A lucky string of events brought Artemis Patrick, now executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, to San Francisco-based Sephora. Before Patrick’s first foray into beauty as a profession, she’d honed her chops working in retail since the late ’90s–specifically, e-commerce. “In 1998, I worked for Duty-Free Shops, which is also owned by LVMH, our parent company, in San Francisco,” Patrick recalls. “LVMH had just acquired Sephora, so, as employees, we were able to get private access to our store opening in downtown San Francisco.”
That fateful visit would launch Patrick headfirst into the beauty world. She entered the company on the e-commerce side, then ran merchandising for Sephora.com, later moving to general manager for Sephora inside JCPenney. About four years ago, Patrick became the head merchant for Sephora in the United States. But she still vividly remembers her first glimpse at the beauty retail wonderland–a then-newbie named Sephora. “I’d never seen anything like that in the beauty industry and thought it was so cool and revolutionary,” she enthuses. “That was when I fell in love with Sephora as a brand.”
Still, Patrick probably never envisioned that her 13 years with Sephora would catch the attention of the National Beauty Industry (NBI), the organization formerly known as the National Professional Salon Industry Group, dedicated to supporting the life-saving work of City of Hope (COH). On July 27, NBI will honor Patrick with the COH Spirit of Life Award, which recognizes exceptional professional and humanitarian achievement. It’s a well-deserved honor–not only for Sephora’s philanthropic achievements, but for Patrick’s ability to help usher her company from edgy underdog to trailblazing retailer over its 20-plus-year journey.
THE UNDERDOG EDGE
In the late ’90s, Sephora was a decided underdog in the ultra-competitive U.S. beauty market. Interestingly, that very status allowed the burgeoning retailer to launch a slew of innovative indie brands, like Urban Decay, Too Faced and Tarte, then unknown to consumers. “Because of that spirit and that heritage, brand building, discovery and thinking outside the box has been very much ingrained into the Sephora DNA,” Patrick muses. “How we think creatively and uniquely has evolved, but that spirit of finding the next big thing, and being the place where consumers go to learn and discover new products–that DNA is still very much alive, and I think it’s helped us be successful in today’s world.”
Simultaneously, listening to consumers’ needs remains another tenet of success. For example, last year Sephora launched a clean beauty assortment of skin care, hair care, makeup and fragrance. “Clean beauty may not be for everybody, but it’s important for us to make sure we listen to our consumers and have choices for those who are looking for that,” Patrick explains. “Being the first in the prestige beauty space to create that platform and educate the consumer is so important to us.”
Sephora is also a leader when it comes to establishing other categories, like wellness and ingestibles, curating the “best of the best” and building on the brand’s heritage of launching indie brands (as it did for niche and artisanal fragrances). Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of Sephora’s ability to anticipate what consumers want is the wildly popular Fenty Beauty x Rihanna collaboration. Refreshingly, the move was less about landing a celebrity name and more about embracing inclusivity. “It made a great statement in the industry that everyone needs to pay attention to different skin tones,” Patrick notes. “We’ve seen what that’s done in the industry and how other brands have reacted, so we’re very proud of that moment.”
HOW SEPHORA WINS
In a 20-year span, Sephora has moved from underdog to household recognition as the leader in prestige beauty retail. What’s its secret?
Curation and Brand Selection
Beyond listening to customers’ feedback, Sephora focuses on helping consumers learn about, understand and navigate the bustling beauty landscape. “For us, it’s about being curators,” Patrick states. “There are so many new brands and products–and we owe it to our clients to ensure we not only launch products, but provide education about them as well.”
Hence, Sephora’s criteria for choosing new brands includes, first and foremost, the brand story and DNA–everything from an active brand founder to why the brand is unique. Second–and just as important–is the product innovation and pipeline, and the brand’s ambitions for the future. Then there’s the audience connection: How do they connect authentically with their core consumer? “Finally, we want to hear what else is important to the brand; for some, it’s sustainability, or ingredient standards, or new technologies,” Patrick explains. “The most successful brands have figured out how to adapt their approach for today’s client: creating engaging and inspirational content, and understanding the importance of delivering that content, both online–(such as on social channels) as well as offline (such as through services or events). It’s no longer just about the product; it’s how you bring that to life.”
Clearly, the Sephora approach resonates with Gen Zers and millennials, who share similar values. Sephora’s unique product assortment paired with a seamless, omni-retail approach, Patrick believes, is what sets them apart among younger consumers. “But it’s not just that age category–everybody wants an authentic connection,” Patrick says. “We have more access to information and more choices, so it’s important that connection comes through. Clients come to Sephora to find what’s new, to be inspired by new trends, techniques, services, and products. And we really pride ourselves on being the retailer that clients of all ages turn to, to learn about and discover new brands.”
Sephora also indulges a younger demographic by tapping the power of technology, which entails a slew of initiatives: The Sephora Digital Makeover Guide provides an interactive face chart that records the customer’s specific service, plus customized product and application tips delivered directly to the client via email– Sephora’s first “digital take-home-tool.” The Moisture Meter digitally measures the amount of moisture in the skin. Skincare iQ searches Sephora’s entire range of skincare ingredients and formulas to recommend targeted matches for every skincare concern; Color iQ scans the skin’s surface and assigns a Color iQ number, enabling precise product recommendations; and Fragrance iQ helps identify which scents best suit a customer’s preferences.
The Sephora Virtual Artist uses augmented reality allowing customers to test and try out products and full-face looks, learn new beauty tricks and more. Exclusively at its New York City SoHo location, The Sculpture allows shoppers to try on complete beauty looks thanks to six SVA iPads arranged to create a 360-degree, interactive experience–think looks created by brands, Sephora pros and influencers, or virtual tutorials featuring step-by-step techniques.
