Laura Geller made her name as a makeup artist behind the camera, working on television and film sets in the ’90s.
But she built her namesake brand in front of the camera, as one of beauty’s first breakout stars on QVC. She made her debut on the channel in 1997, quickly selling out of 750 units of her first collection on her very first show. Called The Face Structuring Kit, it was a three-piece contouring kit with bronzer, highlighter and brush.
“I came off the set and just collapsed crying — I had never sold 750 of anything in my whole life, let alone one stockkeeping unit,” said Geller recently, recalling those early days during a lively chat with Beauty Inc. “We didn’t have media training in those days. I was a nervous wreck the night before, but the minute I got on set and the red camera light came on, I was totally relaxed. I found the secret sauce — I was a great educator and a great communicator.”
The next day, QVC ordered another 1,200 pieces. Fast-forward 25 years and Laura Geller is now a top 10 brand on the platform, with over 20 million units of product sold, including 4,464,384 Spackle Primers, 3,100,000 Balance-N-Brighten Color Correcting Foundations and more than 1,100,000 Kajals.
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The size of the business may be supercharged, and QVC’s platforms may have expanded from broadcast television to encompass social media commerce and digital livestreaming, but what hasn’t changed is the connection that Geller has forged with her customers. “Laura is an authentic founder, a female entrepreneur who has connected with her customer emotionally rather than transactionally,” said Anna Baker, general merchandise manager and vice president of beauty, at QVC. “Laura’s products fill a need, help solve a problem, make the user feel beautiful. It is an emotional fulfillment, and we are doing that through her vision and story-telling every day.”
As Geller’s sales on QVC grew in the early days, so did the company, from an item-based business into a fleshed-out brand with a broad product range. After five years on air, she raised money from friends and family to create enough product for an hour-long program (she sold out of everything and had to end early) and by 2012, sales were said to be $75 million at retail annually. Tengram Capital Partners took a stake in the business that year, selling it five years later to Glansaol. That business went bankrupt in late 2018, and in January 2019, AS Beauty, a joint venture between Alan and Joey Shamah, the founders of E.l.f. Beauty, and the Azrak family, bought the brand.
Despite the ups and downs, Geller has no regrets. “I was so ready to take on a partner, especially one with great business acumen and money — I needed the influx of cash to keep up with the growth of the business,” she said. “I was running the business and was the face of the business, and it was just too much. I had no issues giving up responsibility and sharing that.
“My wheelhouse was knowing how to do product development and create winning hero products,” she continued, “and my only issue was educating my partners and bringing them up to speed with the idea of sticking with the expensive manufacturers we used, because it would have been much easier to use local ones and much less expensive.”
Through it all, Geller has managed to maintain her focus on the consumer and the product. Her greatest hits include Spackle Primer (“they call me the pioneer of primers,” she joked), which she created when she needed an emollient-free primer for television anchor Deborah Norville that wouldn’t break down under the hot studio lights. (It remains the brand’s bestseller today, and comes in five different variations, including Spackle Highlight, Spackle Champagne Glow and Spackle Ethereal Rose Glow.)
Looking forward, Geller said that success for the next 25 years will be predicated on relevance. “You have to be able to keep creating newness to attract the customer, which becomes more difficult when you’ve been doing this for as long as I have,” she said. “The one thing I hate to do is follow someone else’s trend. I always say I innovate, I don’t imitate.
“Product development is the biggest struggle,” she continued. “I’m always trying to problem solve. How do you give someone something different, something unique, something that isn’t just fluff but really makes a difference in a customer’s arsenal.”
Currently she’s working on an undereye concealer with a viscosity and texture that she hopes will be a game-changer. “For as many years as I can remember, I’ve had terrible dark circles. Most products either cover, but don’t stay covered or cover, but look too heavy.”
Baker notes that many of the brand’s product franchises have become icons, noting that Geller is particularly astute at weaving both performance and a story into the items she creates.
Baked Eyeshadows are one such example. “These products are being hand-made by Italian artisans — we’re able to show pictures and take customers on a journey. Laura understands this side,” said Baker, noting that such backstories constitute value today for a consumer who is more educated about beauty products than ever before.
“Value to our customer is this experiential retail, where she gets to discover new brands, hear compelling stories that fill a need and create an emotional connection, get products first or get an exclusive — be it a size or bundle,” said Baker. “When you can lean into those key touchpoints, you build what Laura has built — staying power for 25 years.”
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