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With roles at Target, The Home Depot, Family Dollar and now Ulta Beauty, Kecia Steelman, Ulta Beauty chief operating officer, can legitimately affirm, “Retail is in my DNA.”
“Life has [come] full circle because I’m leading the Ulta Beauty at Target partnership,” said Steelman, who spearheaded the collaboration, on this week’s Glossy Beauty Podcast. (Steelman worked at Target from 1993-2005 and has been at Ulta Beauty since 2015.) Ulta Beauty at Target, which launched in August and consists of 1,000-square-foot, Ulta Beauty expert-staffed shop-in-shops in Target, is set to reach 100 new shops by the end of this year.
The curated assortment of 54 prestige beauty brands is one of the ways that Steelman has facilitated a more convenient shopping experience for Ulta Beauty’s existing customers. It’s also created a new ecosystem of shoppers at Target, said Steelman.
Additionally, Steelman worked to expand Ulta Beauty’s digital innovation with elevated curbside and same-day pickup capabilities last year. “We shifted to be focused on self-care, self-expression and togetherness, because that’s what our guests needed from us at that time,” she said.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Being exactly where the customer wants
“It forced us to move a little quicker than what we might have done before the pandemic. We had BOPIS in play in all stores, but we elevated the curbside pickup, same-day [pickup] — we leaned into that. But I look at those as part of the foundation of the day-in and day-out ecosystem. Ulta Beauty at Target, that one, we elevated quickly. And I don’t know that anyone would have thought before the pandemic that Ulta Beauty and Target [would come] together. But this is where we took the opportunity to elevate beauty experiences, bring two powerhouse brands together to come from a position of strength and look at a way to be disruptive. Because another thing that we did during the pandemic was taking a step back and thinking, ‘How can we continue to be disruptive in beauty and continue to look at taking share?’ And our partnership with Target does do that… It’s a good win for our guests because it brings prestige closer to them in a convenient way. Our brand partners love it because it’s bringing a new channel to engage new guest interaction. With Target, we’re giving them beauty expertise, and they have access to prestige brands. And then for Ulta Beauty, us itself, it shows our leadership position and it continues to expand our reach. We’re engaging with new guests, and it gives us an opportunity to get new member acquisition.”
A company that is more than skin-deep
“Anytime that you can connect a passion with a business sense — I’ve always been a beauty junkie, to be perfectly honest. Growing up, I was always in my mom’s makeup bag. I’d say beauty was always a hobby, or more how I could express myself. And to be able to combine that with my business and retail sense, it’s the perfect combination. And beauty — we talk about this often at Ulta Beauty — it’s not just about the expression of putting something on your face, but it’s how you feel inside that you can exhibit outside. And that’s what makes Ulta Beauty so special: It’s not about making people look different, but it’s about helping people be their best selves. And that’s true, whether you’re talking about cosmetics or you’re talking about leadership and people growing in their careers, how you bring out the best in people. It’s all-encompassing, all the way around.”
Getting ahead of supply chain constraints
“We do have a strong supply chain infrastructure. I could not be more proud of our supply chain, our team and [our] organization. We’re not immune to the supply chain constraints, such as port congestion and other headwinds. But one thing that I’m proud of [with] our entire team and between the merchants, the merchandise planning, and our supply chain and store teams is that we worked proactively together because we saw these headwinds that were coming. We were hearing early on that people were going to be shopping earlier for Christmas. And we wanted to make sure that we were ready for the guests and to get it through our supply chain network. We worked hard to make sure, first and foremost, that we were staffed in our DCs, and I’m pleased to say that we’re fully staffed in our distribution centers. The challenges that I’m hearing out there in regard to staffing in our supply chain, we are way ahead of that. The other challenge is making sure that we were proactively building orders through our brands and we were making sure that there was visibility on purchase orders to make sure that we could get them through the ecosystem early and take [them through] earlier than we had in the past.”