In the mid-Nineties, Marla Malcolm Beck felt that shopping for cosmetics “was a problem that needed a solution,” recalled the Co-founder of Bluemercury. (The other founder is Marla’s husband, Barry. Marla serves as CEO; Barry is COO.) Marla’s answer was to create freestanding beauty stores “where the staff is trained in all brands, is friendly and genuinely wants to help you find the right, personalized solution,” she added. “We broke the rules and created a new retail concept.” The first Bluemercury opened in Washington D.C. in 1999. Another followed. Then another. As of this month, there are now 180 Bluemercury stores throughout the U.S. And with Macy’s as the parent to the specialty beauty chain, growth for 2019 is in overdrive. “We have the good fortune to stay entrepreneurial and be partners with one of the top retailers in the world.” Marla found time to talk to with CEW’s Beauty Insider for this week’s 5 Minutes With feature. (To learn more about Bluemercury, and Macy’s overall beauty strategy, click here.)
CEW Beauty Insider: Since Macy’s bought Bluemercury, what specifically has changed?
Marla Malcolm Beck: The Macy’s acquisition has provided access to more resources to grow nationally at a faster pace. We founded Bluemercury with one freestanding store in 1999. In the last four years, we have grown from 60 to 180 store locations, while our e-commerce business has grown exponentially. I have grown personally in my leadership and delegation style as we have expanded our corporate team. This allows me to focus on new ideas, store innovation and product development.
BI: What was the transition process like?
MMB: It was easy, as we quickly continued our aggressive expansion while simultaneously leveraging Macy’s leadership in omnichannel technology, supply chain and retail operations. We also enhanced the omnichannel component for a seamless customer experience across stores, online and mobile.
BI: Why did you decide to sell after so many years of being independent?
MMB: As we continued to grow, we were building our entire infrastructure from scratch – supply chain, technology infrastructure and POS. We were looking for a partner that had the infrastructure piece of the business that could help us scale more quickly. The Macy’s acquisition was an amazing feeling of recognition of the value we created at Bluemercury.
BI: What’s it like working with your husband?
MMB: Barry and I built the company together from the ground up. We have always held primary responsibilities for different areas of the company. I am the idea person; he is the executer. I handle everything that touches the customer—merchandising, marketing and branding, store service delivery and product development. Barry is responsible for the overall daily operations of company investments, real estate development, construction and store design. The best businesses usually have two founders.
BI: What’s the biggest lesson learned over the years?
MMB: First, break the rules. When we started Bluemercury, there was no such thing as a freestanding beauty store in the United States. Second, keep looking for white space and growth. The pace of business and competition is faster than it has ever been. You need to continually seek out and create new revenue and value streams by listening, watching and observing your customers.
BI: Greatest accomplishment thus far?
MMB: The overarching theme of my leadership has been to inspire people to achieve what they thought they never could. We did this through Bluemercury’s radical human resource model. The key to our success is our people. Bluemercury’s mission has always been to be the best at giving beauty advice. We created a human resources model in the cosmetics industry that has given a generation of women a new career path.
BI: Biggest mistake you’ve made?
MMB: Bluemercury started as an e-commerce company. Our first business plan was to launch an online luxury cosmetics business. We were too early and transitioned to opening stores. That mistake led us to completely disrupt the way beauty was purchased in the retail world. It is the journey, the hard work and the failures along the way that have made us successful.
BI: What product (not your own) is your favorite and why?
MMB: Acqua Di Parma Colonia Eau de Cologne. I have been wearing this scent for 18 years. Created in the 1930’s, I adore the light citrus scent – a neroli and rose fragrance. I always have multiple bottles of the fragrance and body lotion.
BI: Best advice for newbies entering the business today?
MMB: Get in the game! If there’s something you think you may want to do, you need to dive in and start. If we did not start Bluemercury as an e-commerce company and then open a retail store – we would not be here today. By diving in, even with the wrong idea at first, I found the right path. You may not make the right choice up front, but you will be closer to your dreams!
BI: What is something no one tells you when starting a business?
MMB: The first year is the hardest. You are going to have so many roadblocks that you will need to have the grit to push through. It’s just a fact of entrepreneurship. Bluemercury is the story of survival and triumph. We almost went bankrupt in our first six months.
BI: What are some of your strongest skills?
MMB: Seeing white space, growth potential and what‘s next.
BI: What’s a mantra you live by?
MMB: This is one of our family mottos: If it feels both terrifying and amazing you should definitely pursue it.
BI: If you were to write the note found in a fortune cookie, what would it say?
MMB: Dream big and take one step towards that dream every day. To learn more about Bluemercury, and Macy’s beauty strategy overall, please know that Macy’s CEO, Jeff Gennette, will be speaking at CEW’s next Speaker Series event, to be held December 4. To purchase tickets and for more details, please click here.