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For Ulta Beauty, Personalization and Diversity Are Keys to Success

The future of retail is in human connection, according to Dave Kimbell.

It’s no coincidence that Ulta Beauty’s first acquisitions help it personalize services.

The beauty retailer, which now has roughly 32 million loyalty program members, is trying more than ever to connect with shoppers “on a more human level, on a more personalized level,” and is using technology to do so, according to Dave Kimbell, Ulta’s president, chief merchandising and marketing officer.

It’s part of evolving Ulta’s brand story now that customers have more awareness about the retailer’s mass and prestige beauty proposition.

Kimbell, who said he enjoys working in the beauty category, noted the market’s importance to consumers. “It is an awesome category, it is just so personally connected to everybody. The thing that gets me really excited is that beauty plays such an important role to nearly everybody that walks into one of our stores.…It is such a part of how they show up in the world, it’s part of the confidence it helps them be their best selves — they love it, they think it’s fun,” he said.

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While there’s a big desire to connect with beauty, there’s a level of dissatisfaction with consumers not necessarily feeling represented by the category. “Now consumers are taking things into their own hands, driving change, essentially saying the standards of beauty, the way beauty has been told to me over my lifetime is not the way I want to hear it, here’s how I want to hear it,” he said.

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That’s the type of thing Ulta has been keeping in mind as it has gone on a path to tell its evolved brand story, which has gone through an evolution since the days of “all things beauty, all in one place.”

Today the brand story has morphed into something that’s meant to resonate with consumers who are looking to express their best selves, Kimbell said. Last year Ulta launched a campaign called “the possibilities are beautiful” that ends with the concept of people shopping at the retailer because they already are beautiful.

“One of my favorite lines in that ad is when we say, ‘You didn’t come here,’ meaning you didn’t come to Ulta Beauty to get beautiful, ‘You came here because you already are.’ That’s how we approach every guest,” Kimbell said.

Ulta is also connecting more to consumers through a program, in partnership with Essence magazine, called Girls United Beautiful Possibilities. Through that program, Ulta and Essence partnered with six teenage girls who were able to design products for the Ulta Beauty collection, to be sold in its stores. “A little bit allowing them to see the world of beauty and how things work, but also to mentor them and ultimately allow them to see the possibilities of what’s ahead of them for their lives and their careers,” Kimbell said.

With diversity and acceptance at the core of its values, Ulta has also ramped up training, which is available for all employees. “It’s something we hold ourselves accountable to,” Kimbell said.

“We don’t just say it, we’ve been building programs to make sure we help people understand it. We want to provide an environment where our store associates, every single day, are set up to deliver an experience to make guests feel served and warm and welcome and excited on their journey of beauty,” Kimbell said. Ulta has also provided “deep training” for managers, where they are trained on unconscious bias, and programs for senior leadership “to make sure we’re uncovering any blind spots that we might have.”

More than anything, Kimbell said retail is evolving into a place for human connections.

“We need to eliminate everything that is a drag on shopping and make sure we’re focusing in on the positive human connection,” Kimbell said. “This idea of humanity is central to what we’re doing and a big part of this possibilities idea.”