Bluemercury Co-Founder and CEO Marla Beck Shares Her Strategies for Winning and Keeping Customers
Marla Beck is Co-Founder & CEO at Bluemercury Inc., a leading luxury beauty retailer. Beck opened her first Bluemercury store with her husband in 1999. Since then, Bluemercury has opened stores across the U.S., moved into e-commerce, and launched its own product lines. Macy’s Inc. acquired the company in 2015. Beck recently shared her insight into customer and vendor acquisition at the 2017 PE Intensive.
It pays to talk to customers face-to-face.
Beck has developed two of her own cosmetics brands as a direct result of hearing from customers shopping at Bluemercury stores. “We had a lot of clients coming in around 2005-2006 saying, ‘I love natural products, but they don’t work on my skin.’ And then we had other clients coming in saying, ‘I love doctors’ branded products, [and] they really work on my skin, but I they have a lot of chemicals in them I don’t want.’ ”
These face-to-face interactions led Beck to co-found M61 laboratories in 2008 and develop two skincare lines: M-61 Skincare, a revolutionary natural cosmeceutical skincare brand and Lune+Aster Cosmetics, a vegan cosmetics brand created to empower busy women. “Our skincare lines came from literally being on the store floor.” Beck acknowledges the importance of data, but still believes in the power of in-person conversations to fuel good business decisions. “Sometimes you don’t get the quick reaction when you’re dealing in data from e-commerce, but when you look a person in the eye and they’re telling you about something that’s wrong, you completely feel it and so you can turn that into a business opportunity.”
Meet your target customers where they are.
When asked how Bluemercury has differentiated itself and outpaced its competitors, Beck credit’s early efforts to be where her customers are. “We started in Washington, D.C. in Georgetown where there wasn’t anyone that sold beauty.” Location is still everything to Beck. “We locate in neighborhoods where our clients live and put small stores there. That’s a really powerful acquisition model for us. That’s actually how we get most of our relationships with our clients over to digital. Some [companies] go digital into retail—we go retail into digital.”
Bluemercury’s digital and social media strategy is very similar to its strategy for retail, in that the company is most active on platforms its customers tend to use. “Our demographic really likes Facebook (we serve a bit of an older client), and so that Facebook relationship has been powerful for us. You have to understand who your client target is and then where are they getting their information, and then focus on that.”
Beck also stresses that it’s important to meet your customers where they are in life and integrate into their current lifestyle before trying to change their behavior. “It’s really hard to change customer behavior. When we first launched our e-commerce site, everybody was on dial-up, and we were just too early; the behavior of the client at that point was not online shopping,” Beck reminisces. “Understanding the behaviors of your existing client and what they’re doing right now and how they’re living their lives is really important. Our Facebook following is great, but our Instagram following is not. We think it’s because we skew a little older and that group is just coming on to Instagram now and just figuring out how to use Instagram.”
Focus on the key client partnerships that will make the difference.
It wasn’t always easy for Beck to convince beauty brands to allow Bluemercury to carry their products. “We bugged Francois Nars.” But Beck relied on a few key clients to bring other desired partners along. “When we had Kiehl’s, that opened up a world for us. Later when we added La Mer, that opened up the next world. There are always some key [vendors or customers] that will change your business.”
Beck suggests choosing five “make-or-break” vendors that could potentially be the key that opens the door to new business, and then work every angle to secure one of those five vendors. “The more that you can be organized with a plan about the value that you can create for your [vendors], the easier that discussion will be.”
Nowadays, with social media and e-commerce and retail all competing for people’s attention, Beck says vendors today are much more open about taking risks on new businesses than they’ve ever been before. “They know client acquisition is much more amorphous than it’s ever been, [so] the opportunity is there, but you have to choose the “make-or-break” vendors that make the difference and [present] them with a value creation idea that really resonates with [their brand].”