Read Part One of the interview to catch up on what Bluemercury Co-founder and CEO Marla Beck reveals about her company's past and future, what beauty products she loves, and how tech will be involved in the company's evolution.
We left off last time hearing from Beck about how experimenting with makeup as a teen eventually lead her to hone in on a routine that works for her. Did you have a feeling as a teen that you would be involved in beauty?
No, I never thought - No! I always knew I would go into business, but I never thought beauty, although I was always passionate about beauty products, so I linked the two eventually.
What about your degree from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School fo Government, how did that fit in?
I was always a little schizophrenic. When I was in high school, I wanted to do international business, so that's how government looped it. I did a lot of work in economic development - I lived in Indonesia, and worked with the government there, consulting on how to get more clothing manufacturers to export out of the country, which would provide jobs. Now, I'm going back in that direction again, I'm starting to advise people that work in that area but more from an entrepreneurial perspective. Entrepreneurship drives economic development so it's coming back full circle.
Has your background in government affected your company culture?
I apply leadership to the company culture, and that's really about having a warm organization where we are all passionate about the same thing. People spend a lot of time working, and they want it to be a warm experience. I still personally interview every single store manager that joins the company: The store managers is the front line, they really know everything that goes on in the store, and having that relationship is key.
Unlike most retailers, we're really a mom-and-pop business but on a larger scale. We are family. Some of our staff have worked for us for the full fifteen years since we started. And, we have people that leave and come back; They're like "Nowhere else is like here!"
What was the most important lesson that you learned in Business School that you apply to running your business?
First, it's how to make quick decisions. In school, you have to read three or four case studies a night, analyze the problem, and come up with a decision, and you may not have all the information. How to make decisions with the information you have is an important trait. The second thing is how to forge relationships and collaborate - we all need more of that!
Many great entrepreneurs are able to build incredible businesses because they also knew what not to do - was there anything you were taught that you just knew you had to ignore?
In terms of what I had to unlearn - there was a whole strategy when I was there, which is you have to grow big really fast and spend a lot of money to get big. Everyone used to run around saying "GBF, GBF!" (Grow big fast) and the tables have turned - now it's about minimal viable product. You need to create a small company and see if it works, and then grow faster. I believe in a business model where you start a company, you figure it out, and you do a little bit more, a little bit more. But for me, all of these one-size-fits-all strategies for entrepreneurial businesses don't really make sense.
There's now this added layer of bypassing the process of growing organically, through platforms like Kickstarter that have given people instant access to tons of money, and then they spend it all, and they still have commitments and obligations to the funders, and then what? That's it!
Yes! And that's the problem - you don't want to run out of money. Your goal should be to build a great company, it should never be to build something quickly sell it and get out, because you're not in charge of the timeline like that. But if you focus on building something for the long term, good things happen.
Like in these reality shows about flipping houses and making money fast, everyone seems to think that it's all that easy.
And the thing is, someone always gets caught holding the bag.
It's like hot potato.
To me, hot potato is stressful! I'd rather hold hands and do Ring Around the Rosy! That stress of trying to time things is not healthy for people, or the economy.
Speaking of the economy, do you notice that there are trends where the spa and skincare part of your business is doing much better than the retail side, and vice versa?
I think the spa business has more ups and downs, based on the fifteen years that we've been in business. Going to the spa and getting a facial is not seen as a necessity, so during the recession it dipped down, but there are probably three times as many spas now than fifteen years ago. Waxing, and brow styling has always been consistent throughout time. I think that we are going to see another wave of spa trends, this time not from Europe but from Asia. We're starting to look at more treatments, like pulse technology, that are coming from there.
Anti-aging skincare continues to be strong - I think the technology is working really well - and makeup, interestingly, has so many new formulas that have come out in the last year. You're seeing lines like Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier dump their old formulas and just start over with a new formula. I think there's a lot of innovation that is not completely obvious to the end consumer going on in products. Eyeliner, lipsticks - it's all gotten so good!
It does seem that now, products that are built to last all day, from the time you get up to the time you crawl back into bed!
Yes - Longwearlongwearlongwear!
Bobbi Brown's Beach Body Oil - or as I like to call it, "Liquid Summer", $33 at Bluemercury.