Then there’s the Advisor Assistant, a tool for Sephora’s in-store beauty advisors to guide clients through a personalized experience during a makeover or skincare consultation, with info saved into the client’s Beauty Insider account. Happening at Sephora drives awareness of Sephora’s experiential offerings, like events, classes, services and new brand launches. As Google’s first and only beauty partner, Sephora gives clients an easy, home-accessible tool for beauty discovery; with the Google Home Hub, clients have access to thousands of Sephora’s YouTube videos–hands-free and voice-controlled– while the Sephora Reservation Assistant offers an appointment-booking bot to reserve a makeover at Sephora stores across the country.
Partner and Incubator
Meanwhile, Sephora tailors its approach, communication, style and strategy to each brand founder–and is passionate about incubating brands. “We’re not just a brand-launch platform, but a sales partner, MBA program and investor all in one,” Patrick explains. “We’re invested in their success, because it directly correlates to ours. We really work with the brand founder to help them build their story and grow their business.”
Sephora even offers a dedicated incubation program that’s aimed at supporting each brands’ growth, nurtured by the power of Sephora’s marketing, social media, PR, sampling and customer community, as well as mindshare from its merchant team and in-store educated beauty advisers. “We’re not just launching product for product’s sake, but making sure we work with brands that can build meaningful content, and then leverage that content on our omni-platform, which accesses millions and millions of beauty enthusiasts,” Patrick concludes. “We really think of brands we take on as part of our Sephora family.”
A CULTURE OF RISK-TAKERS
Behind every great company are solid core values– and great minds. “Our extremely talented team of merchants and product development special- ists are dedicated to helping clients learn and are inspired by beauty,” Patrick says. “I want everyone on my team to feel they’re constantly learning and engaging–and, most of all, I want my team to not be afraid of failing,” she adds. “When you’re allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, you create a culture of risk- takers, which I think has been the key to not just this team’s, but the company’s, success.”
Despite Sephora’s size, Patrick asserts that the company can still take risks quickly. “It’s a phenomenon, in my opinion, to work for a company this size that still very much operates in that startup mentality,” Patrick marvels. “But we’ve also had partners for years, and we stick by them through thick and thin. It’s a beautiful balance of moving fast, yet making sure we’re not just jumping on the next shiny penny.”
For Patrick, the beauty business reaches beyond career, to personal passion. She garners inspiration from the brand visionaries she crosses daily–fellow risk-takers, many of whom have given up everything to create a brand and product they truly believe in. “That takes so much guts, and I have tremendous respect for every one of our brand partners,” Patrick says. “I love to watch their success. For me, that’s one of the most exciting things, when you have a new brand, work hard and hold hands, and you see it fly. It’s so rewarding.”
However, Patrick also looks toward consumers for industry inspiration. “I love the beauty industry because it can have such a positive impact on so many people,” she explains. “Sephora created this culture of inclusivity and diversity. They’re buzzwords now, but Sephora was born by being different.”
A GREAT HONOR AND OPPORTUNITY
In its work for cancer awareness, Sephora has spearheaded numerous store events and contributions, including hands-on, 90-minute beauty classes, called Brave Beauty in the Face of Cancer, which helps to build confidence in cancer patients.
This year, Patrick’s acceptance of the COH Spirit of Life Award marks the first time the NBI has chosen to honor someone outside the professional beauty world. It underscores not just Patrick’s accomplishments, but the far-reaching influence Sephora has on the entire beauty industry.
In keeping with the tradition of the COH Spirit of Life Honoree, Patrick, Sephora execu- tives and colleagues toured the COH campus in Duarte, California, earlier this year. Seeing the organization’s work firsthand was nothing short of life-changing for Patrick. “Cancer or diabetes literally do touch everyone,” she says. “When I learned about City of Hope, I was so inspired; they’re dedicated to making a difference in the world.”
Indeed, as a leader in the research and treatment of cancer and other serious diseases, COH provides an integrated, interdisciplinary array of supportive care—from nutritional, emotional, social and spiritual support, to guidance on products that are safe to use during and after treatment. The salon industry is a crucial part of those efforts. “The salon industry’s generosity has been critical to accel- erating the pace of discovery in cancer and diabetes care, transforming our understanding of life-threatening diseases and moving promising discoveries toward actual treatments,” says Kristin Bertell, chief philanthropy officer at COH. “We are grateful for the industry’s profound commitment and excited to celebrate all that its philanthropic partnership will accomplish in 2019. Congratulations to Artemis and the entire Sephora team!”
Patrick will accept the Spirit of Life Award on July 27, at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas during Cosmoprof, joined by an esteemed dinner committee, including reps from big-name beauty brands. Because Sephora encourages “bold choices in beauty and in life,” this year’s event is titled “Be Bold, Build Hope, Create Beauty.” The event, one of the industry’s best networking evenings, will include a hosted cocktail reception, dinner and live entertainment, plus product gifting and beauty activations.
Though Patrick can’t spill too many specifics, she does make one promise for this year’s benefit gala at Cosmoprof: Sephora knows how to throw a party. The retailer has already scored contribution commitments from big-name partners like Amika, AmorePacific, DevaCurl, LVMH, L’Oréal, Moroccanoil and Murad. “The people who have committed to attending are a pretty amazing bunch, so it’s going to be a very fun night!” Patrick predicts. “We know 22 percent of all U.S. deaths are cancer-related, affecting 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women. Ultimately, our goal is to continue to raise awareness and support for COH and the amazing efforts they’re undertaking to cure cancer and diabetes. Working with COH has been a wonderful experience–they have incredible reach of their own, and, combined with our reach, it’s going to be pretty powerful. It’s lovely that they’re honoring me, but really it’s an honor for Sephora.”