BECCA, the color cosmetics brand that’s the talk of the beauty industry, is estimated to generate $150 million in retail sales by the end of 2016. That’s more than triple 2015 sales, which was triple 2014 sales, and which doubled 2013 sales. The company, majority-owned by Luxury Brand Partners, isn’t just seeing sales growth. The staff at their new offices in Herald Square, which they moved to in February, is already bursting at the seams: they look to end 2016 with more than 100 employees, up from 24 in 2015. Social media is blowing up, too: they’re at nearly one million Instagram followers. Robert DeBaker, BECCA’s Chief Executive Officer, has led all of this growth since joining the company in 2011. He recently sat down with Beauty Insider to discuss the brand’s key turning points, how social media is influencing success and what’s planned for 2017.
Beauty Insider: Was there a turning point for BECCA, in terms of its phenomenal success?
Robert DeBaker: I think there was an ignition switch, rather than a turning point. It was suddenly having multiple influencers falling in love with our highlighting products because it was the emerging trend at the time. We grabbed onto that momentum with our own social media campaigns, and then the launch of [Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed in] Champagne Pop [a highlighter shade designed to work on every skin tone] and the partnership with [influencer] Jaclyn Hill, that was the ignition switch. I feel in a way the brand was a modified rocket that had taken off and suddenly found booster engines.
Beauty Insider: BECCA’s positioning has evolved since 2011. What’s the biggest difference?
RD: The brand we inherited in 2011 had 350 active sku’s doing less than $4 million of business. It was completely over-assorted. I don’t know how you compete with all of those sku’s when you are as small as BECCA was at that time. It had gotten away from its core, which is all about a perfected complexion and innovative formulas. The product assortment had evolved in directions that weren’t key to the business; there weren’t any new formulas in five or six years. When we took over we drew the line on the number of sku’s we had to make sure we would have a productive assortment. We refocused on the complexion category—for us complexion isn’t just traditional foundation and concealer, it is the starting and finishing products of perfecting, which have become so successful.
BI: How many sku’s do you have now?
RD: Today we have about 150 active sku’s. Only about 15 of them are legacy sku’s.
BI: So you returned to the brand’s core message of a perfected complexion and then the contouring trend happened. That must have helped drive success, right?
RD: Whether it the consumer’s general obsession with contouring per se, or it was the highlighting part of contouring, what we saw is that we definitely benefited from that as a major trend. And it’s beyond that now. Highlighting is part of the makeup routine, like primers.
BI: What’s been the brand’s growth rate?
RD: Even before Champagne Pop, we were on track last year to more than double our business in 2015. Then the ignition switch of Champagne Pop came along and the business ended up tripling. The interesting thing about Champagne Pop is that we had planned that as a limited edition, to maybe sell 25,000 units and call it a day. We have now sold a million units in 12 months. It became a phenomenon. What I love about that is it’s not like that’s the only highlighter we sell and the rest of them dropped off. The rest of the franchise took off! It also had a rising tide on the brand. Our core sales grew by over three times in the same time frame and that many more eyes began paying attention to us.
BI: How has BECCA’s success affected distribution?
RD: This brand at one point was sold in Sephora, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman, Lane Crawford, Harvey Nichols—and it lost all its space due to lack of new product innovation, improper cash flow and the inability to stay in stock. When I joined I thought we needed to close down virtually all of our distribution and relaunch with a retailer that would give the brand back its credibility. So the natural link was to go to Sephora and rekindle that relationship. Ulta has been a great partner, as well, where we have a staked out position as the only true trend complexion brand. There’s no pressure to add another nameplate in the US.
BI: And what about internationally?
RD: We have begun to aggressively expand internationally. There’s a definite global feel to this brand. Because of our ability to match the deepest of deep or the fairest of fair skin tones we have just as quickly gotten as big of a positive response to our launch in the Middle East with Sephora as we have in Southeast Asia and Mexico. Our number one door in the world is Sephora Dubai in the Dubai Mall. It’s outpacing the US doors for total line. Another door in the Middle East is tracking to be a Top 10 door. In Southeast Asia we are selling more dollars per door on highlighters than we sell in the US. Now, we are in full brand launch in Sephora Southeast Asia doors including India, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand and Singapore. The team is there doing media, education and social training. Mexico is coming up in August and Sephora Europe is this fall, including France, Spain, Italy and Poland.
BI: How does this transfer in terms of sales?
RD: We will see our international business grow to almost 15 percent of sales this year. Last year it was a blip on the radar. In 2017 we estimate it will grow to over 30 percent.
BI: Who is BECCA’s consumer?
RD: Our data shows that 55 percent of our customer base identifies as non-Caucasian, which puts us on the leading edge of consumer mix as related to the evolving US census data. This is a highly coveted position by every brand. Within that 55 percent is 17 percent mixed race/other, 16 percent Latina, 12 percent African American and 10 percent Asian.
BI: What is your big focus now in the US?
RD: Product innovation and innovation within our positioning. A new blush collection we just launched, BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector Luminous Blush, became the second best-selling blush collection in Sephora within three months. That range was launched making sure we had shades that worked regardless of skin tone. The brand has always had a 50/50 split of shades within our complexion range and in color as well. That’s inherent of the brand. So in the blush collection there are three obvious shades that will match light to medium skin tones and three that will match medium to deep skin tones. We made sure we had offerings that were equal in weight across the skin tones even though they may not in the end be equal in sales. That’s something that consumers at any point on the shade spectrum can appreciate. The way light works in our formulas is also unique to us. When light and pigment work together they have a blurring effect. When you can create that through a cosmetic product it creates an immediate solve for consumers—it’s not just a finishing element.
BI: So offering fewer products that meet the needs of more people is your secret sauce?
RD: Let’s just say that the industry says there needs to be more shades of foundation because the North American market is changing. From our perspective, that’s a losing business proposition. I have never seen 44 shades of anything work. How can a consumer tell which shade is right for her if she has 30 or 40 shades to choose from? It’s too confusing. We looked to solve that.
BI: How does BECCA teach a consumer that fewer sku’s doesn’t mean you won’t have her shade?
RD: Marketing, led by Annie Bystryn, came up with the idea of generating trial with a social media campaign, #giveitadrop, encouraging her to try our Aqua Luminous Foundation. The ignition switch was a visual we posted of three women of deeper—but different—skin tones, each wearing the same shade of foundation. Subsequently, a much greater percent of our business overall is coming from sku’s for deeper skin tones. We went from 28 percent of our business in shades medium to deep to 37 percent. A side effect was that our other foundation franchises are up 35 percent as compared to pre-launch of Aqua Luminous. The shades medium to darkest are up 70 percent. They’re driving the growth.
BI: So you would agree that social media is helping to drive color sales?
RD: Absolutely. Instagram is our signature platform at this point and has helped us brand and express BECCA pictorially. It has also served as a feedback mechanism. We take that very seriously and as a true gauge to measure how we are doing. Social media has changed the way this industry has to operate. The consumer is begging to be involved. Through a post, even one post, you can dramatically change the trajectory of sku’s. Our data indicates that our engagement rate is significantly higher than our competitors. As part of a survey we did in June, we asked consumers if they thought BECCA was an authentic brand. That is a very precious word right now. Overwhelmingly, 97 percent, said that it is.
Hear more from Robert DeBaker at CEW’s Beauty Insider Series event, Beauty’s Color Quake on November 8th.