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Beauty Barrage Founder Offers Tips to Bridge In-store, Virtual Selling

The company's beauty ambassadors have hit on a new set of best practices to drive sales during the pandemic.

Don’t give up on brick-and-mortar quite yet.

That was the message from Sonia Summers, chief executive officer and founder of Beauty Barrage, which built a business by amassing an army of some 300 “beauty ambassadors” to promote brands in stores.

While there’s no escaping the monumental growth in online as a result of the coronavirus, sales at retail stores are recovering, she said, and beauty companies need to take notice.

Despite the fact that the pandemic has significantly boosted e-commerce sales — Summers cited a 21 percent increase in online sales in August, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — “don’t take your eye off of everything, because now the stores are open. This is the fourth consecutive month we’ve seen growth in total retail sales, which surprised a lot of analysts,” Summers said. “There’s growth out there.”

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What has helped spur growth at Beauty Barrage, a woman- and Latinx-owned business, is that its field team, which is comprised of 96 percent women, “takes on brands as if they were their own.” Team members include, according to Summers, “passionate makeup artists, stylists, people who are beauty obsessed and know how to sell.” The company, which was included in the Inc. 500 ranking of top companies this year, has an enviable return-on-investment of three times sales, Summers said.

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The brands that sign on to work with Beauty Barrage consistently see a “major increase in sales,” she added.

Although the return of customers to stores is still spotty, Summers said providing a true “experience” in store remains essential. She provided a case study of Beekman 1802, which successfully launched in-store during the pandemic.

Calling the brand “the unicorn of all brand partners,” she said the business created by Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge had been “killing it in home shopping and finally chose a retail partner.” The farm-to-skin beauty brand, which produces goat milk-based products, hired Beauty Barrage to help with the launch.

They did everything the Beauty Barrage team requested, including providing the field team with free product so they could experience the brand for themselves. “They sent the mother lode in a suitcase,” she said. In addition, the founders included a handwritten letter detailing their story and how the brand was built on the premise of spreading kindness. They sent nearly identical boxes to each retail store — including goat-shaped cookies — so their employees could also be caught up in the Beekman 1802 story.

Beekman 1802 also created a Snapchat filter of goats that customers could use to engage with the brand when in-store shopping was not possible.

Whether online or in-store, Summers said there are several key strategies every brand needs to employ in order to be successful. First, it’s training your internal team on “everything,” she said. That includes people in all departments including sales, marketing and social media. The more they know about the product, the better it will be. “And it doesn’t have to be an influencer, your team is much more credible,” she said.

Summers also said companies need to utilize video-streaming. This type of communication has increased 93 percent overall, according to Mintel Intelligence Group, she said, with an average daily viewing time of 26 minutes. To capitalize on the popularity of video content, Summers recommends companies host master classes, educational summits and offer tips and tricks to connect with consumers.

“This is an industry going up to $125 billion by 2025. If Amazon is going into it, you know there’s something there,” she said. “So this is something you should be doing every single week — diversify, do different things. It’s easy and everyone is watching.”

Within the experimentation with video, companies should also be tapping into it to communicate with customers, which is a platform many prefer.

Only 9 percent of companies are currently using this and they’re experiencing an average increase in order size of nearly 50 percent, Summers said. “You get anywhere from an 8 to 50 percent conversion rate with this. Your customers don’t want to feel that they’re talking to someone far, far away,” she said.

Similarly, consumers may not want to feel like they’re buying from someone far away, which is why beauty brands may want to consider offering what she calls “no touch demos.” In the past, Beauty Barrage field staff could sit with a customer and demonstrate products on them in person. But since that can’t happen in a COVID-19 world, the staff has gotten creative by demonstrating products on themselves and talking the customer through it.

As a unique holiday season approaches, companies should already be building their strategies, Summers said.

“It starts in October. [Customers] already have their list and they want to go into store or online and get those quickly without searching and looking. We have to make it easy for them,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many brands won’t put up a gift set no matter how many times we tell them, so we took matters into our own hands and we bought gauzy bags in every size, shape and color and we started to create our own gift sets, anywhere from $25 up to $100. You can do this online too. The retailers do a good job, but you should be doing this on your web site as well as on Facebook and promote it on Instagram.”