The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. has made a decisive move and upped the ante in its beauty industry merger and acquisition contest by acquiring the Too Faced makeup brand for $1.45 billion, the largest purchase in Lauder’s 70-year history.
Just as Lauder was disclosing the news on the Too Faced deal, it also closed on an earlier acquisition of Becca Cosmetics, for which Lauder paid more than $230 million, according to industry source estimates. The combination of the two deals should elevate Lauder’s profile in the Millennial rich multi-unit specialty store and key digital channels. The company said it will strengthen its “leadership position in the fast-growing prestige makeup category globally.”
Fabrizio Freda, president and chief executive officer, noted, “The acquisition of Too Faced is complementary to our portfolio of brands because it has a unique feminine and Millennial communication focus, which is really complementary with very little cannibalization with the rest of our makeup portfolio.”
The Too Faced brand is described as whimsical, playful and feminine in its marketing approach. John Demsey, executive group president at Lauder, said the brand stands out for its unique prettiness.
Although Lauder had no comment, reports have circulated that the group also has its eye on the fast-growing Drunk Elephant indie brand.
“This is the biggest acquisition ever,” said Freda of the Too Faced deal. “It is our biggest acquisition is terms of size, in terms of a growing and profitable business and in terms of price.”
Net sales of Too Faced are expected to reach $270 million this year, a more than 70 percent growth, mostly from comp stores.
While a number of major beauty companies have been in the acquisition hunt, Lauder’s chief rival seems to be L’Oréal, which acquired indie brand It Cosmetics in July for $1.2 billion, after buying the much smaller Atelier Cologne in June.
After ticking off Lauder’s lineup of acquisitions in the last two years with artisanal fragrance brands, a minority stake in a Dr. Jart Korean skin-care brand and modern makeup, Freda indicated that the company is on the march. “We really want to continue winning and to continue leading this market,” he declared, noting that there are plans to expand distribution overseas and through the travel retail channel.
Too Faced was created in 1998 by Jerrod Blandino and Jeremy Johnson, who originally worked behind the counter for Estée Lauder in Southern California. Freda stressed the importance of gaining the talent that comes with the brand, including ceo Eric Hohl and the rest of the team. “Too Faced is an emotional brand; we want you to win,” said Blandino.
Since the Nineties the brand has been in the forefront of makeup evolution. Their “Better Than Sex” product ranks as the number one mascara at Sephora, with foundation at number two and eye shadow kit often at three. According to Lauder, the brand is counted among the top eight in the specialty multi-channel. The founders also have been in the forefront of social media with 7.8 million Instagram followers, and is perhaps the number one makeup brand on Facebook with 7.3 million followers.
“We are going to take a more global approach to the business going forward,” said Blandino, referring to the fact that the business is mostly concentrated in the U.S. with a beachhead in Europe. He mentioned the possibility of creating standalone stores. “When you look at what Estée Lauder has been able to do with MAC [Cosmetics] and Jo Malone and different brands that have their own retail outlets it’s just been phenomenal and we’re really excited about that opportunity and the potential behind that.”
Johnson added, “It’s really an amazing way to bring the Too Faced brand to life as a Millennial brand. That’s definitely something we see in the future for us. We also have some amazing products right now that are really propelling the brand.”
In addition to the number one selling mascara, Blandino pointed out the Sweet Peach palette that was launched nearly a year ago and “we have big, big plans for this coming year.” They are also the number two foundation at Sephora. “We have a lot of momentum and a lot of energy and excitement around core brands, core stockkeeping units and new innovative ideas. The pipeline is so rich, we’re just excited to have the wings of Estée Lauder to take us further.”
As for the future, Blandino said, “We are going to continue to dominate the color category, spinning skin care ingredients into the color cosmetics arena, but looking looking forward to skin care, fragrance—there are so many different places that we can go now because we have the support and resources. We have just been trying to keep up with the momentum of the shooting star that we created in 1998,” he said.
Giving a salute to Lauder, he said, “They respect our values, our core beliefs that we built our brand on. We will not be animal testing, we will not be going into China, we will not be made to fold into a corporate culture that we do not have. They love and respect what we have created and are just going to support us and lift us up, without changing us in any way but great.”
General Atlantic cut a deal to buy a majority stake in Too Faced in June 2015, valuing the buzzy beauty company at about $500 million. That valuation increased nearly threefold over the past 18 months — marking a solid win for the private equity company, which also has an investment in Tory Burch.
Andrew Crawford, managing director and global head of retail and consumer at General Atlantic, attributed the dramatic jump to Too Faced’s gains at Sephora and Ulta, but also through its international unit and its own web site.
“The growth was largely driven by the company’s tremendous social media following,” Crawford said, noting the company’s ability to launch new products across multiple beauty categories.
“The ability to profitably market to end consumers to drive sell through at retail has never been more powerful, especially for the company’s Millennial following,” he said.
The Too Faced ceo, Hohl, will report at Lauder to Demsey, who said,“Their business model harnessed with the power of social media today and the aggressive stance of special multi [unit chains] in the world has amplified their unique voice, creativity, their amazing products and their, quite honestly, super fun angle in terms of product ideation and execution.”
Demsey continued, “For the Estée Lauder Cos., what this represents is a fast growing brand in fast growing channels in a brand space that is quite honestly net extra to our makeup portfolio. If you look at the brand’s packaging and whimsical feminine characteristics, it’s not in the studio makeup position. When you look at Smash Box, you look at MAC or you look at Bobbi Brown, specifically, they are in studio makeup artistry black package positions. You look at Estée Lauder in navy blue and gold or Clinique in silver hypo allergenic positioning. This positioning has a distinctly feminine whimsical sensorial territory that is differentiated among the brands that we currently have. It’s not to say that there are not other brands in the marketplace with this positioning. Our corporation, to date, does not have a brand that is overtly this pretty and feminine.”
He added that the positioning of the brand portends to be “very successful in Asia” and this brand “connects very strongly with Generation Z and Millennial customers — 85 percent of their customers are in that space. They are a generational play.”