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Detail on Retail: Shen Beauty’s Jessica Richards

The Brooklyn-based retailer opened her newest store in September.

With just one door, Shen Beauty’s influence far outweighs its size, thanks to the eye of owner Jessica Richards. The Brooklyn-based store has launched brands such as Dr. Barbara Sturm and Kosas, among many others, cementing Richards’ reputation as someone with her finger on the pulse of what’s next. Last year, just as she was readying a new store — three times the size of the original — Richards was forced to halt construction due to the pandemic. But she persevered, increasing online sales from 10 percent to 50 percent of Shen’s overall business, and in September, opened the doors to her reimagined store.

You were due to open the new store when the pandemic started — any second thoughts? What convinced you to forge ahead?

Jessica Richards: Second thoughts now that I’m open? No. During forging ahead? All day, every day! How can one not? My lease was up after 10 years, and I was midway through construction when lockdown started, so walking away meant I would have no business whatsoever. The main thing that kept me going was the driver which brought me into my business — I opened this place to launch brands and support other women business owners and help women with their skin. It is not superficial as many think. It can really change someone’s entire day. We’ve been here for 11 years and it is an important part of the neighborhood and community, where women can come and learn about skin health. We make them feel beautiful from the inside out.

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How has it been since opening? Are people comfortable shopping in-store and having services?

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J.R.: I don’t have any regrets, despite all of the hiccups that come with opening a store in New York City, not to mention during a pandemic. We’re located next door to a Trader Joe’s, which opens up an entirely new demographic for us.

Business ebbs and flows. There are a lot of people who are still out of town or who have moved. Traffic-wise, we see about 50 percent return customers and 50 percent new. Each month, sales improve. They’re now stronger than prior to the pandemic, but not what they should be due to the size of this store, which is three times bigger than our previous location.

One good thing about being mid-construction was we were able to make some changes — we installed hospital-grade, sanitary-grade air filtration and put a sink in for employees and customers. Staff members get PCR tests every 10 days, and they wear masks and shields.

One of the biggest struggles was to figure out how to create a safe shopping experience in an industry that is so sensorial. You touch, you feel, you smell, you look. A huge part of the experience for brick-and-mortar is being able to try the product. How do to it in a safe way? I came across an image of an artist holding a painter’s palette and had the idea to use palettes for product testing. The associate walks you through the store and if you want to try a product, she takes a spatula and puts it on a palette for you — so you can have four foundation shades, a bunch of blushes, etc., then you take an individual biodegradable bamboo brush and apply the product yourself. That has been working really well. People love it.

How has your consumer changed?

J.R.: Consumers are very focused on skin health rather than covering something up and willing to invest in that. Also, they have time for other things, particularly around wellness. Since January, people are really interested in our bigger services like microblading and lash line enhancement. We just introduced microneedling and within a day, we had sold four packages — and we didn’t even send out an e-mail. Now that the world looks like it is going to open back up, customers want to do these services before they see everyone.

What are your current bestsellers?

J.R.: MBR Liquid Surgery Serum, which is $1,750, is number one. I was a little hesitant to bring it in given the price point, but our sales staff is so well trained people understand why they’re buying it. Skin Design London On the Spot Acne Serum has been a runaway hit. Bynacht Hypercharged Glass Skin Serum has been a consistent bestseller. We just launched Decree, exclusive to us in the U.S. The number-one-selling product is the Weekly Decree, a chemical exfoliator at-home treatment. There is an interesting concept of people taking it into their own hands with the right product.

You’re known as a product whisperer in the industry — you’ve discovered a lot of brands. How do you find them? What do you look for?

J.R.: When I first opened it was all about traveling, but that’s not happening now. Many of the brands I find, like Decree, is me Googling or Instagram searching late into the hours and finding some random picture of something and hunting down the brand and finding them. Also, the amount of brand submissions we get is incessant. I look for nice packaging, nice product, good story, great founder, good price point and something that fills a void in our assortment. Or there are times when we need something, such as a skin care line dedicated to pigmentation, and I’ll go hunting for that.

The first thing I look for is what does the packaging look like? I would be a fool to say people don’t care. Then I dig down into the brand, who’s behind it, their ethos, their sourcing, their story. Do they look like they have enough money to partner via in-store sales support or sampling or gratis to the staff and training? And, of course, the efficacy and ingredients. Does it do what it says it will?

How important is newness?

J.R.: There are certain customers who are beauty junkies and buy everything we buy new. And then there are the other people who just want stuff that works and they don’t care. But newness is important for us as a business — that’s what we do. My favorite thing is to find a brand, launch a brand, create the story. I love getting to know the founder and growing the business with them.

What was the last thing you saw that made you say — wow!

J.R.: Decree. Our customer loves clean doctor and aesthetician brands like Sturm, Skin DesignLondon and Bynacht. Anita [Sturnham], who started Decree, is an aesthetician and a dermatologist and she really understands skin health. Rather than a cleanser and a moisturizer, it’s a peptide veil, a weekly chemical exfoliant, a morning cleanser and a night cleanser that are two completely different textures. The products are targeted and thoughtful.

What’s the next category ripe for growth and disruption?

J.R.: Body care. People are realizing if you’re going to treat your face to all these products, why wouldn’t you treat your chest, your back, your neck, the backs of your arms. We can’t keep Nécessaire in stock and Goop’s body line does phenomenally well.

How are you thinking about expansion?

First — e-commerce and making it cohesive with brick-and-mortar. Secondly — building out our brand, and third, possibly one more retail location. The order could change. I have a location in mind. Once the right space there opens up, I will snag it!

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