Alice Chen, Vice President of Physicians Formula and Head of Corporate Communications for Markwins International, has overseen the brand’s marketing and relations for the past two years. In that time, Physicians Formula has emerged from a product production pause and has seen a 30% growth in sales. Alice, the daughter of Eric Chen, Markwins’ CEO, was already part of the Markwins team when the company bought Physicians Formula in 2012. “Physicians Formula has not only undergone significant changes over the last two years, but I would actually classify it as a complete transformation,” said the Taiwanese 33-year-old. “I was always a fan of the brand, but really wanted to take a step back and identify existing gaps and, quite frankly, problems. The most important job I had was to build the Physicians Formula family.” Physicians was created in 1937 by Dr. Crandall, a leading allergist who created the products for his wife. Since inception, all of the company’s items have been hypoallergenic, fragrance-free and dermatologist-tested. Last year, in honor of the brand turning 80, they reissued their first color product – a hypoallergenic, first-to-market lipstick innovation. Since being at the helm, a few of Alice’s achievements include the brand reentering Walgreens, and increasing its No-No List from 150 to 500-plus, one of the largest in the mass market. Somehow Alice found time to talk to with CEW Beauty Insider for our 5 Minutes With… feature.
Beauty Insider: Since stepping into the position two years ago, what kind of changes have you made?
Alice Chen: I truly believe I can only be as good as my team, and my amazing team has transformed this brand with me. In the brand rebuilding process, we started from scratch and underwent various consumer and market research studies to validate our go-to-market strategies and our fans’ product needs. We also wanted to make sure our products continued to stand behind our healthy beauty heritage, and were stringent in only releasing the safest products possible. We also created our Physicians Coalition, an advisory of top doctors in the fields of allergy, dermatology and facial plastic surgery, who are involved in every step of our product development process. We have finally found a solidified brand vision, position and strategy, as well as a cohesive look and feel, which will be the future of the brand.
BI: What kind of market shift have you seen over the past year?
AC: Given the digital age, speed-to-market, customization, inclusion and a personalized consumer experience is expected and is the new standard. Beauty brands are becoming lifestyle brands, instead of product brands. And because information is literally at our fingertips, beauty fans are very educated, especially in wellness and what they want—and don’t want—to include in their regimens.
BI: What kind of retailer requests are you receiving?
AC: Retailers are also trying to keep up with the constantly changing landscape, as well as with slowing foot traffic in-store. In order to give them a leg up, we are customizing our assortments with exclusive innovations that fit each specific retail chain. They are also highly focused on driving their dot-com businesses, which essentially gives them limitless space, allowing us to feature our entire product portfolio online where we would otherwise be unable to in-store. Retailers are brands themselves, and they have very differing guest demographics. It cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach, and we make sure to cater to those needs.
BI: How do you intend to reach today’s consumer?
AC: While we will leverage all forms of communication and our story-telling will exist on all our touchpoints, I believe we will engage our consumer by how we talk to them, not just where. With so many ways to communicate and how fast we do, it’s counter-intuitive, we listen less and are becoming more detached to each other than ever. So Physicians Formula is kicking it back old school: let’s have actual conversations! Our doctors and our brandholders will make ourselves available to listen to consumer needs, give health advice, beauty tips, and hear what they have to say. We know we can’t reach everyone, but I’ve always been a believer in having a strong connection with an intimate group, other than a superficial one with the masses.
BI: You were quoted as saying that 2018 was a pivotal year for Physicians Formula. Can you explain why?
AC: The first glaring issue we noticed was our lack of inclusion. Look, I’m on Instagram too, and I read the same comments that make me die a little each time. I am a proud woman of color, and my team is an amazing group of people of all races, genders, orientations and identifications. To be called out for excluding or told that we don’t care pierces right through my heart. So our first order of business was to try and right this ship. In 2018, we released our first expanded foundation line, The Healthy Foundation SPF 20, which is currently 24 shades, and continuing to increase. 2018 was also the year we continued to fill product gaps, releasing The Healthy Lip Velvet Liquid Lipstick, and getting back into skin care, which has proven very successful for us.
BI: What are you doing to correct the limited shades for women of color issue that transpired earlier this year?
AC: Besides the emotional turmoil, sleepless nights and introduction of our foundation line, it is an absolute mandate of mine that every product and product line we release moving forward be as inclusive and accessible as possible. All of our new product introductions will have the same expanded shade ranges, and we are building out existing properties to be more inclusive. For example, our number-one product, Butter Bronzer, will go from two to eight sku’s by 2019. And while we’re still not where we want to be, we’re making strides to get there. Our goal is to make sure we deliver the healthy beauty alternative to be accessible to all.
BI: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years?
AC: That empathy is key, and your people are the most important part of business—false pride gets you nowhere.
BI: Greatest accomplishment thus far?
AC: My greatest accomplishment has been building out various teams within the company. And here’s where I start humble bragging: while I’m not too shabby on the business end or brand strategy, my greatest strength is identifying key talent and missed opportunities. Since I started at Markwins, I built out our PR, Digital and Creative departments, which were previously outsourced and did not exist before. These key organizational strategies have been adopted within each of our brands, improved upon by others and created various streamlined efficiencies in the company.
BI: Biggest mistake you’ve made?
AC: Becoming stagnant and thinking because I’ve done something hundreds of times before, the process will be the same and work itself out. In developing a lip product last year, and having developed literally hundreds of lipsticks in my lifetime, I miscalculated my abilities and timelines, and my hubris saw to a failed launch that cost us significant business with a key retailer. Just goes to show, false confidence will always come back to bite you.
BI: What product (not your own) is your favorite and why?
AC: I swear by Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair; when I was a child, I would steal the trial size version from my mom’s gift with purchase
bags, and have been using it for decades. Now I think if I go a day without it, I’ll spontaneously breakout into a wrinkle monster.
BI: Best advice for newbies entering the business today?
AC: What can go wrong, will go wrong and always goes wrong—it’s Murphy’s Law to the extreme. Keep your head, exercise restraint and don’t burn bridges.
BI: If you were to write the note found in a fortune cookie, what would it say?
AC: Eat me. I’m a cookie. I can guarantee you calories, not your future. But maybe calories in your future.