Over the course of a decade, Marla Malcolm Beck of Bluemercury and Janet Gurwitch of Laura Mercier simultaneously built two beauty powerhouses and forged a powerful personal bond as well. Gurwitch has since sold her brand and entered the world of private equity, while Beck remains focused on driving the growth of her retail empire, but the two still share a mutual love for building businesses.
How did you meet?
Marla Malcolm Beck: We met when I was begging Laura Mercier to ship Bluemercury. Back then we had three locations. I would call every two months and say, “Please sell me Laura Mercier!” Janet Gurwitch: Then we met you in New York.
M.M.B.: For breakfast at the St. Regis. That was 2002. Laura was an indie brand. Now, it’s our number-one brand. It is part of our DNA. J.G.: What we had in common is we both wanted to be true to the client. We didn’t want anyone to buy superfluous products, so we said education with purchase, not gift.
M.M.B.: The Flawless Face was revolutionary. We couldn’t keep the Secret Concealer in stock. Laura Mercier made the concealer category.
J.G.: We were also the first to have a primer. Today, in NPD, it is a category. M.M.B.: I always say that if you can find a product and everyone has to have one because the category doesn’t exist, it’s an amazing thing.
J.G.: That’s right. Because even if you were buying Chanel foundation, we wanted you to use our primer.
What was the last product you saw where the category didn’t exist?
M.M.B.: I like the Blur category. It’s the filler category. You can put foundation right over it. Clients are loving it. We’re also seeing CC Creams for undereye and undereye [creams] with SPF. People are trying to push the envelope in new categories again. J.G.: Technology driven? M.M.B.: Technology combined with an openness to new ideas. During the recession people weren’t open to new ideas. Entrepreneurship is big again.
J.G.: That is a challenge for private equity. A lot of people can start brands, but you want to see at least $20 million in wholesale revenues and we prefer $40 million. M.M.B.: Very few brands make it there. It’s not about product. J.G.: It’s distribution. It’s running a business. People can have a brilliant idea, but if they’re not great business people and if they can’t get distribution—which is harder because there’s fewer stores—
M.M.B.: And less space. You get full and you have to kick something out to bring something in.
J.G.: That’s very true. You have to have a point of difference and the business skills to take your great product to the next level. So few brands reach $20 million.
M.M.B.: You have to have a lot of distribution and a high volume per door; doors level out in terms of how much a single brand can do in a single door. J.G.: Yes, unless you add some major categories. We added bath and body and skin care. The customer has to buy that you have the bandwidth.
What drives both of you?
J.G.: I love the challenge of building businesses. In the private equity industry you read these books and you have to really glean through it to find what they’re really telling you. But I found Dry Bar. I was with a good friend [in the business] who said, “You’ve brought me so many clients, I would like to get you a gift.” I had just joined Castanea and I said, “I don’t want a handbag, I want a company.” By the end of the brunch, she said, “I have one. Dry Bar.” I had never heard of it. I Googled it and immediately loved the branding. It was so current, so fresh. And I did think I could help them develop a product line, which is a second revenue stream. That’s been a great partnership.
How often do ideas like that come along?
M.M.B.: There are a lot of good ideas, but it’s the execution. The beauty industry needs an angel fund. What’s interesting with angel funding is it’s just money, generally. It gives you time to prove the concept and get to a certain revenue scale with not so much money. If you have too much, you don’t get a good business model because you don’t have enough constraints. You’re spending money. You’re not saying, “How do I make revenue and how do I make profit?”
J.G.: I totally agree. We started with $3.5 million and it was our own money. In the end, it took about $10 million, but I’m so glad I didn’t have $10 million to start, because I would have overspent.
M.M.B.: You’re not as smart with too much money. You don’t bargain shop.
J.G.: I was also thinking about the difference between us. Marla started from school and I was in the corporate world for 20 years and decided to toss it all aside and take a risk at 42 with my own money.
M.M.B.: How’d you do that?
J.G.: Naiveté! I really believed the time was right. I sometimes think people think you can’t be an entrepreneur if you don’t create something. In the corporate world, I thought you had to be Steve Jobs and create Apple. It didn’t enter my mind that you could create a better shoe and call it Manolo or a better undergarment and call it Spanx. I learned that in mature industries, there are still great opportunities if you have a different slant and great product.
Marla Malcolm Beck
Self-professed beauty junkie Marla Malcolm Beck is the cofounder and chief executive officer of Bluemercury Inc., the independent beauty retailer which will celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2014 and open its 50th door. She is also the cofounder of the cosmeceutical brand M-61 Skincare.
Veteran retailer Janet Gurwitch left her position as executive vice president of merchandising at Neiman Marcus to found Laura Mercier Cosmetics and Skin Care in 1996. In 2006, she sold the company to Alticor, a division of Amway. Today, Gurwitch is a partner with Castanea, a Boston-based private equity firm.
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews