Avon and Mary Kay were onto something.
Beauty brands are increasingly working with a team of direct sellers as an alternative to selling in physical stores.
“E-commerce-only brands are starting to go to pop-up retail, because consumers still want to touch and feel product,” said Gregg Renfrew, founder and CEO of Beautycounter, which has 30,000 representatives across the U.S. and Canada. “Our ability to mobilize an army of women to spread the word and allow people to touch and feel product has been effective for [us].”
Representatives can also be counted on to communicate the brand story, which, historically is where wholesale partners drop the ball.
This was a theme throughout conversations at Glossy’s New Face of Beauty forum, held this week in New York.
“I was looking at macro trends in the market, and people were looking to peers to make purchasing decisions, rather than department stores; the department store model in beauty was on its way out,” said Renfrew, of starting her company. “With this model, we are able to actually tell our story, to have a conversation person-to-person.”
That’s important for brands in the crowded beauty market, but especially for Beautycounter, launched with a purpose of serving as an engine for change. Renfrew called the company a movement, as well as a beauty brand; at the core is a mission to get federal laws regulating the personal care industry updated to ban more harmful chemicals and permit the recalling of unsafe products.
Eighty percent of Beautycounter representatives have reported signing on because of the mission. Renfrew said the company doesn’t give them much direction currently — “other than providing [assets] and saying: Don’t say we’re all natural; we not. Don’t say we have all the answers; we don’t” — but it intends to ramp up the instruction it provides, as not every rep is particularly “savvy” in their selling methods.
Some of Beautycounter’s reps have hundreds of thousands of followers, and though they’re not specifically paid to endorse products, they often do so on social media in the name of promoting the cause. In effect, they also serve as the brand’s sole influencers, and their posts feel authentic.
Likewise, those in Glossier’s rep program have a genuine affinity for the brand, said Jessica White, the brand’s executive director of customer.
“The reps came out of behavior we saw naturally occurring in our community,” she said. “Without us doing anything, we saw our customers creating content about Glossier, telling their friends about Glossier, shouting it from the rooftops. So we said: ‘If people want to be the expert and tell their friends about beauty, and the other people actually want to hear what they’re saying, we need to provide them the tools to do that.’”
For Rodan & Fields, which has 200,000 consultants, those tools include an internal virtual training network with such features as tutorials and interviews with doctors, quality shareable content produced in an in-house studio, an exclusive newsletter, local events and a large-scale annual convention.
“We have a highly engaged community [of representatives],” said Lynn Emmolo, Rodan & Fields’ chief global officer. “We provide them with opportunities like gathering places and education to get their businesses going, if they want to.”
The company encourages their sales reps to serve as advocates, using the product as well as selling it, in the name of credibility.
On the same note, White said Glossier’s shoppers would rather not hear from a rep who feels like a paid employee. Representatives are, in fact, paid, but they’re also incentivized by the exclusive access they have to Glossier, including livestreams with the product development teams and Into the Gloss editors, which have proved popular and serve to build their relationship with the brand.
Indeed, the sales model has been around, but modern brands’ takes on it feel fresh — in some cases, that’s because they’re oblivious to the old playbooks.
“People ask us if we’re like so and so brand, and so and so brand,” said Renfrew, pointing to traditional brands using direct selling. “I’m not from this industry, so I don’t know anything about those companies.”
What other Glossy Forum attendees said about empowering a community
“About two months ahead of a product launch, we bring in all the teams — the marketing team, the sales team, the retail team — and educate them on key ingredients, related beauty tips and other things that will engage people and get them excited. As for influencers, they want to feel like they’re curators and educating their community, so we also focus on educating them. We have video conferences with them and give them one-sheets on trends, and I am DMing them all the time — building those relationships is so important. A lot of companies concentrate more on influencers and celebrities, seeing them as the face of the brand — but the internal education is crucial.” –Achelle Richards, chief global artistic director, E.l.f. Cosmetics
“Our customers are eager to share their stories; they want to be a part of a community of women that have a journey or a story to tell, and they want to express what they’re going through. And they want to educate each other. Even in our [social] posts, customers are recommending products to one another and asking each other questions, which is exactly what we want.” –Alisa Metzger, vp of marketing at Tula
Related reads on Glossy
‘We’re breaking down the barriers around what skin care should be’: Overheard at the Glossy Forum
“Our community crosses all channels, demographics, walks of life. We keep the things that are interesting to them alive on the site and in the conversation. We like to educate them, or we take them on an adventure to teach them where we are coming from. It’s really about repeating the mantra and getting to know them.”
‘The unicorn no one has heard of’: How skin-care brand Rodan & Fields hit $1 billion in revenue
“This model lets a brand grow without a ton of overhead. But eventually, you want to go into traditional marketing to sustain growth. You can’t turn every customer into a consultant.”
How Glossier’s gTeam is changing the role of customer service
“We never want our customers to feel as if they’re talking to a robot, because they’re not.”