Two of the industry’s top buyers tell all
For a beauty junkie, being paid to shop for makeup and skincare sounds a lot like living the dream. But for those who source the products lining the shelves of our favourite emporiums, there’s much more to the job than being an expert at multi-masking or head over heels for highlighter.
RACHAEL BURKHARDT Beauty merchandise manager at Farmers
For Rachael Burkhardt, there was less obsessive lipstick shadeswatching and more poring over the books on the trajectory to her current role. After studying marketing and management at the University of Auckland, she spent years working in various corporate roles within the New Zealand offices of Estée Lauder and associated brands like Clinique, La Mer and Bobbi Brown, before being headhunted by Farmers in 2014.
Rachael’s quick to point out that not just anyone with a business brain could go on to head up a beauty company, especially one as far-reaching as Farmers. “The most important attribute [for this job] is passion. If you don’t love the category and use beauty products yourself, you couldn’t do this role. It’s also incredibly important to understand your customers.”
The extensive range in age, interest and location of Farmers shoppers, as well as the variety of cosmetics, skincare, fragrance and personal-care categories the store offers, provides unique challenges when it comes to hitting the mark. Rachael oversees a team of 18 staff who select and manage each beauty brand and item represented in Farmers’ retail spaces, including online. To meet and exceed expectations, she says they each prioritise efficacy and value they can personally vouch for, and describes her own bathroom as “testing chaos”.
“I was always very loyal to particular skincare, but now I try new skin, hair and body products all the time,” she says. “The team try everything. We don’t just launch something because of great packaging, brand image or price. It has to deliver results. It’s really obvious when something will work by how excited the team are. It’s also really important that we launch brands that have a clear point of difference that’s not already [represented] in our shopping environment.”
As well as working with big-name brands that have been a mainstay of cosmetics counters for decades, Rachael’s job involves considering new-product submissions, monitoring buzz on social media and going on international shopping trips to scout potential new offerings. Niche discoveries and unexpected blockbusters are the cherry on the top of a demanding, detailed and (unsurprisingly) profit-driven role.
“Wet n Wild has been a huge success, with good-quality cosmetics at an amazingly affordable price,” says Rachael, adding that Bondi Sands tanning products have also been flying off shelves. “We thought Bondi Sands would just be popular over the summer months, but actually it’s a big seller all year.” The uptake of a makeup-storage line was also a big surprise, and Rachael says new ranges in this area are on their way.
Rachael lists forward-thinking local brands among her favourite acquisitions for Farmers. “We love to support innovative New Zealand brands where possible, like Ethique, The Bonbon Factory, Triumph & Disaster and Mellow, to name just a few recent additions.”
Trend buyer and brand manager at Mecca
Being born with a beauty obsession seems a bit unlikely, unless you’re Stormi Webster, but for Jessica Pittam of Mecca Brands (the company that owns the Mecca Cosmetica and Mecca Maxima boutiques), it’s actually a thing. New Zealander Jessica, who now lives in Melbourne, grew up surrounded by high-end cosmetics and fragrances.
“My mum has worked at Lancôme for the majority of my life, so I was literally born into a world of incredible products. I still have fond memories of the first fragrance she gave me, YSL’s Baby Doll. Working for Mecca feels like my calling.”
To answer that calling, Jessica completed an honours degree at the University of Auckland’s Business School, then headed to Australia to work in beauty buying at Myer and fashion and accessory buying for Cotton On, before landing her current role in 2017.
Mecca Cosmetica (boutiques stocked with carefully curated cosmetics and skincare) and Mecca Maxima (their super-sized, pink-obsessed millennial-skewed ‘sister’ stores) both focus on offering niche, pioneering and exciting brands sourced from around the globe, and have established a reputation for products that excel in performance and lead trends. Jessica juggles a dual role that sees her managing a portfolio of brands including Too Faced, Urban Decay and Mario Badescu, as well as selecting the products and trends that are right for Mecca from these brands’ ever-evolving offerings. With more than
100 brands represented by Mecca’s New Zealand and Australian stores, there’s a team of six staff all busy undertaking similar tasks.
“My day-to-day involves driving brand initiatives, including marketing strategies, PR activity and in-store launch executions, all of which requires serious organisational skills and dedication,” says Jessica. “As the main contact for our brands, my days are long — I often have phone calls with New York-based brands first thing in the morning, and London-based brands late at night, sometimes while I’m making dinner.”
Jessica travels internationally throughout the year to view new products and review sales, sourcing ranges up to 18 months in advance of their on-counter launches. “[The travel] sounds glamorous and there are some fabulous moments, but it is exhausting,” she admits. “We schedule meetings with brands over breakfast, lunch and dinner, promptly followed by late nights in the hotel room touching base with the Melbourne team.”
Jessica’s enthusiasm for new products (“Too Faced’s Peaches & Cream collection is the biggest launch of the year. I can’t wait for it to hit the floor!”) is matched with respect for the realities of a role such as hers. “Staying abreast of trends is key but it’s equally crucial to have strong financials — we need to be all over sales numbers,” she says. “Having the confidence to make decisions that have big financial impact comes with experience. Although anyone can have good taste, buyers need the skills to translate that into successful business.”
Rachael Burkhardt says passion (and loads of testing) is key to her success.
Mecca’s stores are a treasure trove of cutting-edge brands and products handpicked for fellowbeauty lovers.