Claudia Lucas, Director Beauty Merchandising, QVC, has worked for some of the most innovative retailers in the world, in many cases curating, molding, defining and redefining their beauty business. Leadership, in other words, comes naturally to Claudia. It’s something she’s actually quite comfortable with.
“I am a born organizer. I have kindergarten reports describing me as a bossy boots! I always wanted to direct the activities and be the one in charge so ambition was something I was naturally drawn to.”
Claudia was born and raised in South West London, and attended Westminster University. She fell into retail for no specific reason other than it was suggested to her by a career counselor. And once she started to meet confident assertive women in the workforce, she was hooked.
“I realized that having a successful career would open up opportunities for me and give me the means to fund a full life experience. Sometimes it can be a little daunting, but I enjoy it. Part of being a good leader, is the ability to be comfortable with knowing how accountable you are.”
Claudia’s first retail role had her working at The House of Fraser as a graduate trainee, and it’s where she wound up spending the first 10 years of her career, in retail operations, in various London outposts. After becoming one of the youngest cosmetic managers in the company’s history (she credits her elevation to Honor Silwood, the head of buying for the beauty division, who recommended her for the role when others were hesitant because of her young age) Claudia did rotations in accessories, apparel and even childrenswear. But she missed cosmetics.
And then out of the blue a friend of a friend called about a merchandising position as a fragrance buyer for a travel retail company. She took the position—a step down—for the opportunity to get back into beauty and merchandising. And if ever there was a place to hone merchandising skills, travel retail was the place to learn. The transactional nature of the travel retail world, dealing with vendors, the airport authority landlords and duty free store contract tender process, was just the experience Claudia was hungry for. She soaked everything up like a sponge.
“It was less about product and more about developing strong strategic vendor/retail relationships and that proved to be invaluable. I got to learn how to understand the importance of balancing the wants and needs of our vendor partners. I realized that I could never make everyone happy all of the time. But, if I made them happy most of the time then that was a win.
After five years, Claudia moved on to Selfridge’s, joining the retailer as Head of Buying for Beauty at a time when the company was going through a rebirth. There, Claudia learned about “retail as entertainment” under the leadership of Vittorio Radice.
“Vittorio really wanted Selfridges to be a place to hang out. Eat, drink, learn something, see something and yes, shop. Gordon Selfridge founded the business by creating experiences for his customers that would enrich their visit to the store and keep them coming back. Going back to those ideals was a smart move. Selfridges is a place that sells more about what people want rather than needed so making the experience more social and emotional resonates. And the Selfridges beauty hall is one of the largest and most beautiful beauty halls in the world. It provides a beautiful back drop for beauty vendors to showcase their brands. I will always be immensely proud of having had the opportunity to manage that space.”
Then, five years later, The Limited called with the opportunity to run Henri Bendel’s beauty business.
Claudia, after careful and thoughtful consideration, ultimately moved her family from London to New York to join the specialty retailer and pave a welcoming road for beauty Indie brands.
“Bendel’s was a very different beauty business. It was this wonderful incubator for new emerging brands. I met these independent, passionate entrepreneurs and it was a delight to help them develop and mold their brands.”
Henri Bendel became known as the “it” place for brands to launch, with Claudia playing the role of ultimate brand curator. But in 2009 the company took a strategic shift to focus on accessories, and Claudia and Bendel’s parted ways. Another opportunity, however, wasn’t far behind.
“I was super excited about QVC. I have been very lucky to work in a variety of retail environments. Travel retail, department stores, specialty and now here was an opportunity to work completely in the digital space. I could never have imagined how this would ultimately play out.”
Claudia knew she had the connections, relationships and category experience to take on the role of Merchandise Director for Beauty at QVC and its unique retail experience: With only 24 hours in a day creativity is key in growing the business.
“There was definitely a learning curve to understanding how TV shopping works. But the business is so much more than that. Today it’s also about growing the business across all of the digital platforms primarily web and mobile – that is wher much of our growth opportunity lies.’’
Having a sixth sense, specifically about the beauty industry, has helped Claudia succeed in all of her endeavors, as well as remaining humble.
“Knowing the difference between good and great, having an intuition for trends and just loving the products. There’s a secret sauce part to it that makes a very good merchant a great one. I’ve made many mistakes along the way. The trick is to first recognize and own them, learn from them and move on. I love people who do that. Never try and hide anything, everybody makes mistakes – it’s what makes us better.’’