Los Angeles-based prestige beauty retailer, Beauty Collection, is thriving after 20 years of business as one of the industry’s few family-owned beauty chains. What’s the secret sauce? Shawn Tavakoli, CEO and Founder, Beauty Collection, talks about how he fights the Big Boys (Sephora, et al) and what’s next for his business.

Beauty Insider: What categories of products are selling best in your stores right now?

Shawn Tavakoli: Skin care continues to be our number-one category. We always see a lot of innovation there. We are seen as a trusted advisor and when our customers need a solution they come to us. DIY items such as Clarisonic, NuFACE and Tria have helped sales growth, too.

BI: How is Beauty Collection addressing the global beauty trend?

ST: We travel to 12 international shows a year so we’re always looking for what’s coming on the market and what customers are asking for. We use our loyalty program as a survey, such as if they’re looking for products that we don’t currently have, and we aim to get them. We also get feedback from the stores.

BI: Are there plans for growth?
ST: There are still four stores. I’m very particular about opening new locations. It’s about quality not quantity. Each has to operate effectively; our business model is about getting each store to a level to where it’s stable before we look at opening other stores. On average our stores realize 4% to 5% growth each year. Our goal is never to have 50 or 100 stores; it’s more like 10 to 12 stores in the next three to five years. I like to visit the stores on weekly basis so the closer they are to Southern California the better.

BI: How do you choose store locations?

ST: We look for locations that are convenient for our target customers, especially with regards to parking. Also we look for locations that our target customer shops on a consistent basis.

BI: Has online beauty stores affected business?

ST: The online business model has definitely impacted our business with pricing competition, such as Amazon. It creates a transparency for our customers. So we try to create an in-store experience online to combat that and be competitive with online pricing. I feel the difference is our implementation of education, training and a high level of customer service online and offline.

BI: How are services a part of your stores’ DNA?

ST: Services are a part of our platform; in West Hollywood it’s been a bigger part of the platform because there we also have a salon environment. It’s one of the components that makes us a one-stop shop. We’ve partnered with brands such as Natura Bisse and Caudalie for in-store facials; we also offer eyelash extension services.

BI: What role do the brands you carry play in engaging consumers?

ST: The brands are involved with services but also play a big role in the business model. We partner closely with them in having them be a part of our customer experience, retention marketing program, monthly newsletter (the Collector), weekly Facebook party. Our Facebook parties are every Wednesday night between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. PST and feature brand ambassadors; consumers come on and ask questions about brands. We have over 23,000 Facebook followers and that creates a lot of interaction. We have in-store events weekly and monthly; on a quarterly basis we have major events. The stronger the brand partnership the more successful they are in our stores.

BI: What products did you see at Cosmoprof that stood out to you?
ST: I really liked the Enzo Milano S2Dryer; it turns on by touch and turns off when you let it go using new sensor technology. The Simple Human brand has a sensor mirror that lights up as you approach it. Salon Tech is coming out with a spinning curling iron that doesn’t look as scary as some of the others on the market, because you can actually see the hair turning on the wheel of the tool. We are also looking forward to Obliphica, which has wonderful packaging. And, OPI’s Infinity Shine gel like nail polish looked great, too.

BI: What, if any, marketing and advertising does Beauty Collection do?
ST: Marketing is what sets us apart from other beauty retailers. We have a beauty loyalty program and we have charity involvement at each of our stores. We work with other retailers in the community to create an environment of being a friendly neighbor.

BI: Please discuss how Beauty Collection serves as a brand incubator and how you help a small brands navigate the retail landscape?

ST: Beauty Collection provides an opportunity for small, innovative brands to have a presence in our stores. It’s all a planned strategy to have the right placement in stores, as well as email to inform customers of a launch. All stores have goals with the launch of each brand, and after that it’s critical for the brand to be invested in the store and build relationships with all the associates. The more they are in the face of our associates and building a relationship the more they will be at the forefront. We are small enough where we can build those partnerships. We don’t want them to get lost and sit on a shelf.

BI: Does Beauty Collection have an online presence?

ST: We re-launched our website a few years ago, it’s our biggest opportunity. We see 10% to 12% growth online a year. Online gives us the chance to launch a brand and measure demand for it, and based on that bring it into the stores. It is a big opportunity for the future.