Two of the in­dus­try’s top buy­ers tell all

Fashion Quarterly - - Contents -

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.

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