NEW YORK — The focus on cost containment in the beauty business could be a short-sighted strategy.

This story first appeared in the November 20, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That’s according to Kathy Steirly, a former top beauty merchant for several chains, who has started her own consulting company to help vendors make smart moves in bringing new items to the market.

With too many decisions being made in boardrooms instead of in the retail marketplace, Steirly hopes creativity isn’t being choked off. “I don’t want to see the industry cut back so far, that when the economy has improved, consumers will suffer from a lack of products, and especially service,” said Steirly, who set up her consulting business Kathy Steirly and Associates LLC this fall.

Steirly, who most recently was vice president, general merchandise manager for beauty and personal care categories at Walgreens, thinks as the economy improves, drugstores will come roaring to life. “There is such a natural link between health and wellness and beauty,” explained Steirly. “More people will be exposed to drugstore beauty departments.” She also sees swelling interest from both consumers and marketers in expanding the depth and breath of selection in dollar and value stores.

In addition to her years at Walgreens, Steirly developed her sharp business acumen with roles at major chains such as Eckerd and Target. During those years, she developed relationships and both mentored and was mentored by legendary industry executives. She is tapping one of those relationships as part of her consulting services with a partnership with Barbara Hartman, a former Procter & Gamble veteran. Merging their knowledge of both sides of the retail equation, the team hopes to help bring innovation to the industry.

“Between the two of us, we have over 60 years experience with executive female leadership representing some of the greatest companies in our industry — Procter & Gamble, Walgreens, Eckerd and Target. We both firmly believe that the secret of success is in your ability to forge, mentor and promote strong business relationships,” said Steirly.

She recounted the history she’s had working with Hartman as an example of how together they can be very effective. “Our first encounter working together was not a particularly easy or smooth experience. As the vp of beauty for Eckerd, I had a concern with a team member in Barb’s P&G group, and it was beginning to affect our growth potential with the business. She made herself available to come visit, listen, observe and eventually make changes in the group’s structure. The business results following that change were remarkable,” she said.

Steirly said a goal will be to show clients the value of building teams and using the right people to their fullest capabilities. “In short, we see ourselves as sort of the ‘ying and yang’ of the business success,” she added. “Coming from both sides of the negotiating table, we can offer unprecedented advice as a business team.” Hartman and Steirly will speak at an ECRM International Beauty event next February. Both are also working on books; Steirly’s is called “Selling Beauty Retailing From the Executive Suite.” She describes the book as “part historical, part opinion, autobiographical and a great deal about mentoring.”

In addition, for her own consulting business, Steirly hopes to steer manufacturers to making the right choices in bringing items to market. Several manufacturers said she was instrumental in launching new products. “Kathy’s ability to think out of the box and to draw off her extensive retail experience, enabled us to develop and implement strategies and programs that were perfectly suited to an incredibly competitive environment,” said Ido Leffler, chief executive officer at Yes To Carrots.

Steirly also helped Clairol hype the convenience of a 10-minute process with Perfect 10. “We told them they were sitting on a gold mine,” she said of the launch. One area she believes she can help develop for mass retailers is in skin care. “There’s so much technology coming into the market. There’s great opportunity.”

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