Joann Marks probably knows more about the mass-market beauty consumer today than most in the business. As the founder and chief executive officer of Cosmetic Promotions, a beauty marketing company, she performs hundreds of store checks masquerading as a customer.

As Marks celebrates the 25th anniversary of her company, she uses that bird’s eye view to identify — and help solve — major challenges mass beauty chains face in the competitive beauty battlefield. Although she’s observed the enhancements retailers have made in stores, she noted there is still a lack of testers — a huge point of difference in the race against specialty stores. Another issue is that despite the addition of more beauty advisors, many aren’t approaching the shopper in an efficient manner. “The days of ‘Can I help you,’ are gone. They [beauty advisors] need to truly engage with the consumer and that is hard to do when you are stocking shelves or running a cash register,” said Marks.

Marks acknowledged selection in mass market doors with rows and rows of merchandising is challenging. “It can be overwhelming to walk in looking for a new products and seeing a 40-foot wall. Sometimes just finding someone to ring up your purchases can be a challenge,” she noted. Fragrances in particularly are tricky because testers are locked up. “Also, the mass beauty department is not normally a destination department. Mass is not only competing with department stores, but also Ulta and Sephora, which are destination places.”

She’s seen vast changes since she started her company in 1990 which at first was a side business devising end cap displays and a newsletter for beauty associates. Judy Wray, now the category manager for cosmetics at Rite Aid, nudged Marks into the business. At the time she was a buyer at Revco and asked Marks to create a newsletter for Revco’s associates to help nurture sales. Word of Marks’ success spread to other chains. She left her full-time job to focus on growing Cosmetic Promotions. Over the years she expanded from printing into a full-market company offering everything from in-store demonstrations (she has 1,500 professional makeup artists) to beauty box programs. Her goal is to bridge the gap between vendor and retailers. “Beauty manufacturers run national marketing campaigns, but they can’t effectively customize marketing programs for each retail chain,” she explained. Retailers on the other hand lack the resources to customized marketing programs for all items in their assortments.

Marks can be nimble when reacting to market demands. “It seems every few years we have a shift in how people want to promote,” she said. When retailers zeroed in on the ethnic market, she devised a sampling program with products for black and Hispanic shoppers. Next up was marketing to teens, so she came up with a Teen Program. “Currently, most of our work is providing interactive tool kits for vendors at all the chains,” she said. These kits include coupons which Marks said result in a higher rate of return than standard freestanding inserts. “We average about a 22 percent redemption while freestanding inserts are only about 1 percent to 2 percent.” She said the direct distribution and training used in tandem with the coupons encourages usage and drives online visits, too. During sampling programs, Marks said retailers’ Web site hits “spike,” too.

By adjusting her services to react to market demands over the past 25 years, Marks has increased her own sales — doubling her volume in the last five years. Recently, she saw a need to implement new technology to enhance live training. An interactive clicker system that grades students during the in-person sessions improves employee retention, she added.

Those who have worked with Marks call her a master at developing a sales concept from idea stage to execution. “Nothing leaves her facility without being checked and double-checked,” said Bradlee Farnworth, who worked on projects such as Cover Girl shade promotion rollouts with Cosmetic Promotions.

When Coty needs in-store demonstrators, Cosmetic Promotions is the “go-to” source, said Carolyn Goodrow, national account manager for Coty Beauty. The Cosmetic Promotion team, in fact, was influential in getting Coty’s Sally Hansen Miracle Gel off to a strong start.

And Marks is crucial to efforts at Walgreens. According to the manager of strategic business development for cosmetics at Walgreens Michelle Hobson — who has worked with Cosmetic Promotions since 1997 — the chain has worked on training and continuing education efforts. “One of the most significant projects we’ve worked on together is around the recent relaunch of our “SaturDate with Beauty” program,” Hobson said. “This involved a strategic redesign around our participating suppliers, the event scope, training and education, and the actual event kits. Joann is intimately and personally involved in every project that we work on, from the first conference calls that identify scope and approach to the end result.”

To commemorate the anniversary, Cosmetic Promotions is donating $250 a month to a charity chosen from clients’ favorite causes. The e-mail campaign encourages those who work with the company to send in pictures of themselves from 1990 and the name of their charity.

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