Beck and the Beautiful People Image c/o Bluemercury Interview by Renata Certo-Ware
It's not hard to believe that Marla Beck, a sunny, towheaded
Jennifer Aniston look-alike, is in the beauty biz. With a bevy of degrees under
her belt (including two - count 'em, two! - Master's Degrees from Harvard
University), Bluemercury's co-founder and CEO delivers a refreshing and
inspiring Brains-and-Beauty one-two punch.
A decade and a half ago, she, along with husband Barry Beck,
built a company on principals she learned at Harvard, a bit of instinct, and her
love of the perfect shade of lipstick, which before Bluemercury, she had to
make hour-long pilgrimages to find.
Now, when talking about the company the Becks built, she
makes numerous parallels between the twin industries of fashion and beauty,
referencing certain products as the "fast-fashion" of beauty, and
instructing that every product from M61, her two year old line of in-house
products, was "made to wardrobe."
Already beloved for its old-school apothecary experience - by
design, not coincidence - the beauty product purveyor's next move is a
strengthened effort to incorporate technology into the business to get to know
customers even better.
We stopped by Bluemercury's Chestnut Hill, MA location -
their 50th store! - to chat about the evolution of the company, her new line, and
just how many products she uses each day.
One of the pivotal
scenes in the PBS series Mr. Selfridge - a scene that really introduced and
defined the titular character - showed how he was the first to bring toiletries
out from the dark recesses of the top floor lingerie section and out onto the
first floor, right by the entrances for all to see, where they still remain to
this day - a move that at the time scandalized some of London's more traditional
souls. Your first objective when you started Bluemercury was to take makeup and
beauty products one step further, bringing them out into the open where
customers are encouraged to look, touch, and test-drive them. How has that
business model evolved and what do you see as the next step in that evolution?
When I really think about the next wave, it's about becoming
truly omni-channel: How can we link technology to the retail experience? That's
the next wave. I really want a client to walk into the store, and on my iPhone,
your picture comes up and I can see what you bought last time so I can check in
with you and say "How did you like that cream?", or "Is that
scrub working for you?" or "Do you need help re-learning how to apply
that eyeliner?". It's about making it a very personal in-store experience,
really knowing your customer without having the same conversation over and over
again. I also think about the customization we're going to be able to do; We're
working on a mobile app, so as we launch new products, we're going to be able
to push them to your iPhone based on your past purchases.
The other thing we need to figure out is: If you talk to
people, the most confusing thing for a lot of them is "What order do I use
this stuff?" We do prescription pads, but if I had all the products I
bought here, could I quickly take a picture with my iPhone and immediately get
directions sent to me? It's about how you use technology to get a better
experience with the product.
We're currently working on some of this with a Boston firm -
but I won't tell you which one! We're trying to think about what we can do now
to prepare ourselves for the future. Oh,
and there's that new technology where you'll be able to print products at home...
That was created
by a Harvard alumna as well!
I think that's pretty amazing! You can imagine having
customized skincare that you can print at home.
How would Blue
Mercury be involved in that?
We have our own line, M61, so imagine a cleanser - maybe you
buy a base formula and there are a couple adjustments based on your skin type, with
a little bit more glycolic acid, a little bit less, or with more of a soother
for irritated skin. It's just like cooking - you have a base recipe, and you're
adding more to it. So rather than having ten different products, you end up
with thousands of opportunities in one product. I believe that's still a ways
away from happening, but maybe I'm wrong.
It's a very
interesting combination of past and future business models! You speak about
adding an element of technology to propel your business into the future, but
you also really indentify with the neighborhood apothecary philosophy, an idea
that predates department stores. What does neighborhood mean to you?
It's very hard to define and quantify a concept like
customer service - how do you know you're doing a good job with it? So if a
client is smiling when they are walking out the door, that's good customer
service. A neighborhood store means that they are coming to us for their needs
as part of their daily rituals, like working out or grabbing a coffee or with
their child. That's very tangible to me. We know we're a neighborhood store if
our clients come to shop in their sweats after a workout. That means they're
comfortable, that we're part of their regular lifestyle. So we'll see here in
Chestnut Hill - there's a gym nearby, so if they come in wearing workout
clothes to grab a mascara, we've got it right.
