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Karen Buglisi Discusses the DNA of MAC at CEW Series

The talk with MAC's global brand president focused on the brand’s personal philosophy, business, marketing and retail strategies.

Back in 1998, Leonard Lauder told Karen Buglisi Weiler, global brand president of MAC Cosmetics, and John Demsey, group president at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., to keep MAC, MAC.

Now $2 billion later, MAC knows who it is and who it is not.

“Distribution does define you,” said Buglisi, “so don’t outpace the demand of the product.”

That was one of the driving points at the Cosmetic Executive Women discussion on Tuesday at The Harmonie Club. The talk with Buglisi, moderated by WWD Beauty Inc editor Jenny B. Fine, focused on the brand’s personal philosophy, business, marketing and retail strategies. It was part of CEW’s Insider Series: “MAC Cosmetics: The Path to Success.”

Made up of 17,000 artists, MAC claims that the artist is its first customer.

“We put the business in the hands of the artists,” said Buglisi. “We give them the tools to work with and that’s ultimately who delivers it.”

When catering to a market, Buglisi claims she has to physically be there to learn the nuances she would never pick up from a report. As an example, she recalled traveling to India and asking one of MAC’s resident trainers what concerns him about the brand in his country. He told her that [the local MAC artists] don’t have good artistry. After that, MAC developed a boot camp for teaching the artists in India how to do makeup until they could do it well. Now, MAC has created a variety of boot camps in emerging markets around the world.

To that end, a big initiative for the brand is its retail network, and MAC’s biggest business is in its department stores.

“The other element of our business is our freestanding stores,” said Buglisi. “That’s where we can express the DNA of the brand. We’re now taking our store design and developing different store formats for different consumers. That’s what customers expect now, they want things customized for them.”

Meanwhile, the experience is also being tailored to the consumer. For instance, MAC’s Times Square flagship artists speak 12 different languages.

Moving on to digital, MAC currently has seven million followers on Facebook and 800,000 on Instagram, but, according to Buglisi, it’s not all about online.

“[Whoever best uses] all the technology out there to enhance your consumer experience will probably win the most,” said Buglisi, “and then doing it in your retail stores because it’s not all about online. That’s not it, but how to use that to enhance what they’re getting in the store.”

While most of MAC’s initiatives have worked to its advantage, not everything is perfect, and the level of competition is where challenges arise.

“The customer has so many opportunities to buy,” she said. “How we get their attention is the biggest challenge.”