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Where the Shoppers Are: Mass Beauty Retail Evolves

By: Ada Polla
Posted: August 26, 2013, from the September 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

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“I was 28 years old, and this was the biggest meeting of my life,” Leffler recalled. “We presented a deck we thought answered all their questions.” And one thing led to another. A brand at the right place, at the right time. The naturals category was growing, and Yes to Inc. helped to shape that category. It innovated not only with products but with strategy, being among the first natural brands to do price promotions. When asked about the secret to his success, Leffler talked about the personal involvement of the founders, including noting, “We can never win on the numbers [he says, referring to multinational-owned brands], but we can out-relationship them.”

With pop and celebrity culture also becoming so pervasive in society today, questions of celebrities and endorsements were also an exciting discussion for the panel, in particular because of the shifting role that celebrities have been playing in the beauty industry lately—including at mass. In the past, a celebrity was hire as a spokesperson for a large beauty brand. The examples are almost countless, but I find two of particular interest: Katie Holmes because of the fairly intense foray into the beauty industry and Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, which announced Katie Holmes as the brand’s first-ever celebrity face in 2012.

More recently, celebrities are playing a role as beauty entrepreneurs. Here again I think of Katie Holmes, but this time with Alterna, the hair care brand of which she is now part owner. Think also of Jennifer Aniston and Living Proof. Or think of the latest celebrity launches, including Nuance by Salma Hayek for CVS and Flower by Drew Barrymore for Walmart.

Gaynor’s response points back to the brands and products: “In NYC, celebrity endorsements mean nothing; [the beauty consumer] wants what she wants,” she said. And Hennington agreed, adding that the Target consumer wants credibility—and that’s not necessarily in the name of an actress on a beauty product but rather that of a professional makeup artist, i.e. someone that knows about the product. Leffler added that in terms of driving sales, while celebrities might be nice to have, the true power lies with the media; specifically, with Dr. Oz, Yes to Inc. has been on the show multiple times, and, according to Leffler, each time the product being discussed sold out while Leffler was on air.

Wrapping it up, the panel ended with two key takeaways; the first from Hennington. When asked what it takes for a brand to be in Target, she countered with the million-dollar question: “What is your reason for being?” Brands need to be “super articulate about [their] value proposition; don’t be more of the same.”

And, for the second takeaway: “Social media is a godsend for the small to medium brand,” commented Leffler. It allows you to level the playing field with the big guys, helping to democratize the beauty industry. If you are a small brand, look at what your very large competitors are doing on social media and copy them. If you do that, you will likely realize that people love free stuff. So use social media to sample and do giveaways, Leffler encouraged. Just remember, he then cautioned, “Authenticity wins... Right after the free stuff.”

Ada Polla is the co-creator of the Swiss antioxidant skin care line Alchimie Forever, which launched in the U.S. in 2004. Her strategic focus and implementation have yielded double-digit annual revenue growth for the company. She holds an MBA from Georgetown University, majored in art history and political science at Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1999. She is also a GCI magazine editorial advisor.

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