When the industry thinks of the US beauty markets, minds immediately jump to the coasts, be it the “no makeup-makeup” seeking, bronze-bathed and green-juicing California troops, or the New Yorker posses with blowouts, pristine manicures, and Botox smooth foreheads. But what about the consumer between the coasts—the skincare consumer looking to survive Chicago’s blistering winds, the makeup wearer hoping to keep a perfectly polished face amid Arizona’s 100°F summers, or a teenager in Kansas looking to buy into the glamorous lifestyles of their favorite A-list influencer?
These consumers have often been overlooked by brands at large. Of course the online space has enabled access, whether its through access to trends or brands through e-commerce, but on-the-ground connection still has room to grow. In 2022, the population of the Midwest was 68,787,595 people, which equates to a lot of potential beauty buyers.
According to Nielsen IQ, over the last year, the highest dollar volume of personal care and beauty spending in the US belonged to the South Atlantic region (approximately $18.9 billion); in second place came the Pacific region ($15.9 billion); the East North Central ($13.1 billion), Middle Atlantic ($12.5 billion), and West South Central ($11.2 billion) ranked third, fourth, and fifth respectively. The number of buyers in coastal versus non-coastal regions was 65,447,261 versus 58,738,171. The item buying rate in the Mountain region was the second highest ($772.26), West South Central the third highest ($758.34). Yes, the coastal regions still have spending power, but the growing numbers in the central regions of the country are nothing to scoff at either.
The insights company reports that non-coastal regions are growing at 8.3% over the last 52 weeks versus 8.6% in coastal regions, with an opportunity for growth in the Mountain region at 5.7%. More spending is coming from in-store for non-coastal regions, proving a big market for more retail activations in this space. A higher share of beauty dollars is spent on cosmetics, nail, and deodorant products for the non-coastal region, with West South Central customers over-indexed in share for fragrance and East South Central showing a growing opportunity in facial skincare.
These developments speak to the burgeoning fragrance market, which, whether at a mass level or prestige level, is showing immense growth; meanwhile in skincare the growth rates for mass were 13% versus 10% for prestige, according to Circana. While Circana’s figures don’t have geographical division, it does speak to a cohesion across the opportunity witnessed by Nielsen IQ’s numbers.
With fusion retailer models—Sephora x Kohl’s, Ulta x Target, Walmart x SpaceNK—these consumers are also being offered a wider range of products locally, but there are stand-alone offerings swiftly following. Glossier recently opened its first Midwest retail outlet with a Chicago storefront in April 2023. Gucci opened a boutique in Columbus, Ohio, and Chanel opened one in Troy, Michigan. And where luxury fashion boutiques are setting up shop, expect beauty brands to follow.
Capturing this audience isn’t just a case of copy-paste approach of tactics that have been used in LA or NYC. “The consumer differs from state to state in the US and even from city to city within the state in some cases,” Anna Vale, Global Marketing and Communications Leadership Consultant and Advisor, explains to BeautyMatter. “Consumer needs are influenced by the geographical features of the state—for example how far they need to travel to get to a local beauty store, what media they consume along that journey, the weather, or simply seasonality impacting their purchasing behavior.”
For example, the styles of beauty popular in Texas will differ from the preferred aesthetics in NYC: a suburban mother may not want to go for a full NYC Club Kid makeup look while shopping the aisles at her local grocery story. The aforementioned differences in climate are especially pertinent to skincare formula qualities (more lightweight moisturizing items for the dry and hot Midwest versus heavy-duty soothing creations for those living in the Mountain regions) and color cosmetics (a dewy foundation may not hold up as well in humid Arkansas as in the more chilly Vermont).
Post-product development—how the item is then marketed to consumers—is also geography specific. Social media marketing may have become the great equalizer, but physical activations need more nuance. “Activating in the non-coastal states is more cost-effective, especially with physical events and in-person moments. The marketing mix will need to differ and each marketing lever will impact a city in a different way,” Vale remarks. “For example, billboards may work better (with the right creative) in cities where people are driving a lot. The street-level wheat postings work better when there is increased foot traffic at street level, e.g., New York. Influencer marketing and events can be effective by tapping into more niche and local communities.”
Marketing budgets may be focused on maximum footfall traffic when it comes to deciphering the ROI for physical activations, but while a pop-up in NYC may equate to more eyes on the product, that same customer is also getting hit with at least five new products on their walk home, whereas an individual in a less competitive area may be able to connect on a deeper level with the brand.
For DIBS Beauty, which has an emphasis on multipurpose products and wearable color palettes, the Midwest consumer segment has helped them reach viral status, selling one of its Desert Island Duo bronzer/blush sticks every three seconds. “Customers in the Midwest have a different relationship with a lot of our brand partners and influencers. They’re much closer to them, they view them as very much trusted big sisters. If you are in a market that isn't exposed to thousands of new brands every day, you have more attention span, more time to concentrate, and more time to form a deeper relationship with us,” Jeff Lee, co-founder of DIBS Beauty, tells BeautyMatter.
DIBS Beauty co-founder and popular influencer Courtney Shields hails from Austin herself, and with the brand’s in-store activations, there is always an emphasis on an approachable and hands-on connection with the customer, regardless of what C-suite–level status the employee may have in the company.
On the beauty service front, building close connections with customers who are more loyal than the metropolitan individual, who has a plethora of options at their fingertips, helps to build a steady base for company growth. The Skin Center has been operating its med spas across the Pittsburgh and Ohio space for 40 years, with eight locations (and a recent new opening in Shaker Heights, OH) and being recognized as a Top 10 Botox provider nationwide, although fillers, microneedling, and body contouring are also popular parts of the company’s core offerings.
Their core customer is 30–50-year-old females, with 20–30-year-olds and male patients as growing consumer bases coming up behind. The company estimates it performs 30,000-50,000 procedures a year and has tripled in business size since 2020, propelled forward by the Zoom effect. “Since COVID, everybody who left the big city to find a place where they can have a better quality of life than in New York or LA, expect to have the same level of access to trends, whether it's luxury or more masstige experiences,” Rachel Hayes, Vice President Consumer Engagement, tells BeautyMatter. In 2022, US moving rates were highest in Houston (55.7%), Miami (55.2%), Atlanta (53.8%), and Washington, DC (53.4%), so more heads are likely to come to those capitals in the near future.
One factor that doesn’t have a geographical focus is ultimately the power of consistent, reliable services as part of a cohesive company vision. “The focus on quality care, the provider-patient relationship, has really benefited us. Patients will continue to seek us out because of the emphasis on quality now and going forward,” Greg Sanker, CEO, adds. “Our North Star is high-quality people, high-quality service, and so long as we can stay true to that, it doesn't matter where we are.”
In conclusion, the strategy for the non-coastal beauty consumer doesn’t mean throwing the playbook out the window, but perhaps rethinking its chapters by doing some in-depth research in-person. “Cracking state-by-state is a long and committed journey but the rewards are high. Getting close to the consumer and hearing what they are saying about your brand at multiple touch points is vital,” Vale explains. However, it’s a journey worth the effort, as she adds: “Brands that already prioritize states beyond the East and West Coasts are growing faster and have broader awareness with the consumer. As the coastal states become more and more congested, we will see a lot more focus on key cities, within prominent states.”
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