At Cosmetic Executive Women’s first Newsmaker Forum of the year, Chuck Rubin, chief executive officer of Ulta Beauty, shared insights on how customer service, comprehensive inventory and “good, hard-working Midwest style” work ethic have helped shape the company’s growth.
The forum — called Partnership: A Key to Retail Success — was held at New York City’s Harmonie Club on Feb. 16 and was moderated by Jill Scalamandre, ceo of StriVectin.
“I believe that a successful company that remains successful has to be led by a very solid broad-based team,” said Rubin. “We have, first and foremost, a great relationship with our guests, which has allowed us to have a very financially stable company.”
With a leadership style Rubin describes as “straightforward,” he declared he is committed to not only growing Ulta’s business, but also enhancing the customer experience.
“We are not a transactional retailer,” said Rubin, who assumed the top spot at Ulta in September 2010. “When you put the product and the store together, it provides an experience that’s much more than transaction, much more than price point, much more than distribution. It really starts and ends with what she wants.”
That approach also extends to digital, an area that offers a big opportunity for Ulta. “Digital is a small but significant focus area for us,” said Rubin. “We are in a customer-focused time and I believe digital is just a new means to reach that customer. Successful retailers are integrating channels, because a customer is going to chose for herself how she wants to shop and it will vary day by day, or within the same day.”
Also key to Ulta’s strategy, he said, is its broad offering (20,000 products to be exact) from the mass, prestige and professional sectors. Ulta also has full-service salons and various beauty events in all of its 449 stores, a number Rubin is dedicated to growing to 1,000 in the near future.
Because the vast majority of Ulta’s inventory is available through other shopping channels, Rubin stated that having a point of difference is even more critical.
“Ninety five percent of the things we sell are brands that could be bought in other places, so we need to provide something unique,” he said.
Ulta does not have a store in Manhattan, but in October it opened an outpost nearby, in Rego Park, Queens.
“The woman who lives in Des Moines, as opposed to Manhattan, is no less interested in the fun, function and the fashion of the beauty industry,” said Rubin. “All that we put together in our offering — whether it’s in-store or online — is focused on what she wants today and what she may want tomorrow.”
Rubin said despite being a nearly $2 billion retailer, Ulta remains very “nimble.”
“We move very quickly and can leverage the financial strength of the company to make decisions that in the long term position us well with our guests,” he said. “Business has been good across the board.” Ulta will report its fourth-quarter and year-end earnings on March 8.
When recalling recent launches that resonated with consumers, Rubin named the introduction of Justin Bieber’s Someday fragrance, which included life-size cutouts of the pop star showcased throughout stores. “It was a good example of bringing something to life,” said Rubin, who said customers from eight-year-olds to 65-year-olds uploaded pictures with the Biebs onto Ulta’s Facebook page. “Newness is the real engine for growth,” he said. “Whether it’s a new product in an existing brand, a new brand, category or service, that is the real focus everyday.”
For Rubin, having the breadth of product across all price points mimics the way most women are shopping.
“The blurring of distribution channels is critical,” said Rubin. “A woman can come to our store, experience a new product, get the basics she is looking to replenish and really enjoy herself in an environment that’s very unique in the retail space.”