The FEKKAI Life: Laura Beres, Director of Corporate Strategy for Ulta Beauty

 

I am a celebrity hairstylist, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist who’s built my brand on taking care of others, body, hair, and soul. Join me weekly for The FEKKAI Life, a series of relaxed, intimate conversations with free thinkers, business leaders, and creatives who’ve used their passion to change the world for the better.  Available wherever you find your podcasts.

FF: Hi, I'm Frédéric Fekkai and welcome to The FEKKAI Life, a podcast about some of the most impactful causes of our time and the creative minds that power them.

LB: I'm Laura Beres. I am the Director of Corporate Strategy for Ulta Beauty. And for the last year I've been leading the development and launch of Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty. For me, clean living is a journey. It is recognizing that there are many facets and aspects to clean living that make it individual and make it personal. For me personally, my focus is on balance. It's on continuing my education in learning what is good for me and good for the planet. And it's also about making small changes every day that overall can drive a bigger impact on my footprint within the world.

FF: For a future with cleaner beauty products that are kinder to our bodies and the planet it takes all of us, big and small, to make a difference. Coming up, you'll hear from Laura Beres, Director of Corporate Strategy at Ulta Beauty about a new initiative that's shaping the way beauty lovers shop. Hello Laura, how are you?

LB: Hi, Frédéric. I'm great. Thank you. How are you?

FF: Good. And I'm delighted to have you on The FEKKAI Life podcast. The first thing I want to ask you, tell me a little bit more about you and how long you've been with Ulta and what is your goal and your ultimate vision for your role at Ulta?

LB: Well, thank you. And likewise, I'm delighted to be here. I'm Laura Beres. I have been at Ulta Beauty for about two years and really, you know, for me being newer to the beauty industry, but having been a fan of the beauty industry for such a long time, my goal is always to bring the best of what I do to the industry. For me, that's a lot about just continuing to drive momentum in the space and continuing to bring my understanding across industries and bringing different ideas to beauty from other industries. I think a lot of times cross-pollination from other industries is what makes us kind of more productive in the end and certainly in the space. I think we're talking about today, that's absolutely true having, you know, a lot of the clean beauty having stemmed from other industries like food.

FF: Tell me, and this is where I'm very excited to see the new step forward that Ulta is taking, I want to talk about this, you know, we here actually to celebrate this exciting news, the recent launch of this program called Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty, which I love the name by the way. It's so great. It's so good. It means a lot. And that has been a long time in the making. So how is Ulta Beauty shifting the way it offers guests choices in the clean beauty space and maybe define also clean beauty space?

LB: Sure. So thank you. We are thrilled to bring this program to market and Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty, as you mentioned, is now live in all stores and on Ulta.com as of this week. It really, for us, is a more holistic approach to the industry's term of clean beauty. I think clean for me has always signified a focus on ingredients and what is in a particular product. And what we found with listening to our guests is that they're asking for more than just clean beauty, they're asking for transparency across the product assortment and helping them guide more conscious product choices across the assortment with other attributes as well, such as sustainability, animal testing and things like that. And so for us, Conscious Beauty really marks a pretty significant milestone in bringing together those different aspects and hopefully aligning beauty to personal values of our guests that are shopping.

FF: I have to say, I'm selfishly very excited about this. And for the reason that I'm bringing up right now, as you know, we at FEKKAI spent a long time we thinking our packaging formulas. It took a lot of guts, if I would say to, to really revamp, to rebirth, give a rebirth to the brand by making the brand much kinder to the planet and safe to our bodies. And I'm very excited about, when I took my brand back, that was one of the missions. And the vision I had is that I don't want to rewrite the same book as I did before. What is it today? What is relevant? And also it was very much in sync with my life, my way of life and my family life, my wife and the kids. So we are so excited to be part of the Conscious Beauty. And what does it feel like to constantly be working with brands that are pushing themselves to be cleaner and better, and obviously under your guidance, I loved the guidance that Ulta has brought to us by giving us the list of ingredients that are restricted and obviously it's an evolving technology. So thank you.

