Beauty is in Lisa Adams’ DNA. She stared her career at 18 as a beauty advisor working her way up through the ranks of the industry and ultimately leaving corporate life for that of an entrepreneur. The beauty category has never been more crowded and the retail landscape more complicated. Developing a distribution strategy with the right partners at the right cadence achieving growth and profitability is an art form. Lisa knows how to make retail magic happen. As a veteran brand retail strategist she has the perfect balance of historical perspective (history does repeat itself), forward-thinking vision, and deep relationships.
We discussed with Lisa what it takes for a brand to succeed in today’s beauty landscape. Read the interview below to learn what she had to say.
Tell us a little about your career path.
I never really had that special and life-altering “aha” moment that so many describe as changing their path or their way of thinking. As long as I can remember, my professional life has been zealously devoted to succeeding at my career in the beauty industry, which all started on the sales floor of Macy’s back in the ’80s.
Only 18 at the time, I was working as a beauty advisor, but I knew right then and there that this was exactly where I belonged. The ’80s were an amazing time for beauty. The industry was filled with outrageous, bright, and in-your-face color expressions. I found myself so inspired and not merely by the selling of products but rather helping other women feel more beautiful by using the right products for their unique needs.
Throughout my beauty career, I’ve worked with numerous beauty brands and held various titles and all along, my passion to continue to work and grow in this industry has never wavered; I’m just as crazy about beauty now as I was back then!
What made you strike out on your own and throw your hat into the entrepreneurial ring?
After many years of experience in the industry, I knew intuitively that the time was right for me to launch my own business. So, I combined my love for beauty and fondness for young indie start-up brands and created Glossy.com. I chose a name (Glossy) that spoke to my favorite beauty product “lip gloss,” and I officially was an entrepreneur! Glossy.com was a beauty e-commerce tailored to small start-up beauty brands that many people had not heard of before, and it was one of the most innovative websites for its time.
Glossy.com gave me numerous opportunities to grow and expand my knowledge of the beauty industry, and in that process, also laid the groundwork for my next venture: The Beauty Matchmakers.
Tell us about your decision to double-down on being an entrepreneur with the launch of The Beauty Matchmakers?
For starters, I realized very early on that I am not a 9-5 kind of gal or someone that would thrive in a structured corporate environment. Being able to have creative autonomy and an independent work atmosphere—one that allowed me the flexibility to design the life I love—was crucial. Every day is a blessing when you love what you do.
After selling Glossy.com, I recognized there were clear gaps among the market segments between both the brand and the retailer. Specifically, how to get a beauty brand in front of a buyer in a way that will make them be seen and heard, and so that the buyers will listen? I thought there must be a way to connect and build these relationships, thus The Beauty Matchmakers was born.
And also, there is that one superhero called my dad who has forever instilled my strong work ethic and self-starter abilities. I knew he’d want me to keep forging ahead and expanding the boundaries of both my skill set and the industry. The Beauty Matchmakers allowed me to do both in a completely unique and timely way.
What was your vision for the business when you launched and how has it evolved?
My vision has always been to support the smaller brands and help them define a uniquely articulated retail strategy and understand the nuances of the retail environment. I’ve always been drawn to indies, and the opportunity to help curate these brands by preparing them for the process of retail distribution just seemed like a natural fit. Today, I not only continue to help smaller beauty brands, but have evolved my offering to specialize in international, celebrity and large-scale companies by being their trusted retail strategist. From an eclectic array of clients ranging from global beauty giants like Nestlé and Claus Porto to notable independents such as Dr. Paul Nassif and David Lee Roth, I am their number-one brand advocate.
You’ve become the go-to for representing and launching indie brands in the US market. What do you attribute to your success?
The beauty industry is very competitive, moves quickly, and has low barriers to entry, so positioning an indie to make a splash in this crowded environment involves a tremendous amount of work. Luckily, I LOVE this industry, and I’ve been entrenched in it for so long, I’m attuned to these currents. In addition to helping brands get their positioning right, my job is to stay on top of everything that is happening in beauty—what innovations are hot, what ingredients buyers are looking for, packaging trends, what the influencers are saying, connecting with other beauty insiders and everything else that is important to my clients and the retailers. In this way I’m able to provide my clients with the kind of personalized attention they need that is grounded in deep first-hand experience with the environment they are trying to enter.
Every day I bring my clients these competencies:
1. Conscious Connectivity: Connecting brands to buyers springs both from the many relationships I’ve nurtured over the years within the industry, as well as my unique understanding of working on the beauty retail selling floor, and the sheer overwhelming task at hand for most buyers—finding the needle in a haystack. I call on all of this experience and knowledge to not just bring brands to buyers, but to create meaningful relationships with them that allows me to help buyers do their jobs better, and—find a great new beauty brand in the process.
2. Genuine Passion: When I say I love beauty, I’m not exaggerating. After nearly three decades, I still get as excited by the latest lip gloss or shadow palette release as I did when I was 18. Where some people might start to feel a bit jaded or develop a “been there, seen that” attitude, I still find everything about our industry exciting, energizing, and fascinating. I am dedicated to keeping this flame going through helping my clients.
