It was the late ’90s, when the Internet boom was in full swing, and Marla Malcolm Beck and Barry Beck set out to launch a website specializing in the sale of luxury cosmetics. They raised $1 million in venture capital in a week. It all seemed too good to be true. And as it turns out, it was. Needing revenue quickly, they decided to open a brick-and-mortar store, pursuing a “clicks and bricks” strategy. Thanks to a cult-classic roster of brands, a liberal sample policy, and a philosophy founded upon the principle that each shop would be a friendly, neighborhood beauty destination, BlueMercury went from one storefront in Washington, D.C. to over 60 stores in 18 states and more than $100 million in annual revenue in the past 16 years. In February of 2015, Bluemercury was acquired by Macy’s Inc. for $210 million.
I caught up with the inspiring Marla to talk beauty, business, and Barry…
How did you come up with the concept for Bluemercury?
When I was in school in Boston, I would drive 45 minutes in search of niche products like MAC lipstick and Dermalogica skincare that were only available at department stores at the time. My husband, Barry and I saw a white space and wanted to disrupt the beauty industry with a new luxury beauty product shopping experience. We started by launching the first online shop full of luxury beauty brands that weren’t easy to find. It was too early though- customers weren’t ready to buy beauty products online and luxury beauty brands were hesitant to sell their products online. We tweaked our concept and focused on the brick and mortar space, introducing a friendly neighborhood store where you could find the best, often hard to find, beauty brands under one roof and get expert, honest advice from a staff of absolute beauty junkies, with the launch of our first Bluemercury boutique in Georgetown in 1999.
In business, what would you say is the greatest difference between your husband Barry and yourself? What makes you two a “dream team”?
Barry and I complement each other well. I’m the strategist and he’s the tactical one who knows how to execute the ideas. I am focused on the customer and oversee merchandising, marketing and product development while Barry leads operations including our finance, real estate, and human resources functions. From raising our three children to constantly evolving the Bluemercury business, we have a lot of fun taking on life’s challenges together.
You’ve come a long way since your first Bluemercury store opened in Georgetown in 1999! What does Bluemercury look like 10 years from now?
We’re working on some exciting ideas for our version of the store of the future. In ten years, I’m sure this concept will have evolved even more! We’re passionate about innovating yet plan to remain true to the honest, personal, neighborhood advice that defines our unique brand experience. You’ll likely see more proprietary product brands, a greater convergence of mobile, e-commerce and brick-and-mortar, a next generation approach to spa treatments and many new carefully curated niche brands alongside the classic favorites we’ve carried since 1999.
With the recent Macy’s acquisition, how do you plan on keeping that “neighborhood store” feeling in tact for the BlueMercury customer?
We believe listening to the customer is critical to delivering an experience clients actually want and in turn, the success of the business. We analyze customer behavior in our database – from what, how and when they buy to what are they looking for- to help inform many of our business decisions. We also spend time in stores talking to customers. It’s amazing how much you can learn! In fact, customer feedback from clients seeking vegan and gluten-free products was the genesis of our m-61, natural skin-care line a couple of years ago.
To make our relationship more personal, I created a “sneak peek” program through which I introduce some of my favorite new products to top clients by mailing them a special package and note a few times a year. It feels really special and intimate to be able to have a one-to-one relationship with the biggest Bluemercury fans.
We will still run Bluemercury with our signature neighborhood store approach and I’ll still interview each store manager we hire. Macy’s wants us to keep the personal touches that make us Bluemercury and set us apart from the competition.
What excites you the most about joining forces with Macys?
We are excited to continue our aggressive expansion of Bluemercury while simultaneously leveraging Macy’s leadership in omnichannel technology, supply chain, and retail operations. Keeping Bluemercury as a standalone business, while adding new expertise, will enable us to fulfill our mission of being the best at giving beauty advice and helping our customers make their way through the often complex process of purchasing beauty products. With the full weight of Macy’s resources, we will be able to accelerate our store penetration across the United States, bringing our specialty store format to urban and suburban markets throughout the country.
If you had to describe the Bluemercury woman in one sentence, who would she be?
Smart, chic and busy, the Bluemercury client is seeking a curated selection of the highest quality, expert beauty brands and products, ingredients that work and are good for her, advice she can count on and solutions that make her feel confident, empowered, polished and ready to face whatever life throws her way…
By Zoey Gulmi