If there’s ever a time of year that makes you want to pull out the mascara and the bright red lips, it’s the holiday. For this exclusive Pursuitist Q&A, we spoke with one of our favorite skin and beauty experts, Bluemercury CEO & co-founder Marla Beck, just in time to let her offer a little holiday advice to the beauty obsessed.
What prompted you to start Bluemercury?
When I was in my twenties, I bought my cosmetics at department stores or drugstores, because freestanding beauty stores did not exist. At department stores, cosmetics were always 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. From there, I came up with the idea to have start a 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. Customers can test, touch and sample whatever they want—whether or not they end up purchasing something. The choice is entirely up to you.
You’re an accomplished businesswoman, a vet of McKinsey & Company. and schools like Harvard. What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer to a new entrepreneur?
A lot of it at the beginning is just sticking to it and starting something. I had mentors who said, “Just go try it. Just go start.” I always tell people to not over think things, start doing it, and figure it out along the way. It is hard work, it’s 24/7. If you have an idea for something– it doesn’t have to be huge– just go try it! You learn while you’re trying.
You’ve built quite the brick and mortar empire in a day and age when so many people see online as the only way to succeed. Do you see brick and mortar and online as competitors or is there a way for the two to co-exist?
I’ve always been a fan of the online retail space. In fact, Bluemercury was originally conceived of as an online store. When I heard Jeff Bezos speak about Amazon while I was at business school, I thought, “why can’t luxury cosmetics be sold on the internet?” My husband and I got to work on it straight away, but we quickly realized that we were a little too far ahead of ourselves. Not many people were ready to shop online, and the internet was still in its early stages, so we opened our first store in the fall of 1999 in Georgetown.
The category of skincare and cosmetics lends itself to the more traditional brick and mortar model; people want to see and feel the products before they make the first purchase. But we see our online store as a compliment to our brick and mortars. Customers who purchase the product in our stores then feel more comfortable re-purchasing the same product online. It’s a win-win.
Bluemercury is known for its innovative retail model and high-quality products. How do you select the lines you let into your store?
I’m a beauty junkie, always have been. We are sent hundreds of products from all over the world every year and I personally try every single one of them. Those that are standouts make it onto our shelves and onto my beauty vanity.
Most of your stores have spas attached. What is the most popular treatment? Do you ever plan to expand into salon services like haircuts and color too?
One of our shops offers blowouts, as the space came configured for it. But we choose to remain true to our core – expert beauty advice and unparalleled spa treatments. My favorite is the Fast Blast Facial. It’s a 30 minute facial that was designed for me years ago because I couldn’t sit still for the standard 60 minutes. It leaves your skin glowing, and it includes one of my other favorite services: a glycolic peel.
You have your own line, M-61. I’m in love with the power glow peel, by the way. You have access to all the best skincare – what made you want to start your own line?
I noticed a gap in the skin-care market. Our clients were asking for natural products, but also wanted powerful technical results … I knew exactly what I wanted to create—dermatologist-loved ingredients married with researched, powerful naturals.
What’s in your makeup bag right now?
I am loving La Mer’s new Illuminating Eye Gel. It is a miracle cream that you just dab under your eyes, either under or over makeup, that gives an instant pick-me-up. And as the weather gets colder and more blustery, I like to layer M-61 Hydraboost Serum ($78) – full of water-binding vitamin B5 and moisturizing hyaluronic acid – under RéVive’s incredibly rich Intensité Créme Lustre Day SPF 30 ($385). For the lips, I am rotating Trish McEvoy Lip Color in Barely Nude & Pink Nude ($28), NARS Audacious Lipstick in Brigitte ($32), and Bobbi Brown Creamy Matte Lip Color in Tawny Pink ($26). For eyes and cheeks, I can’t get enough of the warm hues in Laura Mercier’s Into The Wild Lookbook Collection in Safari Chic ($125).
DC is your hometown. We’re always looking for insiders to tell our readers their best secrets about a city. What are some of your go-to spots for shopping, dining, and nightlife in DC?
Even though I’m a California girl, I feel so fortunate to call DC home and I love supporting local businesses. Capital Teas, for example, is based out of Annapolis, Maryland. My favorite tea of theirs is Green Gojiberry Superfruit. Several of my M-61 products contain goji berries as they’re packed with antioxidants.
Salt & Sundry on 14th Street is another favorite. It’s the perfect place to find great gifts for others. They have a well-curated selection of housewares and quirky finds. I always find something I love!
As for dining, I’ve been a vegan since age 22, and Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is the top vegan and raw food restaurant in the area. They feature a six-course tasting menu once a week and it is not to be missed!
And P.O.V. Rooftop Lounge at the W Hotel has the best views of the nation’s capital. It’s a wonderful spot for celebratory drinks with girlfriends or a date night.
What’s next for the brand?
We are opening new shops all across the country, starting with our sixth location in New York City. 2015 is going to be an incredibly exciting year for us.