Standing in front of a PowerPoint illustrating Ulta Beauty’s blistering sales expansion over the past five years, Julie Tomasi joked about her time at the beauty purveyor.
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“I’ve been here five- and-a-half years. Is it a coincidence?” said the senior vice president of merchandising. “We’ve had some crazy growth in that period.”
All kidding aside, the categories in her domain — professional hair care, professional nail, person- al-care appliances and mass cosmetics — have not only flourished, but also provided a comple- ment to the burgeoning roster of prestige lines.
The fusion of mass, class and salon distin- guishes Ulta Beauty from competitors and fits today’s shopper patterns, she said. Brands stocked on the mass side of the store range from the majors such as Almay, Maybelline, L’Oréal and Revlon to niche labels, which Ulta Beauty has helped nurture. Case in point — the success of NYX at Ulta Beauty caught the eye of L’Oréal, which scooped up the company last year. Ulta Beauty also has numerous niche lines such as Cosnova’s essence. There is also a popular proprietary collec- tion under the Ulta logo.
“We are agnostic in our approach. We are equally delighted if she’s buying mass cosmetics, visiting the salon or choosing prestige because we know the average consumer buys from all [categories],” Tomasi explained. “We offer convenience.”
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Ulta Beauty is first and foremost a store for the beauty enthusiast. But Ulta Beauty knows sometimes enthusiasts, for whatever reasons, are on a budget. “They might buy an expen- sive mascara on one visit and get a professional hair treatment on another, but buy a less expensive nail product,” she said.
Service is also posi- tioned in the middle of the spectrum — higher than the mostly self-service mass world, but not as intense as department stores. There is a focus on education for those who desire, but easy-and-out shopping for patrons in a hurry. That mantra is reflected online, too.
In addition to conve- nience, Ulta Beauty stores are, for the most part, either new or freshly remodeled to reflect what the company calls its Level 7 design. Bright, illuminated and highlighted by specialty boutiques, the stores are typically located in easy-access shopping centers rather than megamalls. A smaller format is also being tested in select markets.
New brands are a lifeline at Ulta Beauty and many shoppers visit the store for the latest trends. The assortment spans about 20,000 stockkeeping units from 500 brands. But Tomasi added Ulta Beauty doesn’t add new without ensuring a product is a solid shot at success. “We don’t want brands that cannibalize our exist- ing business,” she said. “We understand partnerships and work with our brands to nurture them to reach productivity levels.”
Among the categories on the rise at Ulta Beauty are professional hair brands — which Ulta Beauty can procure because of its in-store salons — color cosmet- ics, especially those for contouring, skin care and tools. In hair, Tomasi singled out a trend to flexibility where women wear curly hair one day and a sleek style the next. She also said consumers are more interested than ever in ingredients and efficacy. “They have more access to education and information and that’s pushed sales of products with charcoal or even snail creams,” she said.