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Bluemercury Cofounder on Becoming the Neighborhood Drugstore

The upscale beauty retailer’s playbook is focused on being accessible and opening doors where its customers live and work.

“We need more disruption,” said Bluemercury Inc. cofounder and chief operating officer Barry Beck.

The executive spoke with WWD Friday as the University of Arizona Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing wrapped the final day of its annual retail conference in Tucson, Ariz., about how Bluemercury continues to try to push the buttons of what works at retail to stay ahead of the competition.

“The average attention span of a human being today is eight seconds; the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds,” Beck said. “Think about that. With the advent of the Internet, people want their products now. We’re in your neighborhoods, where you live your lives, where you buy your groceries, where you get your coffee, and this has really been our strength.”

Bluemercury opened three stores last week alone.

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The upscale cosmetics retailer started 18 years ago, first as an e-commerce pure play. It raised $1 million but nearly ran itself into the ground with few people shopping online at the time. The company entered physical retail first with a store in Georgetown — much to the disappointment of some of its investors, including America Online founder Steve Case — but growth took off from there.

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It was when the company opened its third store in a historical building in Philadelphia, Beck recalled the first customer of the day looking around excited at the prospects of no longer having to go to a mall to buy her beauty products. She bought $3,000 worth of product that day. “I knew right then, we had a really great business,” Beck said.

Macy’s Inc. acquired Bluemercury in 2015.

“We really love Macy’s. Why? Because they’re incredible operators,” he said. “Really nice people. They have a West Coast innovation lab, which really inspired us, and they were able to provide us key know-hows to back-end digitalization of our supply chain. They’re still allowing me to flex my entrepreneurship muscles, which is something really, really important to me.”

Beck said the company views itself as a mom-and-pop organization. He still interviews every store manager and calls the shots on everyday decisions.

Among one of the more important of those is how the company’s looking at real estate moving forward with a portfolio Beck said he only sees getting larger over time – to the tune of what he said was room for another 300 stores in the U.S.

In cities, Bluemercury is within a five-block radius of its customers. In the suburbs, it’s about a 15-minute drive time, Beck said.

The importance of that underscores a shift to localization as more communities grow and moving around will become more difficult. That in turn will lead to a movement to shopping local, Beck said.

“I think the smart retailers are going to realize there’s an opportunity for more stores, not less [and] that they’re going to be more well-placed stores near where their clients live their lives,” Beck said. “We don’t see cannibalization [in continued store openings]. We see a lift to the overall business.”

Bluemercury is also working with Google right now in New York on local delivery service.

“Bluemercury,” Beck said, “is basically becoming a substitute upscale drugstore.”

That idea calls into question whether Bluemercury has or would consider expanding into additional categories in its stores. Beck is open to the idea.

“Absolutely. We’re not going to rule out any possibilities,” he said. “We want to serve our clients so I’m on a mission to serve my clients and give them the products they want and we’re always listening. If our clients say that they would like electronics in our store or they would like to be able to get their their iPhone fixed in the store and we become these hubs around the country and we become this last-mile delivery, the answer is absolutely yes. Look, we never know what the future’s going to bring and we’re always willing to partner with companies.”

He said Bluemercury’s been approached by tech firms about the possibility of partnering on other programs.

“We’re always listening, he said. “Disruptors are everywhere and so either we’re changing every day or we’re going to be disrupted.”

For More on Bluemercury in WWD:

Bluemercury Boosts Natural Beauty Offering

Bluemercury Opens 100th Store

Bluemercury Opens in Texas