3. Insider Information: Targeted observation as both someone working on the retail floor and behind the brand(s) gives me full-spectrum experience that not everyone can boast. I use this blend of experience to take a brand and present it effectively to the right buyer.
Your business is based on relationships with retailers. What are your criteria for bringing on a brand as a client?
Before working with any of my brand partners, there are two things that need to click. I have to not only love and believe in the brand, but also the people behind the brand. My connection with the team and their products is how (and when!) magic happens. Once a brand signs on with me, I treat their business as my own.
Buyers know I have my finger on the pulse of the latest innovations in beauty, and trust me to bring them amazing brands. If I don’t deliver, that could damage my relationship with them, so I pride myself on a thorough vetting process and only representing brands that I feel will leave buyers wowed and begging for more.
In an “omnichannel” world with consumers that are channel agnostic, how do you go about developing a distribution strategy for a brand?
There is a veritable sea of beauty retailers out there. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming for a brand to understand where in retail they belong, and why—particularly indies. Usually when a brand approaches me, they already have an idea of where they want to see their brand in the market. However, this plan isn’t always optimized to what the buyers are seeking, or takes into account the chances of that brand succeeding in their intended, hoped-for distribution channel. My approach is to create a strategy that educates brands on where they will succeed and why, and then offers them distribution scenarios for multiple channels in order to increase their chances of success.
I start with the basics: what are the goals of the brand? What is the price point? Who is your target market? Next, I help them understand the competitive landscape and what other brands are active in their unique space. Do they measure up to their competitors? Do they have that point of difference needed? That WOW? From there I guide them to understand the factors necessary to reach their goals.
By then, a path is usually clear.
What is the most common mistake brands make when presenting to buyers?
Love this question and I could prepare a how-to guide! Here are a couple of the more common mistakes I see brands making:
1. Being careless with the buyer’s time. Know that the buyer’s time is precious. Today’s buyers are so incredibly informed. Don’t waste their time with fluff, and show up to meetings ready to wow them with information!
2. Showing up to meetings unprepared. You must be able to answer any question or speak to any scenario that a buyer will query. You want buyers to have total confidence in your brand, and that you know the marketplace and your product top to bottom.
3. Not being differentiated. With all the options available, buyers are going to ask, “Why you?” What makes your brand stand out? So have your answer dialed in and ready. A “Me-Too” brand won’t make it in the ultra-competitive beauty market of 2019.
4. Ho-hum packaging. Back in the day, you could approach a buyer with imperfect or meh packaging. Not today! From mass to prestige, packaging is so important to convey your brand’s positioning.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about launching a beauty brand in today’s marketplace?
Launching a beauty brand is such an undertaking. The entrepreneurs that take that leap into the business have all my respect! It’s a wildly competitive beauty jungle out there. You have to have something that makes you SHINE. Your product and your brand need to speak to the consumer in a way that no one else does. Speaking of the jungle, get your tribe together. Surround yourself with the experts in the industry. Ask for advice and take it! There are a lot of expensive mistakes that you can avoid if you have the right people around you. Whatever you think it will cost to start your business, know that you will need more. Lastly, think beyond brick & mortar retail. Consider how your product would work online, offline, on air, and direct to consumer. Keep your eye on emerging retail models. Retailers are evolving their beauty strategies all the time. If you know where your brand would fit, you are one step ahead.
What excites you about the future of the beauty industry?
I am most excited to see how beauty brands are building themselves differently. The consumer wants acceleration and not basic me-too products and branding; we’re talking knockout ingredients, packaging that has you at hello and super-cool application methods.
The growing number of brands that are producing amazing products, quickly responding to consumer trends and demands, and marketing messages reaching to such a wide variety of consumers. Brands like MILK Beauty, Gender Neutral, Glossier et cetera. I predict in the next few years we could be taking skincare to a whole new level with affordable at-home genetic testing. Talk about ultra-personalized skincare for a perfect beauty routine.
What is the biggest change you would like to see and what are you doing to address it?
The rise of social media has created the new stars in beauty: The Influencers. Influencers have made a huge change in the sales and marketing of beauty brands. They are the gatekeepers and trendsetters of everything in the beauty industry.
The best of these influencers are geniuses at social media marketing and have translated their passion for the industry into a money-making machine. These people started as just passionate beauty fans. Some have started their own brands. Some have partnered with beauty companies to develop products. Others have garnered modeling deals. They are a powerful paid marketing force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, there are times when you question if the influencer is really interested in the brand or are they being paid.
A smaller brand today can garner approval from an influencer, and it can change the entire direction for the brand. Glossier is a great example. They even say that they “treat customers as both a demographic to be marketed to and the people who are doing the marketing.” Treating their clients like influencers is a huge trend. It can be the Wild West in the world of influencers. The James Charles and Tati Westbrook drama is a prime example. Overnight these social influencers themselves can lose millions of followers or gain millions of followers. Brands have to be aware that there is a risk and there is no way to prepare for that. Many of times, I advise brands to invest in digital and amp up an optimization strategy on their social media platforms—they truly can transform the customer engagement and get noticed in a more authentic way.
Photo: Unsplash via Daryan Shamkhali