Sephora CEO reveals the new store concept you’ve been waiting for

By Deanna Utroske contact

- Last updated on GMT

Carlotta Jacobson, CEW president (left to right); Jill Scalamandre, CEW chairwoman; and Calvin McDonald, President and CEO, Sephora Americas (photo courtesy  of Patricia Willis Photography)
Carlotta Jacobson, CEW president (left to right); Jill Scalamandre, CEW chairwoman; and Calvin McDonald, President and CEO, Sephora Americas (photo courtesy of Patricia Willis Photography)

Related tags: Retailing

Speaking at a sold-out CEW event last night in New York City, Calvin McDonald, Americas President and CEO of the prestige beauty retailer, shared the inside story of Sephora’s reimaged concept store on San Francisco’s Powell Street.

It’s a newly imaged version of cosmetics and beauty retailing that will roll out in stores throughout the Americas to a greater or lesser degree depending on the size of each location. And it’s a terrific example of how the company relentlessly innovates to disrupt beauty retail as usual.

An industry paragon

“As the leading prestige beauty retailer, our entire industry can learn from Sephora and we’re excited to have Calvin McDonald sharing his insights with the CEW community,” ​affirms Carlotta Jacobson, president of the industry organization.

And the industry showed up to listen in on how Sephora thinks and what makes for successful brand partnerships with the company. Over 500 beauty business professionals were in attendance; and a record number of sponsors signed on to the event, including Arcade Beauty and Firmenich, the social media giant Facebook and steadfast supports like Beauty Inc. and Kaplow Communications.

There is no simple 5-step plan brands can follow to win at Sephora, says McDonald. “Collaboration and true partnership are critical,” ​nonetheless. True partnerships with the retailer are sincere and transparent, he notes, adding that beauty companies that “let Sephora into the brand kitchen and accept client feedback” ​are the most likely to succeed. 

Next generation retail

“With over 2,000 locations globally, Sephora has reconceived how smart technology, hands-on teaching and consumer beauty come together to create an innovative, intuitive and personalized store experience building on the three pillars of its approach—inspire, teach, play,” ​explains the CEW press release announcing the Newsmaker Forum event.

The new store design is an extreme omnichannel beauty retail experience. The 8,000 square foot Powell Street store, which opens this week in California, comprises:

  • the Beauty TIP Workshop (teach, inspire, play)
  • digital tutorials
  • hands-on classes
  • skin care services
  • an InstaScent fragrance center   
  • curated trend areas
  • redesigned brand / Sephora point-of-view displays and signage   
  • 13000 SKUs
  • and more

It’s a format that “gives brands the opportunity to express themselves in more dynamic ways,” ​says McDonald.

Perpetual motion

The company is a retail pacesetter in the digital age, constantly innovating and “always learning,” ​explains McDonald. He points to Apple and Tesla as other companies that are effectively disrupting retail.

Ahead of innovation, Sephora’s “sole focus is growing prestige,” ​affirms McDonald. The beauty retailer does that by “creating demand through differentiation not price.”

When moderator and CEW chairwoman Jill Scalamandre asked McDonald for his quick SWOT analysis of Sephora, he acknowledged that the company’s weakness may well be that it’s “innovating faster than the consumer can learn.” ​Though for now, beauty consumers across the globe are shopping at Sephora and there’s no sign of a slowdown.

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