Leslie Blodgett provides insight on her successful business model to a receptive CEW audience. Photo: Robert Jacobs
Blodgett Connects with Cosmetic Execs
No matter what the economy is doing, the Bare Escentuals CEO continues to build relationships with her customers.
By Nancy Jeffries
Leslie Blodgett, CEO, Bare Escentuals, shared her enthusiasm for cosmetics while displaying her consummate skill at communicating the heart of the natural mineral makeup company she has led since 1994. As part of Cosmetic Executive Women’s (CEW) Women in Beauty Series, organization members, colleagues and press were invited to a conversation with Bare Escentuals’ Blodgett on June 17 at New York City’s Harmonie Club, gaining perspective on her unique marketing style.
Jill Scalamandre, chairwoman of CEW, and chief marketing officer, Chrysallis, introduced Blodgett, citing her uncanny ability to reach her audience.
“Everyone today is connecting with everyone and nobody does it better than Leslie Blodgett,” said Scalamandre. She noted the recent ad placed in The New York Times by Ms. Blodgett inviting women to have coffee with the CEO, albeit figuratively, and more than 30,000 women responded to her, ostensibly to chat up beauty products and life issues. Clearly, her personal touch and unconventional thinking have distinguished Ms. Blodgett’s career.
Ms. Blodgett, who is a senior operating officer at JH Partners, LLC, has served as the president and CEO at Bare Escentuals for 15 years, and under her direction increased sales from $30 million to more than $600 million since 2001. Her previous experience in brand management and product development at Max Factor, as well as P&G, Revlon and Neutrogena have contributed to her perception of and response to corporate America. Ms. Blodgett, initially denied acceptance at Fashion Institute of Technology, due to a lack of cosmetic experience, was later reconsidered and admitted. She also worked at Bloomingdale’s cosmetic counter, gaining first hand customer experience.
Blodgett Builds A Foundation
“The key take away from corporate America was a truly good experience. But, I don’t think I really fit in because I kept getting numbers wrong on spread sheets,” said Ms. Blodgett. “At Bare Escentuals I had an opportunity to run a company and I liked the idea of controlling everything. There was a makeup line at the time, but it was probably one per cent of the business. There was this powder that I knew could work for women without all the milling and blending, so I knew we could re-package and re-invent it,” she said.
Her challenge then became showing women how a powder could be a foundation.
“QVC was on TV and I thought this would be a great way to get through to an audience,” said Ms. Blodgett.
The venue ultimately enabled her to re-invent a whole new category of makeup, the mineral makeup category.
“We were under the radar. It’s a good trait for a leader to be paranoid, and get to see everything that’s out there. But I don’t want our competitors to go. I like having everyone around. If they go, where is the credibility of the category?” asked Blodgett.
In addition to such Bare Escentuals best sellers such as Mineral Veil and Buxom Lash, a paraben-free, volumizing mascara, Blodgett announced the next generation of minerals to come, including a new launch of matte foundation, due in August 2009, as well as a skin care line, which will also be based on minerals. Two of the latest products are RareMinerals Renew and Reveal Facial Cleanser and RareMinerals Skin Revival Treatment.
“We are showing our customer we care about her. Right now I want to pamper, love and take care of our customer. Our customers value value. The recession has prompted us to invest in education at the store level and to talk to people. I have the unique opportunity to connect with consumers daily and I know they build up their own pressure, but they still want to be beautiful,” she said.
“I know I’m going to be a broken record here tonight, but I really want my customer to be happy. I care about people and the culture and vision of the company. I want people to be happy. I want people who aren’t, to be happy; and I want people who are happy to be ecstatic,” said Ms. Blodgett.
She noted that she doesn’t want to know how many people bought products, but whether they were happy with what they bought.
“It’s a personal thing for me. I found so many women online with questions and I had to spend hours addressing this, so that is how this evolved. It’s part of my DNA, so that’s what the DNA of the company is,” explained Ms. Blodgett, who, along with her team, have been utilizing social media, including Facebook, to reach women in cyberspace.
“I’ve got more than 1,000 friends on Facebook. Social media helps drive brand awareness,” said Ms. Blodgett, whose own “Leslie’s Angels” are connecting with women by the thousands.
“It’s not a marketing thing. It’s not a stunt. I answer my messages. I’m also hearing from employees in my company that are comfortable enough to send me messages and speak very personally to me,” she added.
Leslie’s Angels go out and turn people on to Bare Escentuals’ products and then they submit their own stories to her. Ms. Blodgett credits the creative people that work with her for their new ideas and input regarding social media, and notes that the idea of Leslie’s Angels, who spread the word on Bare Escentuals, was originally a customer’s idea. Her ad in The New York Times is an example of her outreach. Ms. Blodgett said she received phone calls from people all over the country and it was like a party.
“We did get sales out of it. It worked,” said Ms. Blodgett, but it was about more than sales.
Growing The Brand
“The company has my philosophy and my tone. The company is the brand,” affirmed Ms. Blodgett. “We are the overseers. The people that work with me get it. When I went over to Selfridge’s in London, the people there representing Bare Escentuals, got it. So that’s how you keep it alive. When we went public it was interesting. I worried about the analysts not really understanding beauty or us. I thought they just wanted to see the numbers. But it’s the whole story. Storytelling is what has built this brand. That’s what keeps families together and we’re a family,” emphasized Ms. Blodgett.
Since the company went public, the business has changed dramatically, according to Ms. Blodgett.
“It’s not just where our inventory stands, it’s about finding growth internationally, and new products are part of it. QVC is in the UK, Japan, the US; and everywhere Sephora opens, including China, is where we’ll be. All of this is a growth opportunity for us, and we’re also rolling out in both Sephora and Ulta,” she said.
Ms. Blodgett, who addressed CEW three and a half years ago, is still happy.
“It’s not so much a weight on me, because I have a great team. I also had to stop listening to the news about the economy, so I could concentrate on the business,” she said.
With currently more than 5,000 Facebook friends, Blodgett also Tweets on Twitter, emphasizing social media as key to communicating with her customers.
On her legacy, Ms. Blodgett said, “One hundred years from now, I would want people to say that I built this company or I made people happy. Meet people. Remember their names. Send thank you notes. That’s important to me. I don’t want to change my business model. What we’ve learned is the importance of word of mouth, and making people feel good is still important. It is that one-on-one touch.”
Noting that relationships are key to the brand, Ms. Blodgett said,” It is essential to train people and put resources behind the people who are working with you. It’s really about expanding the relationships. I’m so touched and proud of how this has grown. It’s not going to be just Bare Minerals anymore. We’re launching new products and we are keeping morale up. It’s all important for our business,” she concluded.
Ms. Blodgett will be honored at this fall’s CEW luncheon in October 2009. Additional information may be found at: www.bareescentuals.com and www.cew.org.