There is no
shortage of beauty products on the market - there are products for every part
of the body and every possible concern. How many different products do you use
I have phases: I'm either so busy that I have a strict
routine and that's it, and then I have completely experimental phases where
I'll just lay hundreds of products out on my counter and try new things. During
the summer, it's mainly experimental, although I've been so busy between my
three kids who are out of school for the summer, all the Holiday forecasting...I'm
in sort of a "Boom-boom-boom, here's what I need" phase. It's still a
lot, compared to most people - I travel with close to 50 products - Travel
sized products, but still...
Wow! My routine is
pretty simple by comparison - I do a cleanser in the morning, followed by a 24-hour
I'll add one thing to your routine - Power Glow Peel. Some
people use it daily, some use it weekly, it's one step - it's like having a
facial in a little packet. It's a towelette with glycolic acid, so it's good
for people with wrinkles and dry skin or oily skin, it hits both extremes, and
has an anti-inflammatory and vitamin K, which deals with redness and rosacea.
If you asked me what I travel with, I wouldn't travel without this. It's
beauty's fast-fashion equivalent. That said, having a routine depends on time -
teenagers experiment all the time. If you look at my freshman yearbook picture
I have so much makeup on.
I got to test-drive M61 for myself: The Power Glow Peel ($28 for 10), really is as great as Beck says - I noticed smoother skin after using just one!
Image by Renata Certo-Ware
Stay tuned for Part Two of the interview with this super-CEO to learn more about M61 and get a crash course in what Beck learned about Entrepreneurship at Harvard.
As a freelance writer, a typical work day is just me and my laptop, so everyday is most likely Pajama Day; Party of One. But sometimes, a girl just needs to pop my bejeweled collar, throw her hair up into a high pony, and head to lunch in the neighborhood.
Yesterday, instead of opting for #basic blue jeans, I sported a baby blue jewel-collared oxford from Ann Taylor, an outer-space inspired Marc Jacobs mini, and a navy leather tote from Neiman Marcus for a quick lunch at East Boston Kitchen, where I indulged in a snack of rhubarb dipped in sugar and a grilled cheese with mushrooms.
Top, Ann Taylor. Skirt, Marc Jacobs. Gladiators, Dolce Vita at Bloomingdales. Tote, Neiman Marcus.
East Boston Kitchen Owner Robert Sarno and a bag of fresh - and surprisingly refreshing - rhubarb.
T-bags Knot-Front Jersey Dress, c/o Neiman Marcus Last Call at Legacy Place, Jeweled Sandals, c/o White Mountain. Necklace, Macy's. Bag, Reed Krakoff Micro Boxer at Saks.
Is there anything more quintessentially summer than jeweled sandals? For me at least, it's not enough to just finally kick off those snow boots that seem to occupy my feet for way longer than their allotted few months. I go all out in the summertime with pedicures in new shades (Like Stylenomics, this teal shade by Essie - a deviation from my usual tropical colors) and shoes that wear more like jewelry. The Chrysalis Sandal by White Mountain is just what my closet needed this season, with opulent crystals that would make a Disney Princess swoon, and a super-soft footbed that hearkens that ultimate summer sensation: A barefoot walk through freshly cut grass.
The New England-based shoe brand (which also owns and operates Rialto and Cliffs by White Mountain) is known for pared down basics that put comfort and quality first, but they also have a playful side - the Chrysalis, as well as a ton of other models centered on beaded and shimmery motifs, can attest to that!
Some bloggers are obsessed with proportion-play, but I love occasion-play! Mixing and matching formal pieces with casual elements is my recipe for style success, so pairing this cocktail-ready, toga-inspired drapey jersey dress from Neiman Marcus Last Call's brand new Legacy Place outpost with sparkly thong sandals is right up my alley. Opting for flats immediately took the look from Wedding Guest to Poolside Drinks, but not any old flats will do - the glam element of the Chrysalis was just enough to stand up to the sleek and chic T-Bags dress.
With travel planned for Turkey and France later this summer, I know I'll be engaged in urban exploration from dawn til dusk, and the last thing I need is footwear that is cozy, but about as chic (and touristy) as a fanny pack. With that in mind, I've been on the hunt for shoes I that will earn me approving (jealous?) glances from stylish Parisian ladies. I'd say I found my match!
Hey, if the shoe fits...
Visit their brand new website - their summer sale does not disappoint. My Top Picks online for summer: