June 10th, 2014
There’s a beauty buzz on the High Street and one of the UK’s biggest retail names is quietly changing the way that we shop. Trusted by generations of British women for their food and undies, M&S now taps into our beauty desires too. Reminiscent of our favourite European pharmacies, you’ll find a cool space where must-have brands rub shoulders with top of their class newbies from the UK and around the world, backed up with great staff who know their Fake Bake from their LOLA. Warpaint talks to Debra Simmons, Senior Buyer – Beauty, Marks and Spencer.
WP: What’s your background and how long have you been with M&S? Describe your typical day.
DS: I’ve worked with M&S for over three years and joined the business to help deliver the new M&S beauty concept. I buy external (non M&S) beauty brands and also head up the product development of M&S own brands across all categories.
I have worked in beauty new product and brand development and retail since graduating from University, starting at Coty in the International Development team for Rimmel cosmetics, then moving to the Body Shop, L’Oreal International development team working across numerous categories including bath and body, hair care and make-up.
There is no such thing as a typical day for me, which is what makes my role so exciting. One day I could be comparative shopping in London, New York or Paris sourcing new brands or finding inspiration for our own brand product innovation. The next day I could be in a trading meeting looking at sales figures or in a product development meeting selecting fragrances, packaging or ingredients for new products. The day after I could be in meetings with our external brands reviewing their new product launches and working with them to drive their business at M&S.
WP: What is the vision for M&S Beauty?
DS: Our vision is to become a key retail player in the Beauty industry both in the UK and internationally. We are already making great progress!
WP: In how many stores are you currently available and what is the plan for growth?
The next stage of our growth plan in the UK is a further 94 stores rolling out over the next three months from the beginning of July. We also have big growth plans internationally with the first of two lingerie and beauty only stores having already launched in Saudi Arabia with more to come in other territories.
WP: M&S staff training is legendary. How do you recruit your beauty advisers? What career paths are available to them?
DS: Our Beauty Advisors are recruited through a bespoke recruitment process. This includes an assessment on generic beauty knowledge, a role-play to demonstrate customer interaction and specific questions around working in a beauty environment. If successful, the candidates attend a Cosmetic and Skincare training course, where they are assessed on their knowledge, skills and beauty professionalism. As part of their development, accredited beauty assistants are invited to conferences and regional workshops to enhance their knowledge.
WP: How do you select the brands that you want to work with? Is there a strategic programme, and if so, how long is the roll out?
DS: We look at a number of things. Our beauty department represents our best edit of brands and products of the (very proliferated) global beauty market, so our brands must be best in class in their category. We also consider the choice we offer our customers- for example in skincare we like to offer a choice of scientific brands such as Murad vs natural brands such as Jurlique. We also like to offer our customer choice in terms of price so that best in class beauty can be accessible to all our customers.
WP: When looking at unknown brands, what are your criteria for selection?
DS: Again best in class in their category and delighting our customer with a brand they may never heard of before that they can’t find anywhere else on their local high street in the UK. For example brands such as Fragonard (from £18.50), a beautiful French fragrance brand with an incredible heritage and gorgeous fragrances at incredibly accessible prices. And diego dalla palma, a make-up artist led cosmetics brand from Milan with industry leading product innovation such as their semi-permanent mascara.
WP: Autograph cosmetics are a major part of your offering. How does this drive your strategy?
DS: Autograph has a strong brand equity in womenswear and the principles (quality, style, innovation) translate into Autograph make-up and fragrance. This has been key to the success. We plan to continue to build on this, introducing the latest formulation innovation into Autograph make-up such as our Illuminating Touch Radiance Foundation (£12.50) which has just launched, and with beautifully crafted new fragrances.
WP: You’re doing some great collaborations – what drives the choice of partner?
DS: We choose our partners because they are leaders in their field and can therefore help us deliver innovative product to our customer- for example we have developed a colour-led hair care brand with leading UK colourist Josh Wood and the Blending Wands (£12.50), which temporarily cover grey regrowth, have become one of our best selling products.
WP: What are your particular favourites?
DS: NUXE Huile Prodigeuse (from £17.50), Shay & Blue Blood Oranges Eau de Parfum (from £30), Philip Kingsley Elasticizer (£28), M&S Pure Daily Skincare Instant Radiance Hot Cloth Cleanser (£10)… How long have you got???
WP: What should we look out for in the future?
DS: We have lots of exciting new brands launching such as Rodial and their fabulous Dragon’s Blood skincare. There’s also our next Beauty Discovery event in September with lots of amazing free gifts, and further down the line, look out for a fantastic Christmas gifting offer.