afterthought—not their main form of business. We are the main leader in prestige sun care today.
Nice! Any plans to score shelf space at Duane Reade?
Probably not. We are just not a mass brand. We are staying true to who we are. We’re luxury. We’re big in the resort spas. That is who we are.
How many products are in the line now?
We have a total of 21. We’re going to be available in Neiman Marcus in August.
You’ve become a Hamptons celeb of sorts thanks to the product…
People do recognize me, which is funny and very humbling. It’s nice is to know that we are doing something that protects people in a very symbolic way. We are not promoting sun, but we are saying that if you are tanning, you should be smart about the sun protection you are using. We load it up with all natural ingredients and antioxidants and aloe vera, so it is not only protecting you, it is hydrating the skin, which is important. Not many brands do that. And you feel luxurious!
Any similarities between working in real estate and sunscreen?
I believe passion drives your business. If you believe in what you’re doing, whether it’s real estate or making sunscreen, you will succeed. I really have to sell my brand, and I had to sell
in real estate. It just comes naturally to me!
And now you don’t ever have to go to another closing!
Finally, can we get you to weigh in on Tan Mom?
I don’t know what to think of her. A dermatologist must be having a field day with her because of what her skin must look like underneath. She is obviously using an SPF with very low numbers, or no numbers at all.