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Beauty executives and retailers shared insight about success in today’s beauty market to a crowd of about 300 at Fashion Group International’s The Art of the Beauty Start Up. Held in the New York Hilton’s Mercury Ballroom on April 30, the event featured a panel of experts: Howard Kreitzman, vice president of cosmetics and fragrances at Bloomingdale’s; Peter Lichtenthal, president of Bumble and bumble and Smashbox; Paulo Limo, cofounder of IT Cosmetics; Claudia Lucas, QVC’s merchandise director for beauty, and Essie Weingarten, founder of Essie Cosmetics.

Her first day on the job, Mary Murcko, vice president and publisher at Self, introduced moderator Karen Grant, NPD’s vice president and global beauty industry analyst. Grant then opened the luncheon by asking the panel about the key attributes a brand needs to be and remain relevant.

“Don’t look at what the competition is doing,” advised an ebullient Weingarten, whose nail brand is sold in more than 100 countries. “If you see a void, go for it.” She told the story of how she launched her brand with 12 colors, which still exist within her now extensive lineup. “You’re looking at the American dream,” she said to applause. Weingarten later shared that her “aha moment” was when the Queen of England ordered a bottle of her soft pink Ballet Slippers polish.

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“[I told them] I’d hand-deliver it,” laughed Weingarten, adding that she was an early adopter of e-commerce, which added a little under $1 billion to her sales in the first year. “It’s only because I was quick and nimble.”

For Lucas, whose business generated $8.6 million in sales across categories last year, the answer to brand relevancy is centered on passion, point of view and, most importantly, storytelling. “A great brand is a great story and we love it when a start-up comes to us,” she said, reiterating that a great brand story supersedes a great public relations push. “If [your brand] does take off like a rocket you better be ready,” said Lucas, of the sometimes-overnight success stories created by a QVC appearance.

QVC was certainly the most important platform for IT Cosmetics, said Lima, whose brand is now the number-one color line on QVC. Lima urged brands in attendance to “pick vendors that allow you to tell their story,” he said. “QVC was the tipping point for us.” Lima added that it wasn’t before many ‘no’s,’ including from QVC, that the brand finally heard ‘yes.’ “No just basically means not yet,” he said. “A year ago we had six employees, now we have 60.”

Kreitzman said any new product chosen to enter Bloomingdale’s distribution must enhance the customer experience. “The test I have is, ‘Is it going to be truly additive [to the assortment]?’” He then touched on how Clarisonic created a new category and booming business on Bloomigndale’s beauty floor that didn’t exist previously and teased that the retailer is working on projects to integrate technology and the in-store shopping experience

“There’s a lot of cruise ships parked there and no little boats,” he said, adding that a recent focus has been nurturing smaller beauty businesses through its partnership with Space NK, which he said is in expansion mode. “That’s what we are good at.”

Lichtenthal said that at Bumble and bumble and Smashbox, it is about delivering innovation as well as authenticity. He touched on the cult status of Bumble’s Surf Spray, asking, then answering, how an existing product (Surf Spray was launched in 2001) continues to be reinvented.

“How do you tell the story again and again and again?” he asked. “[It’s about] the importance of living and breathing in authentic ways,” he said, underscoring that Bumble’s salon heritage and Smashbox’s studio heritage, are very much at the heart of each brand.“[You should] always have the air of a start up,” he said. “You have to keep yourself fresh.…Innovation underlies all we are talking about.”

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