LB: Well, thank you. As you know, FEKKAI is one of the brands in our inaugural class of this program that we're featuring and you know better than anyone kind of how that brand then aligns to the broader platform. And so when we think about Conscious Beauty, it really comes to life across five areas. The first is you mentioned, right, is clean ingredients. And that really is satisfying that guest's need for transparency related to what is in the product formulas that they're purchasing. The second is about cruelty-free and being Leaping Bunny certified, which congratulations on that as well. I know that how tough that is to achieve. But that really is about telling our guests what brands that we carry aren't testing on animals and doing it in a way that gives it a little more credibility by aligning that to external certifications that exist. So Leaping Bunny, PETA, and Choose Cruelty-Free. The third aspect is vegan and obviously this is a critical component for many of our guests as well in terms of the life that they're leading today. The fourth is sustainable packaging and this one for me coming into the industry is honestly probably the most tangible, I can take action on recycling and I do often. But I think for me, the learning was it's really about more than that. It's about what packaging is made of. And so for us, brands that come into the program in this pillar really are focused on, you know, making sure that their packaging is made from bio sourced or recycled content, or is recyclable or refillable. And so it really addresses kind of both the beginning and the end of the life of the package. And then finally we want to highlight two brands that are doing really great work in their communities and kind of inciting that call to action for themselves as well. And so you obviously know that, I mean, for me, I think the most exciting part about working with brands that are really living and breathing in this space is it aligns so strongly to what Ulta Beauty is about. You know, we really want to do the right thing. Our brand partners really want to do the right thing. And so I think for me, you know, this has been kind of a perfect marriage of bringing together all of the brand partners with Ulta Beauty and showing guests kind of how they can shop in this space across categories and across price points.

FF: Right. Which, I'm sure you covered a little bit of this, but which prompts me to say, you know, Conscious Beauty is founded in transparency and reflecting the values of Ulta Beauty's guests. What prompted the desire to create an initiative like this?

LB: Great question. Ulta Beauty is hyper-focused on listening to guests. It's really how we as a company are built and how we continue to evolve. And in this space in particular, you know, clean beauty has been gaining momentum for a few years. We've been carrying brands that are clean, we've been highlighting and showcasing online brands that are cruelty free and vegan and have sustainable packaging, but we've never really done it in a holistic way. And what we were hearing from our guests was that they're craving more about really making purchasing choices, aligned to their personal values and the values that they were articulating, where were things that were not only just good for them, but also good for the planet. And so for that reason, we really felt compelled to bring together a lot of these aspects and approach it differently.

FF: Great, great. Well, we love that the core of Conscious Beauty is the idea of "Made Without List," and we know shoppers are more educated than ever about what is in their products. What did you work with to develop the list and will it continue to evolve as Ulta customers do?

LB: Yeah. So the "Made Without List" is our ingredient standard for Conscious Beauty. At Ulta Beauty, we developed it in house consulting very heavily with external product development folks, as well as other ingredient consultants. And we also tested the list pretty robustly with our brand partners as well. We very much view the list as grounded in giving guests transparency about the ingredients that have real health and environmental health impact. And we also know that the space is changing rapidly. The research is changing rapidly. Regulations are changing rapidly and we are absolutely committed to evolving this list in the future. So we very much view it as a great foundation from which to take the program forward.

FF: As a customer, as a guest, as Ulta puts it, when you enter the store and online, take me through how customer navigate and realize they are in the Conscious Beauty department or area.

LB: Yeah. So two really exciting ways. In all of our stores, so over 1,250 stores now in the US, we have an end cap that displays hero products from brands that align to the Conscious Beauty pillars in different ways. And they're clearly notated on that end cap exactly how those brands stack up against the program. We also have a really fantastic partnership with Credo Beauty and they are also featured on a separate end cap and a small number of our stores as well. And Credo is a super clean beauty retailer who we're thrilled to partner with. And they're also helping advise us on our evolution of the program as well. So that's in store. Online, we've got a dedicated space on Ulta.com right now, it's in the top left of the navigation column, but otherwise it's ulta.com/conscious-beauty. That really takes you through as a guest, some education, and some guidance around the space. It gives you a little bit more depth of what each platform or pillar in the program is about. And it gives you the comprehensive list of the brands today that are aligned with the pillars of the program.

FF: I know it's pretty new that program, but do you have already an indication on how desirable or how intrigued the customer is, and is this something people are evolving to, or is it just some, the customer that have already been doing, you know, the clean life or the clean beauty life already in their regimen?

LB: It's certainly too early to declare success on the program, but very, very hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to do so. Based on our proprietary research and some of what led us to this point was our guests, particularly in certain cohorts, one of them being Gen Z saying they had a really strong intent to purchase clean beauty products in the next 12 months. And so we know that desire is there and just through our listening again, and two thirds of our guests saying we want to be making purchases that really are safer for the planet, we feel really confident that this is the right approach for our guests and the Ulta Beauty customer.

FF: Are the guests making an assumption that Conscious Beauty is different, not only because of the clean formula or the sustainability, but is there an assumption that the product is more expensive or better or luxurious, or tell me what the perception is?

LB: I think that that framing is changing. I do think, personally, I think that clean beauty a couple of years ago may have been more strongly associated with products that either weren't as effective or maybe pricier, I think today that's changing significantly. And I think one of the beautiful things about this platform is it really does showcase how cross price point, how accessible and how effective really the products are. And I think it speaks to, you know, not only the brands, you know, doing the right thing and kind of getting better in this space, but I think it speaks to the industry maturing and maturing really quickly because frankly guests and people are demanding it.

