As Ulta Beauty celebrates its 25th anniversary, Tara Simon, senior vice president of merchandising, prestige color, specialty brands, skin care, fragrance and trend development at Ulta, reflects on how the prestige part of the business has influenced the retailer’s growth.
In the early days of the retailer’s operations, fragrance drove the prestige side of the business. Simon said Ulta’s portfolio of brands has “evolved pretty dramatically” since then, expanding to include everything from color cosmetics to hair care and nail care.
And it’s color cosmetics that are driving the popularity bus at Ulta now. “There’s a lot of energy around the prestige color business,” said Simon, pointing to the retailer’s large assortment and accompanying educational techniques. “We don’t emphasize one category over another, but we’re seeing tremendous sustained growth in color.”
Top-selling prestige brands include Urban Decay, It Cosmetics and Tarte — all color brands — and L’Oréal Professional’s Essie and Redken labels. As well, the retailer now sells prestige brands often seen in major department stores, such as Lancôme and Clinique.
When looking for new brands — and Simon is careful, saying that she doesn’t want to cannibalize existing business just to have more names — she looks for the “white space.”
“I ask myself, ‘Are there any needs that aren’t being met?’” she said. “They have to have gorgeous products, and it helps if there’s a story to tell, because our guests love to meet brand founders. Then, we look for a partner.”
In fact, that’s exactly how Ulta’s strategic partnership with It Cosmetics led to a cobranded prestige makeup brush collection.
“It was born out of necessity — we didn’t have a dominant prestige brush collection, and that was a major gap in our assortment,” Simon said. As well, she added, the retailer often works hand in hand with its brands to create exclusive offerings, say, a unique foundation shade or a new mascara formula, or an Ulta-only holiday set. “Our guests love exclusivity, and they expect it from us,” Simon said.
She noted that the prestige fragrance category “has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence since the [winter] holidays,” saying that the Michael Kors Gold collection is doing “very well.” She said she’s also looking forward to Luxe Brands’ Ariana Grande fragrance, out this fall.