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In History: Space NK, a timeline of a beauty retail trailblazer

Sophie Smith
30 April 2024

News emerged today that Space NK owner Manzanita Capital has hired bankers to handle the sale of the beauty retailer, appointing financial services firm Raymond James to oversee an auction later this year.

It comes on the back of robust trading for the beauty business as it continues to strategically invest in its online and in-store experiences, positioning itself as a more premium retailer than the likes of Boots, Superdrug and Sephora in the UK.

TheIndustry.beauty has taken an in-depth look at Space NK's milestone moments over the years as a sale looms.

Space NK

Founded by Nicky Kinnaird in 1991, Space NK first opened its doors in Covent Garden in 1993, selling fresh smoothies, independent fashion labels, and hard-to-find beauty products from emerging international brands such as Diptyque, By Terry and NARS.

Shortly after this, in 1996, Kinnaird decided to focus solely on beauty, handpicking the curated assortment herself and launching a mail order service that same year to strengthen the retailer's reach.

The business quickly earned a reputation for its portfolio of brands and products before being snapped up by Manzanita in 2002 to accelerate its growth even further, with Kinnaird remaining close to the business.

As it continued to bolster its store footprint, the retailer opened another flagship store at Duke of York Square in London in 2003 and launched online in 2004, catering to the growing interest in e-commerce.

It then set its sights on international expansion, landing in New York City in 2007 and launching its online retail offer in the region in 2008. Space NK's US expansion was further strengthened by a partnership with department store chain Bloomingdale's, with concession-style spaces opened in its stores, as well as a deal with QVC.

Fast forward to 2014 and Kinnaird decided to depart Space NK after almost 21 years to establish her own brand consultancy. As part of this, she continued to consult for the retailer, amongst other brands.

Four years later, Manzanita was then said to be considering parting ways with the business. At the time, Unilever was rumoured to be interested in buying it. However, a deal never materialised and Space NK continued on its retail journey with the firm, appointing Andy Lightfoot as CEO in 2019, a role he remains in today.

Lightfoot set out to "demonstrate Space NK as a leading omnichannel and customer-centric retailer", targeting further online and in-store growth across the UK and US. "Retail is increasingly competitive, but we are bucking the trend of the high street ready for next stage of growth," he said at the time.

As part of this growth strategy, in 2020, the retailer decided to close all its US stores to focus on its wholesale business in the region, which included partnerships with department stores Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, as well as Walmart two years later.

However, the retailer still continued to invest in its store portfolio across the pond, highlighting its confidence in the UK high street following the pandemic as consumers returned to shops.

Space NK

Space NK opened its first-ever double-level store in Covent Garden in June 2022, spanning 2,000 sq ft and offering a larger edit of beauty brands than ever before.

"When we look at new stores, we're now looking at bigger spaces because our selection has expanded and we've got so many amazing brands that we need to make sure we've got the space for," Lightfoot told TheIndustry.beauty in an interview at the time.

Following this, the retailer then opened an upsized unit at Westfield London in 2023, marking its largest store to date. Spanning 2,500 sq ft, the space heavily focuses on customer needs. It came as Sephora landed in the UK and Boots revamped its beauty hall at the shopping centre as the battle of the UK beauty businesses heated up.

A number of other openings also followed since, including the retailer's city debut at Liverpool ONE, plus a new store in Edinburgh and a flagship location in Manchester announced last month.

space nk

As it continues to invest in stores, operations, technology and customer acquisition, Space NK said the decision taken in the previous financial year to continue to invest in order to fuel growth "is now paying a return".

Earlier this year, it reported a 23% increase in turnover to £146 million for the year ending 25 March 2023, helped by the continued investment in its store estate. Space NK saw store sales rise by 28%, while online sales increased by 16% during the year.

On the back of these results, Manzanita Capital was said to be exploring the sale of Space NK once again, with reports earlier this month that the firm was in talks to hire bankers to oversee a partial or full sale of the retailer after more than 20 years under its ownership.

Manzanita, which also owns Diptyque, Malin + Goetz and Susanne Kaufmann, has now appointed Raymond James to oversee an auction later this year. However, it is said to be undecided on whether to sell a minority or controlling interest in the high street chain.

Consumer and retail trend analyst Wizz Selvey believes that the recent success of Space NK offers an attractive opportunity for both Manzanita and those interested in the retailer.

"Space NK has repositioned itself in the last three years as a market leader in beauty in my opinion. Beauty retail has had a number of changes and become more competitive than ever so I doubt it’s been an easy transition but they’ve come out on top," she told TheIndustry.beauty.

"It has a strong omnichannel experience across digital, plus its stores and loyalty scheme are well established. The retailer has worked hard to secure exclusive brands and product launches and create experiences for customers from events to well curated beauty boxes.

"I imagine Space NK’s sales and profit will have soared so it makes sense for Manzanita to look at selling the company when it’s on a high."

Timeline: A brief history of Space NK's milestones

1991 - Space NK is established by Nicky Kinnaird.

1993 - Space NK opens its first store in Covent Garden.

1996 - The British retailer shifts its focus solely on beauty, also launching a mail order service to strengthen its UK reach.

2002 - Space NK is acquired by Manzanita Capital.

2004 - SpaceNK.com launches for the first time.

2007 - The business expands into the US with a store in New York City. A partnership with Bloomingdale's followed shortly after.

2008 - SpaceNK.com launches in the US.

2014 - Nicky Kinnaird departs the business.

2018 - Manzanita considers sale of Space NK, with Unilever rumoured as an interested party. A deal never materialised.

2019 - Andy Lightfoot is named as CEO as the business focusses on its strategy to elevate its online and in-store experiences.

2020 - Space NK closes its US stores to focus on its wholesale business in the region with Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.

2022 - Space NK launches at Walmart across the US and opened its first-ever double-level store in London's Covent Garden.

2023 - The retailer opens its largest store to date at Westfield London, alongside a number of other nationwide openings.

2024 - Manzanita Capital is said to be exploring the sale of Space NK in early April, following a 23% increase in the retailer's turnover to £146 million for the year ending 25 March 2023, reported earlier this year. It has now appointed bankers to handle a sale of the beauty retailer, which is expected to fetch more than £300 million.


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