When looking for brands to carry at Bluemercury, cofounder and chief executive officer Marla Malcolm Beck doesn’t care what stage indie brands are at today — she cares about where they plan to be in the future.
“We’re not just looking for the first launch, we’re looking for where you’re going to take the brand,” Beck said at WWD’s first BeautyVest summit, held at The Asia Society in New York last week. “It’s easier than it used to be to launch a new brand because you have so many communication vehicles, but it’s really about the brand appetite and resources and how they want to start scaling with us.”
The beauty industry’s influx of indie brands combined with the expanding definition of beauty has given Bluemercury license to experiment with all kinds of products, from clean beauty to ath-leisure beauty to portable beauty to supplements, Beck said. Bluemercury generally tests new brands in between 10 and 100 locations.
Beck’s role has shifted over Bluemercury’s 19 years in business, and these days — especially after selling the company to Macy’s in 2015 — she’s focused on maintaining the retailer’s DNA instead of unpacking boxes, which she used to do.
“It’s much more about having great people on the team and being their supporter and cheerleader and adviser and much less about getting my hands into everything,” Beck said.
As part of Bluemercury’s own M&A process, Beck made sure that she stayed solidly in control of the business in order to maintain the company’s DNA, Beck told the crowd.
And several years after the deal closed, she credits Macy’s for much of Bluemercury’s expansion. When the department store bought the beauty retailer, it had 60 stores — now it’s at more than 180. As part of that acquisition, she negotiated that Bluemercury would maintain a separate headquarters in Washington, D.C., and a separate organizational structure, she said.
“It’s really about the right capital at the right time,” Beck said, talking about brands looking to raise money. Raising too much money early on could take control away from the founders and cause strategic mistakes, she cautioned.
“If you raise too much capital too soon, it can make you not smart,” Beck said. “Profitability is not necessary if you have enough capital.”
That fund-raising capability depends on the state of the capital markets. Brands should make sure that if the capital windows close, they can survive without raising another round, Beck said.
For all brands — Bluemercury developed Lune & Aster and M-61 — finding white space and creating innovative products matters, she noted. Brands should be doing both “blue sky innovation” and working on trends they want to bring to market at the same time, Beck said.
“To do great product work it takes a lot more time than you think. We create all of our new formulas to break new ground, like we did with our new Vitamin C Serum Pads — that took four years,” Beck said. “Perfection matters.”
Digital matters, too, she said.
Bluemercury has recently overhauled its mobile experience, and is particularly interested in implementing technology that would allow it to integrate its in-store beauty expert consultations digitally.
“We have to stop thinking of retail as digital or fixed in store, it’s literally, ‘how do I get the information I want and how do I get the products I want,’ and you could envision any sort of combination of ways to do that,” Beck said.