For Noella Gabriel, cofounder and president of Elemis, the brand-building journey has been a long one.
Elemis started out under a public company, Steiner Leisure, before being acquired by L Catterton and eventually, L’Occitane en Provence for $900 million. But Gabriel noted that she wished an event like BeautyVest had been around in the company’s early days.
“I built a brand over 30 years, and how I wish there was a forum like this in the first 10 years of my starting out. It would have prevented me from making a lot of mistakes, and spending a lot of somebody else’s money,” Gabriel said.
The company learned lessons — like running a lean business — during its early days, she said. “Publicly owned was a great training because we were taught then to run something very lean and mean. We had very little budget but we were very creative with it,” Gabriel said.
While she acknowledged that money is important when it comes to running a business, she said “raw passion” and “a little bit of gut feeling” need to be involved, too.
“In Elemis, we’ve always done things differently. We’ve always pushed the boundaries — 30 years ago, we were bold enough to launch a lifestyle concept in skin care,” Gabriel said.
She used her background as an aromatherapist and beauty therapist to inform decisions around skin care from the early days, she noted. “Your skin is how it is because of your lifestyle choices yesterday — the red glass of wine last night or the odd cigarette today,” Gabriel said.
For Elemis, education and connecting to the consumer has played a big role in the brand’s success. “Don’t miss that moment when the customer comes up to the counter,” Gabriel said.
But thinking outside the box has been important, too. “I look very rarely in the department stores because if it’s done, why am I copying it? What’s in it for me?” Gabriel said.
During the course of building Elemis, Gabriel had a daughter, Kate, who worked at Elemis over the summer. “She’s very critical,” Gabriel said. “Millennials, you know, they have a lot to say.”
Inside the company, Gabriel thinks of her role now as a mentor more than a leader, she said. “I get great, talented people, and I just steer them. They may not know they’re being steered, but they get a little nudge in the right direction,” Gabriel said.
Her intuition has played a big role in all parts of the brand — down to the acquisition.
During a flurry of meetings — “it really is like speed dating” — she wound up meeting Reinold Geiger, the head of L’Occitane. “This gentleman walked in…and he walked out, and this is absolutely true, I went, ‘Wow, God, wouldn’t I love to be working with that guy.’ That’s true, and I still had another 20 meetings to do.
“Something clicked, and I knew this was the brand to acquire us to take us to the next level,” Gabriel said.
And while she is primarily guided by gut, she does take time to think on some decisions, she said.
“Every big decision is worth one night’s sleep,” Gabriel said.
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