FF: Great. So do you see a correlation between this customer buying clean beauty and the customer that actually also buying organic food and doing better, more educated life in pampering the planet?

LB: I think absolutely there's a correlation. I think the early adopters of the organic food movement are certainly some of the same early adopters I suspect that we're seeing in beauty. I do think though, one thing that's changing is as clean beauty continues to gain momentum as just, you know, more climate change issues are raised kind of in the mainstream and you hear about it more, I do think it's opening up kind of the customer base for this space in a way we really haven't seen, I think too, this is a personal space, this is a journey that's personal, there's so many facets to it that I think individuals are craving someone who's going to come in and help educate and guide in this space a little bit more and not make assumptions that it's one type of customer necessarily shopping there. And so, you know, for me having grown up really not as, as someone who's been super close to this space it's been really enlightening for me to learn more. And I hope that through bringing this program together, we can do the same for a lot of other beauty shoppers.

FF: How do you see this Conscious Beauty department, for lack of a better word, grow real estate-wise and also with awareness?

LB: And it's certainly, especially in 2020, hard to predict the future. However, what I would say is I don't see this space going away. In fact every indication we have is that this space is actually gaining even in such an uncertain time and facing kind of the dynamic year that 2020 is. And so I think as we go forward, we'll continue to see this become a little bit more of just beauty. It continues to integrate with the overall landscape. And I think eventually my hope would be we live in a society where beauty and clean beauty mean the same thing. And so I think it's important to start kind of bringing everybody along that journey and making sure we're educating, guiding, and simplifying where we can, wherever everyone is on that journey.

FF: Thank you. Laura, in this crowded space, I mean, beauty has, you know, we've seen it, you know, so many new brands, so many innovation, so many new commerce, it sometimes feels a bit saturated, but however, I like to hear from your perspective, how do you see that world, you know, evolving and what makes it for you, for your role, so exciting? What is, I love the word surprising, how do you surprise or how do you wow your customer, your audience?

LB: Well, for me, beauty has historically in my life played a bit of a role of just fun, right? And trial. And I think what excites me being on the business side of beauty and being a business woman in the beauty industry is just how accessible it is for everyone, how inclusive it is. And also from the business standpoint, how low the barriers to entry have become, we really have had such a great array of new brands enter the market, both in the clean beauty space and outside of it that are doing really impressive and great things that I think even a handful of years ago, weren't really possible. And for me, that's what keeps it fresh. That's what keeps it fun and exciting. And I think we try to translate that to our guests every day.

FF: Do you think COVID-19 has played a role in Conscious Beauty? How did it affect, I'm hoping positively? But I like to hear your perspective.

LB: So I think from a program perspective we've been working on this journey for a long time before COVID so certainly, you know, from that aspect, it didn't, it didn't overly change kind of the construct of what we were trying to bring to our guests. But what I would say is it magnified a lot of the things that our guests were saying in a way that weren't necessarily always predictable in the moment. The ingredients has become really the thing that consumers in light of COVID in terms of focus on self care and wellness have kind of grabbed onto. And so for us, you know, it really just reaffirmed that this was the right choice and this was the right time to continue forward with a program of this magnitude.

FF: Let me ask you, where can we find Ulta Beauty and you online?

LB: Yeah. So Ulta is on Ulta.com. We also have handles on Instagram and Facebook. I am on LinkedIn and I'm always happy to connect with fellow beauty enthusiasts, as you know.

FF: Yes. And thank you for accepting my connection.

LB: You're welcome. Thank you for connecting with me.

FF: What's next for Ulta Beauty, for Conscious Beauty, and also for you?

LB: For Ulta Beauty, we're about to embark on a really exciting time, a little time period you may know as holiday. So we're very, very excited about what's around the corner for us and certainly awaiting with everyone else the holiday season. I think for Conscious Beauty, we're living in the moment a little bit in that we just launched, but very rapidly. We're already starting to think about what 2021 and beyond look like for the program. We're starting to engage more with our external brand partners and other experts in the space about how we take the program forward and evolve it in a way that listens to what our guests are desiring from the space. And for me, I'm just really looking forward to continuing working in this space. It's been such an interesting time, certainly something I never would have necessarily predicted for myself, but something I'm just so grateful to have learned about that I'm just looking forward to continuing learning as I go.

FF: Laura's vision for a future in which the values of beauty lovers are more prioritized than ever is a best-in-class example of the way customers can use their buying power to better our world. And I think all beauty industry does benefit from watching the Conscious Beauty movement at Ulta Beauty. I'm Frédéric Fekkai and this is The FEKKAI Life.

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