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Bringing Laura Mercier Back to the Brand

Claudia Pocciat and Mercier talk about finding that elusive balance between ceo and creator.

As president and chief executive officer of Gurwitch Products, Claudia Poccia has spent the last two years righting the ship. When she came on board in 2011, she found operational and supply-chain issues, as well as a much bigger problem: Makeup artist Laura Mercier was no longer involved with her namesake brand. Poccia became determined to bring her back, a move that has paid off in the last year, with the brand growing 13 percent in the face category and regaining the top spot in tinted moisturizers, according to The NPD Group. Here, the duo talk about finding that elusive balance between ceo and creator.

Claudia, when you started, Laura was no longer involved with the brand and you labored mightily to bring her back. Why? What value does a founder bring to a brand?

Claudia Poccia: In every great brand, the founder has a vision. I felt that if I was going to bring this brand to its full potential, I needed a teacher, a guide, somebody to teach me the tenets of the brand that were sacrosanct and what her vision was and what she wanted to deliver. There is no way, when you’re coming into a business, to do it justice if you don’t understand that fundamental DNA. Also, I had been watching Laura from a competitive perspective and had so much respect and admiration for her. It wasn’t an option to do it without her—that wasn’t something I wanted to embark on. It’s so important because that’s what we have to carry forward with integrity and discipline and continuity, particularly as we grow so fast globally. So how do you make sure that the essence stays consistent across all those geographies and across multiple retail platforms?

Laura, how driven are you by the business and the results?

Laura Mercier:
I am not driven by it. And I don’t want to be. That is not my thing. That is why I have a partner I can trust. This is, to me, the best jewel. Because I know she has my back. Hopefully, I have hers on a creative level, but she trusts me on that.

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Claudia, how much are you market driven versus Laura driven?

C.P.: Laura is consumer driven. If you think about the genesis of the brand, she created categories of business that didn’t exist—tinted moisturizers, primers. That didn’t come from statistics. She had a vision, she saw a need.

L.M.: I turned a blind eye on the competitive set. I had no time to look at what other people were doing. And then, when marketing came in—marketing and product development is always tough, because one wants to have fun creatively and the other one is [limiting] you. It’s always a battle. When Claudia came, I said, “Okay, I am embracing marketing.” She has explained things to me. She said, “I trust you and I want what you want, however, let’s put some structure in so we don’t randomly spend here and there.” It’s totally fine to me now. If there is one department where I put my nose, it’s marketing, because it’s really linked to what we do and they have to make our product look good. They have to promote it right. They have to find the right words.

What happens when conflict arises?

C.P.: We haven’t had any yet. Sincerely. It doesn’t mean we don’t come at things from a different perspective, but we sit down and talk about it. When the whole world was going crazy for alphabet creams, we were getting a lot of recommendations from everywhere—retailers, beauty editors, our own team—that we should do it. I said to Laura, “Let’s talk about BB creams and here’s why.” Laura looked at me and said, “Bébé, we can talk about BBs, but we have tinted moisturizer. I don’t know what the market says, but I don’t believe that one cream does it all. I’m not there.”

L.M.: There was pressure from everybody.

C.P.: Everybody. We talked through it several times.

L.M.: Several times. It’s a big responsibility for me, too. It’s a big responsibility to be stubborn, because Claudia respects me enough that she will take my side, but what if we’re missing out on some part of the market? I spent a few nights driving these thoughts around and thinking, would I be able to promote it well, would I be able to sell it to the press, would I be able to explain exactly what this product is for and how it is different from the tinted moisturizer and why we came with it on the market when everybody else has it and I thought, No! It doesn’t make sense to me. Period. So maybe we are missing a part of the market right now, but in the long run we are consistent with our philosophy.

C.P.: It goes back to understanding the DNA of the brand, because there is always an onslaught of things coming at you and knowing when to say no is equally as important as knowing when to say yes.

What excites you most about the future?

L.M.: We have so much we want to do. There is not a robot that is going to be able to put makeup on women. Teaching women to do their makeup, to know their face, to feel confident, and teaching the people who are going to sell them products and put makeup on them is the key.

C.P.: I see nothing but opportunity. We have a great team, we have great synergy, and when you get a lot of talented people with a lot of energy and passion and creativity, it’s fun. That doesn’t mean we’re not dealing with issues. If somebody had told me I was going to understand how to buy a manufacturing tank last summer I would have told them they were crazy, but you do what you have to do and move forward.