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Real Relationships Power the Beauty Industry

Heidi Manheimer, CEO of Shiseido Cosmetics America, and Michael Gould, chairman and CEO of Bloomingdale’s, discussed strategic business partnerships at the September 2013 CEW Newsmaker Forum.

By: Nancy Jeffries
Posted: September 23, 2013

On September 19, 2013, Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) presented a Newsmaker Forum featuring two icons of the industry—Heidi Manheimer, CEO with Shiseido Cosmetics America, and Michael Gould, chairman and CEO of Bloomingdale’s. The presentation, titled, "Strategies for Profitability: Michael Gould and Heidi Manheimer Talk Business," was held at New York’s Harmonie Club, and it provided a look at the corporate partnership that has been a success for both companies, as well as a glimpse into the creative minds of two leaders, who according to CEW president Carlotta Jacobson “are quite unusual.”

Jacobson said, “This event wasn’t easy to organize, as neither of our guests like to be in the limelight.” That said, she noted, “Michael Gould and Heidi Manheimer are well-regarded in the beauty industry for their strong leadership skills and outside-of-the-box thinking, and success hasn’t really spoiled them. They are both no-nonsense executives, and they both have hearts of gold.”

Jacobson also thanked the evening’s sponsors, including WWD, Firmenich, Arcade Marketing, Beauty Inc, Winston Beauty, DSM Nutritional Products, Array Marketing Group, Applause Printing & Graphics, Kaplow Communications, and Digital Therapy.

Jerry Vittoria, president of Firmenich, North America, recognized the evening as “an event devoted to thought leadership, that would further the professional lives of beauty achievers.” He said he loved the back-to-school feel of the event (except without the homework), and noted that it is an important forum to come together in ways that are inspiring to us all.” Gould, who he said is often referred to as one of the most inspirational leaders in the industry, and Manheimer, who is the first American woman to be named CEO of Shiseido Cosmetics America, would surely be an inspiration to those in attendance.

The Retail and Consumer Equation

Jill Scalamandre, moderator, chairperson of CEW and senior vice president of the philosophy brand and Coty Prestige Skincare, kicked off the discussion with a focus on the role of retail experience in the beauty industry. Manheimer—who began her beauty career at Bloomingdale’s, held integral roles at Barney’s New York as VP and divisional merchandise manager of cosmetics, fragrances, and apothecary, and was appointed CEO at Shiseido in 2006—said, “Everything is consumer driven, and being a buyer and servicing consumers provides a unique perspective.”

Gould, who got a taste for retail after a brief stint at Abraham & Straus, began his tenure as CEO at Bloomingdale’s in 1991 and has seen the greatest period of transformation and growth in the store’s history, provided a philosophical perspective. He said, “There are so many great brands in this room, and what we put in our bag tonight is a product from Shiseido, a couple from Bloomingdale’s, and a packet of parables.” These represented such writers as Charles Swindoll, who emphasized the importance of attitude; Abraham Lincoln, on resilience and careful listening; Richard Stengel; and Nelson Mandela, whose “Eight Lessons of Leadership” have apparently been a guide for Gould.

Mandela, who overthrew apartheid and created a nonracial democratic South Africa by knowing precisely when and how to transition between his roles as warrior, martyr, diplomat and statesman, was a master tactician. Clearly, Gould is a supporter of the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and it has served him well in business. “I learned it can’t always be a win, it can’t always be a loss,” he said, applying the leadership concepts he values, such as leading from the front, but not leaving your base behind; knowing your enemy; keeping your friends close and your rivals even closer; remembering to smile; and remembering that nothing is black or white.

Manheimer related the value of a retail background saying, “First and foremost, you need to ask, ‘Are your core values reflected in your brand?' When someone has been in that house [referring to the retail venue], you learn what the customer is expecting,” she said. Gould also noted the importance of keeping things fresh. “We’re always changing. In the past we had our store—no Internet, no international opportunities like we have today. Things have changed,” he said.

“The consumer is everywhere, and you have to meet them everywhere,” Manheimer said. “To get a win-win for both Shiseido and Bloomingdale’s you really need to work with the store. Figure out what’s important to them. It goes back to our two brands, Shiseido and Bloomingdale’s, and we think we share the same consumer.”

Manheimer noted that for Shiseido, the company’s backbone is service, and facial service is key to the company’s credo. “Bloomingdale’s taught us that the service is important, but for Shiseido the service and the makeovers have a different component in store. They are used at Bloomingdale’s to educate the consumer as well as provide a service,” she noted.

The Brand DNA

“We like to say, Bloomingdale’s, a place like no other,” said Gould, noting, “If I really have great people, that’s the correlation with a great business. Ninety-nine percent is reliance on the good people you have. First and foremost it has to be a culture where the people come first. Great people and great product are the key combination. You can like our DNA or not, but we’re of the moment.”

“Have you seen Brueghel’s paintings?”, asked Gould. “There’s a lot of energy going on. I’m not going to out-design Neiman’s, but the more exciting the store is, the better the experience, and the better the online experience is going to be. But, once you’re in the store, the sights, smells and senses have to be engaging. You have to rely on relationship building within the store to make it exciting,” said Gould.

Continuing, Gould asked, “How do you make the store the event place it is and be credible?" He cited the importance of having great brands, products and programs, like the current Beatles project in store, or Space NK initiatives. “It’s about information giving, and we are doing something that translates excitement to the customer.”

According to Manheimer, Shiseido shares a common denominator with Bloomingdale’s. “Shiseido is over 140 years old and was built on facial service. Our website enhances the relationship because the consumer already has the information about the products. The real goal is not whether the product is bought in the store or online. It is that the consumer wants to get the product whenever and wherever they can,” she said. She noted that Shiseido’s growth is also seen on their retailer’s site. “What we see is a real desire on the part of our consumer to be in touch with someone who knows what they need and want.”

Gould explained how important emotional, intellectual and psychological involvement are to engagement. “What we do in the store to get people involved is important. How do you make it better? For me, it’s all about involvement.” Manheimer noted the challenge of turning a transaction into a relationship, asking, “If we do these events, how do they translate into repeat visits? How do we drive the business through relationships? That’s what we are trying to do, for example, with our beauty advisors.” Gould said part of the challenge was trying to find out how to really maximize the abundant information they have in the store.