As chief executive officer of Benefit Cosmetics, Jean-André Rougeot helped propel the brand from a hero-product-based business to a full-fledged line with over $1.5 billion in sales. Now the newly appointed ceo of Sephora Americas will need to tap into those considerable brand-building skills — not to mention his knowledge of the competitive retail landscape — to steer Sephora through a critical moment in its development.
That was the consensus of beauty insiders after learning of Rougeot’s appointment on Tuesday. Though the executive himself is largely unknown to many of the brands that he will work with in his new role, his skills as a brand builder are widely recognized.
“I don’t personally know him, but from afar, I have a lot of respect for what he’s done with Benefit,” said Jill Scalamandre, president of Bare Minerals and Shiseido’s global makeup line. “He transformed an item-based brand into a cohesive color brand that ranks number six and is exceeding market growth. It’s great that he is a brand builder, because at the end of the day, he’s going to build his brand — Sephora — as well as our brands.”
Indie brand founders agreed. “Jean-André is a brilliant brand builder,” said Vicky Tsai, founder of Tatcha. “He will bring a unique perspective from his remarkable Benefit work.”
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“He knows firsthand what it’s like to be a brand selling at Sephora and that gives him a unique perspective when making decisions,” added Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Gores Ireland, the cofounders of Summer Fridays.
As Rougeot heads to Sephora, undoubtedly he will have a lot of decisions to make. Although the company, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in the U.S. in 2018, is the number-one prestige beauty retailer in the U.S., it faces increased competition on a variety of fronts at a time when its core category, color cosmetics, has softened.
“For a retailer like Sephora, it is an increasingly competitive landscape. Everyone is upping their game in beauty, including department stores and mass retailers. Everyone is making moves,” said Larissa Jensen, executive director, beauty industry analyst at The NPD Group.
In the past year, Bloomingale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and CVS have all significantly made over their departments, for example, while Macy’s ceo Jeff Gennette has also spoken about the dramatic reinvention of the retailer’s beauty business. “Sephora does a very nice job in how they market and merchandise and the assortment is strong,” said Jensen. “It’s just a question of being able to stay relevant and top of mind.”
But some analysts noted that the increased competition and proliferation of products have created an environment that is becoming increasingly difficult for shoppers to navigate. “Sephora has incubated and added so many brands in so many areas, but with no clarity or point of view,” said Wendy Liebmann, ceo of WSL Strategic Retail. “There is a lot of stuff in the store right now that has taken away from what was the unique proposition — this orderly but immersive beauty environment.
“Whoever comes in needs to recognize that the competitive environment has changed and re-establish Sephora’s unique proposition,” she continued. “I think they need to think about what is the next beauty revolution and how do they play in that.”
Rougeot will also have to contend with macro issues that are plaguing many beauty players, whether the shift in sales from makeup to skin care that started in 2018 and is expected to continue this year, or shoppers’ continued exodus from malls, a key location for Sephora.
Still, Sephora owns the hearts — and wallets — of Millennials, pointed out one industry executive who wanted to remain anonymous, and that will serve Rougeot well as he looks to put his stamp on the business. “Sephora is the place where Millennial and Gen Z consumers discover brands,” the source said. “Maybe there will be a little bit of a rebalancing in terms of how to grow a brand and not pigeonhole it, and working closely with the brands to deliver a growth plan for both the brand and Sephora. They do that now and I think that can only strengthen more going forward.”
For his part, Rougeot seems eager to take on the challenge. “I’m very excited to join Sephora and look forward to working with the team to build on the success of this iconic omni-retail brand,” said the executive. “Together, we will continue strengthening Sephora’s brand partnerships, innovating and delighting clients with the best experience and assortment of prestige beauty products, whether they are shopping in our stores or across our outstanding digital platforms.”
Rougeot’s mandate will include defending Sephora’s position as the prestige beauty leader in the U.S. and Canada, and growing the business in Mexico and Brazil. His predecessor, Calvin McDonald, led the retailer through the digital revolution and implemented of initiatives like the Sephora Innovation Lab and Sephora Studios. Since McDonald’s departure last July to head up Lululemon Athletica, there has been speculation about who would be named to lead the next phase of the retailer’s growth. A source close to the company said Rougeot “stood out as the most qualified candidate best fit for our organization, with his long and consistent track record as a dynamic leader and in-touch, inspirational ceo and brand builder.”