Marla Malcolm Beck
CEO and co-founder , Bluemercury
Posted on: June 18, 2012 | Go to profile
Marla Malcolm Beck is the co-founder and visionary behind Bluemercury, Inc., the nation’s fastest growing luxury beauty products and spa retail chain, which she co-founded with her husband, Barry Beck, in 1999. Guided by her passion and belief that beauty clients desire honest, friendly, and expert advice, Beck wrote the original Bluemercury business plan in 1998 when she was 28 years old. She knew that Bluemercury’s unique value proposition was in offering the world’s best beauty products in a soothing, friendly, neighborhood-store shopping environment. Prior to co-founding Bluemercury, she was the Vice President of Strategy at Consolidation Capital Corporation, a public investment company. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an MPA from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a B.A. in Economics, Magna Cum Laude, from the University of California, Berkeley.
Q: Innovation requires creative thinking. How do you tap into the creative thinking resources within your business?
A: The best ideas and innovation for us comes from the field – our makeup artists, estheticians and our clients. I try to travel between our stores and talk to our staff and really listen to what they are saying. When I am in a store, I always ask, what products the staff loves at that time, and what is the most requested product or service by their clients. Seeds of innovation come from being out in the world and observing what is going on.
Here is an example: About five years ago, pre-recession, there was a fever pitch of clients looking for highly effective, beautiful, and natural products. They felt like natural products weren’t that effective and didn’t smell great or weren’t packaged well. On the opposite end of the spectrum, our clients are also technical skincare die-hards- they love active ingredient driven products (Vitamin C, Glycolics, Peptides, etc.) but wished that our lines eliminated parabens and some other undesirable ingredients. So five years ago, I embarked on a research project to figure out how to bridge these two worlds. The result is M-61, which marries potent ingredients with vitamin-packed, highly researched naturals. It is really the first line to bridge these two worlds. It is paraben-free, synthetic fragrance and dye free, dermatologist and allergy tested. This innovation truly came from listening to our clients!
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase?
A: I recommend that all entrepreneurs really focus on what bootstrapping means. It means directing your limited resources into the highest revenue, lowest cost area and driving profit immediately. Many entrepreneurs get stars in their eyes and try to operate as if they are big at the beginning. The key is survival, profit, and not running out of money. When we started Bluemercury, we added stores one at a time and focused on choosing the right real estate at the right rent. We expanded regionally so that we did not have to spend money and time getting on planes and could make sure our customer service and expertise were right. We only spent our money on things that touched the customer.
Q: How much time do you spend on networking versus focusing on the internal affairs of your business (such as management, strategy, ideation etc)?
A: I don’t really network at all. I have three kids, age 8, 6, and 5 and a staff of 500. My time is spent on creative and operational Bluemercury work, and on my family. I am an entrepreneur; if I need to meet someone I pick up the phone and call. I don’t go to networking events hoping to meet someone that may be helpful in the future. I believe in going for what you want when you need it.
Q: What do you believe makes a great brand?
A: Authenticity. Brands need to have foundations, stories and a fundamental philosophy. Bluemercury is a brand which has a core of friendly, honest, expert service delivered by beauty junkies. Everything we do, how we hire, what brands we carry, what we love, comes from this core.
M-61’s core (my new product development company) comes from innovation, discovery, clarity, and pushing the envelope. The products we develop had to meet the test of being one of the first green cosmeceutical lines. Many people said we couldn’t do it, but we did.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
A: When my husband and I started Bluemercury, everyone said it would be impossible to build an independent chain of luxury beauty boutiques. After we opened our first location in Georgetown, we found out that Sephora was going to open right next to us. Everyone said they were probably going to put us out of business, but we didn’t believe that for a minute. Rather than look at what they were doing, we kept true to what we knew. We knew we could be the best at giving makeup and skincare tips and tricks and providing spa services. We stuck to this and really competed on service and having makeup artistry brands and luxury skincare. This one challenge at the beginning of our company’s development made us stronger.
Q: It is a common saying that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. Can you share a story about a time when you experienced a mistake, and how you eventually came out a winner because of the lesson it taught you?
A: I really believe you can have anything you want as long as you are focused on a specific goal and develop a plan to get there. I was actually waitlisted at Harvard Business School. I was devastated – it was always my dream to go there. I talked to everyone I knew, and they helped me outline a plan to get in there. I was aggressive. I updated my admissions file with new accomplishments and recommendations and called the admissions director once a month just to check in. I wanted a spot more than anyone else, and they gave it to me!
ON Letting go
Q: What do you do to unwind or disconnect?
A: I have three things I do to unwind: 1) I love cooking. I find it very relaxing and have been really perfecting my vegan cooking and baking; 2) Our whole family bikes together – there is nothing like the wind blowing through your hair on a bike as your whole family surrounds you and chit chats; 3) My husband and I take a walk at 10pm every night and talk through the day and talk about the next day.
ON Time Management
Q: How do your prioritize your time?
A: I give all of my time to work and family. I always have three priorities at work, and I focus on achieving them. Once I achieve one of the priorities, another one gets added.
Q: What’s your best buy ever?
A: Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I bought an Isaac Mizrahi dress at Loehmann’s (when he was doing Runway). It was a chic white sheath – very Jackie Kennedy – and I wore it to death. My best consistent buy: Prada black dresses. They fit me perfectly, and, if I choose right, they last for at least 4 years. The quality, fit, and styling is unparalleled.
Q: What are the beauty items you could not live without?
- Vitamin C Serums, which I have used every night for 10 years. They produce a glow like nothing else. My new favorite – M-61 Vitablast C – has a fruit acid, gallic acid, in it!
- Trish McEvoy Mascaras. She is a genius. I am addicted to her High Volume mascara, but I am also loving her Thickening mascara.
- Laura Mercier Hydrating Primer – I use it daily under makeup/foundation. I would never put on foundation or even a tinted moisturizer without a primer.
- La Mer Regenerating Serum. This over a vitamin c serum produces a gorgeous glow.
- Skinceuticals SPFs. The best ever. I love the SPF 45 for the beach, the Physical Fusion SPF50 instead of tinted moisturizer on the weekends and the Physical SPF50 on my kids before school.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I started Bluemercury, a luxury chain of cosmetic stores and spas, when I was in my twenties because I was unsatisfied with the retail options for cosmetics shopping. Back then cosmetics were only sold at department stores or drugstores. Freestanding beauty stores did not exist. At department stores, cosmetics were sold behind glass counters, and I always felt like the staff didn’t want to help me because I was young. I thought there had to be a better way. So, I came up with the idea for the friendly neighborhood store run by beauty junkies where you could get expert advice and expert spa services. The staff would be trained on all brands and the products would be out in the open for everyone to touch and feel.
Today, we have almost 400 expert makeup artists and estheticians in our company. We help clients with brands like Skinceuticals, Darphin, La Mer, M-61 powerful skincare, Ren, Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier, Trish McEvoy, Jo Malone, Acqua di Parma, Kiehl’s, Molton Brown, Sara Happ, Diptyque and more. Over 80% of our clients are women. I receive emails every day about how uplifting the experiences with our staff are. We have many clients who may have life threatening diseases, such as breast cancer, and when we help them with their skin, show them how to do their makeup or how to clean up their brows, we help them to look and feel better, and some of them say we change their lives.