Since Meri Baregamian joined spa and beauty company Bliss as CEO in July 2016, she has given the brand a millennial, mass market makeover. Beginning in February 2018, she slashed prices to as low as $8 (for Lemon and Sage Refreshing body wipes), updated product packaging to be Instagram-friendly and revamped Bliss’ retail playbook to include Ulta and Target. This month, that wholesale strategy extends further to 3,000 CVS stores, followed by Riley Rose and Urban Outfitters. Baregamian would not comment on company revenue, but Women’s Wear Daily reported the brand is expected to do $50 million in retail sales in 2019.
“Bliss has been a highly loved brand by the consumer. When Marcia [Kilgore] first launched Bliss, it was a disruptor. It was fresh, it was modern, it was cool and happy. But over 20 years, the brand had gone through many hands,” said Baregamian. “The consumer love stayed, but the brand lost its relevance as being modern and fresh.”
Ahead, Baregamian discusses how she has executed on making Bliss a part of the beauty zeitgeist again, how it is representative of Gen Z and millennial customer values and why omnichannel is not her focus.
The customer has changed since Bliss was founded in 1996. How did you restore the original ethos of being modern for today’s Gen Z and millennial consumer?
As our girl grew up, we grew up with her, but the main position of the brand didn’t stay fully relevant when Bliss changed hands. We want to remind people that we were fresh, happy and had efficacious products, but the consumer we were marketing to over 20 years ago has a different need; the girl in her 20s today has a very different lifestyle than that girl 20 years ago. From a design perspective, we were one of the first brands that had a typography design, so today, we looked at what was cool. We thought about what a girl would want to show off on her shelfie or on social, because we always took pride in that — that our customer was proud to say she used Bliss. We also wanted to make sure our spa-like experience was accessible and affordable, because 20 years ago, that was the point. A regular cool girl could walk into our spas and buy products she loved, and she didn’t have to have a lot of money.
What was the impetus for partnering with PETA and becoming a cleaner beauty brand?
There is a lot more awareness with ingredients today. We decided to take out all the bad stuff and make sure we are the cleanest we can be, because the technology has moved forward. It also wanted to reflect what is important to our girl today, and being cruelty-free is. Parabens and phthalates were OK 20 years ago, but today they are not necessary.
How has using consumer insights via social changed what products Bliss is launching?
We just launched our Rose Gold Rescue collection, and with it, we looked at what the most common issues our girl goes to a derm or spa for, and how they would help her. I’m addicted to our comments on social and social listening, and sensitive skin is clearly a core issue for our girl. Those girls often feel like they are missing out on cool, trendy stuff because of their skin issues, so we made this line to answer that need. It’s a gorgeous line and fun, but it gently treats the skin and ties back to our spa heritage.
Why was cutting price such an important piece of the rebrand?
When I joined, it was very obvious from what consumers loved about the brand and what they didn’t. Pricing was something that was very loud and clear. She did not love our past prices; she felt like we were overpriced. Previously, some of the pricing was the price of doctor brands, and that is not the personality of our girl’s budget. Our positioning now is that we need to be accessible, and technology has advanced in beauty so much that she shouldn’t have to pay for anything she doesn’t want to.
How does your updated retail strategy with Target, Ulta and now CVS play to that?
We know our girl buys some products at Target and some at CVS, so our strategy is to be where she is and to be relevant to that retailer’s assortment. Like when she is at Urban, she is shopping for lifestyle, but at CVS, it’s about convenience. Our new Mint Chip Mania mask is launching, and there is nothing like that in our [retail partners’ shelves], and especially not at those prices. We need to be aware of what is going on from a bigger picture. We are giving a girl who only shops at a mass channel a splurge, and offering her an alternative to going to Sephora or other online sites. We don’t think our brand has to be so focused on channel the way it once was.
A lot of other beauty brands and retailers are focusing on omnichannel at the moment. What are Bliss’ plans with merging physical retail with direct-to-consumer?
Digital is a big focus for us in terms of education and marketing, and we’ve invested in that heavily for 2019, but omnichannel is not a term I would use. We want to provide our girl amazing products and service, but we don’t care where she buys from. We want to be all about her. We’re not all of a sudden saying: Let’s build our dot-com to be the biggest channel; that is not our plan. We want our site to give her the ultimate experience and to educate her, but we want to give her the option to buy wherever is convenient to her. That’s why she can pick us up at Target, CVS and online. We don’t want to drive her to go here or there; we want our girl to decide.
So many brands are leveraging experiential in retail, but Bliss recently split its product side of the business from the spa business. Why?
For us, our bigger focus is expanding our esthetician-angle via education versus providing an experiential point of view in retail. We want to bring value to our consumers with our expertise, but it doesn’t have to just be in our physical locations. Build-outs or pop-ups are not a primary strategy for us. We aren’t looking around at what other brands are doing.