Marla Malcolm Beck is a powerhouse. She reconceptualized how to shop for cosmetics, taking out the intimidation factor and creating an amazing environment where staff members aren’t representing a particular brand but rather invested in picking your best look. She built a company so awesome that Macy’s bought it! And with all of that, she’s an involved mom, active in her community and even runs her company with her husband. We are honored to welcome her our Fit List:
1. What inspired you to start Bluemercury?
“I was in my twenties when I started Blue mercury and thought shopping for cosmetics was incredibly intimidating. Back in 1999, when we started, sales associates only sold one brand, which were behind glass counters. They decided to help you based on how you looked or whether you were carrying a nice handbag. As I was younger and definitely did not have a nice handbag, I would never get helped. I thought that there had to be a better way to shop for cosmetics – where the staff members were experts in all brands and where they genuinely wanted to help you find the right product for you. Bluemercury was born as the friendly, neighborhood store where you could get expert, honest advice and professional beauty services such as makeup lessons, facials, brow styling and bikini waxing. We created a spa in our very first location 17 years ago in Georgetown.”
2. You went from McKinsey to being an entrepreneur in a tough field before you were 30! Did anyone tell you that you were crazy? Did you ever think you were? How did you handle your doubts and/or those of others?
“Growing up, I was deeply inspired by my father who was an entrepreneur. He always had his own business. I had this burning desire to create something of my own. It was this influence, and the influence of my husband, who is my co-founder and business partner. He used to say to me when I was working in private equity, right after we had met – why are you working for someone else? You HAVE to start your own thing. I used to work in my father’s accounting department when I was in high school reconciling his books by hand. This early exposure to the financial guts of how a business runs gave me a passion for business at an early age. My experience consulting at McKinsey was also invaluable. I worked on many growth projects and learned how to think creatively and analytically about how you create something when nothing is there. I also think that when I started Bluemercury, I was in my early twenties and was fearless – I wouldn’t take no for an answer and was going to build the brand store by store, customer by customer, lipstick by lipstick, no matter what it took. The most important lesson I ever learned was to stop listening to everyone else and do what I thought was right. You make better decisions if you shut out the noise and do what you know in your head and heart is the right thing to do.”
3. You sold Bluemercury to Macy’s last year. Does it feel different being the CEO now than before the sale?
• “The Macy’s team is genius as they have added resources but left Bluemercury alone, in Washington DC to innovate and grow. We are moving at a faster pace than ever before, building our teams, our talents, our skill sets and our capability. I have learned to let go of some things while focusing on building a great company and continuing to invest in our DNA of being a friendly, family oriented, scrappy, entrepreneurial growth company.”
4. What is it like running a company with your spouse?
• “We don’t know anything different from running a company together. We started our company 17 years ago together and have worked together ever since. Bluemercury is our first child, and we have 3 children since starting Bluemercury who are all associated with store numbers. We had our 13 year old at store 5, our 11 year old at store 8, and our 9 year old son at stores 12 – 20 (a high growth year)! My husband and I do focus on different things. I deal with everything that touches the customer – merchandising, marketing, product development, and design. He is very operations focused – real estate, store development, and a lot of the back office functions.”
5. I’m a college student, and I don’t have a ton of money to spend on beauty products, but I want to look great. What do you suggest?
• For color cosmetics:
– “I created the Lune+Aster brand. For Lune+Aster, it’s all about makeup in minutes for the girl on the go. She’s busy and doesn’t have time to spend 30 minutes contouring her face. We wanted to create fool-proof beauty products to leave the house polished and powerful. It’s perfect for a college student rushing off to class! It’s also affordable, with lip glosses at $18 and mascara at $20 and an RealGlow Primer at $30 that gives you a healthy glow without much work! It’s also great for your skin – it’s vitamin infused, paraben-free, and we also offer many gluten free and vegan products.”
– “We also have an exclusive line called Genuine Glow by Estee Lauder. It’s a special collaboration containing products literally designed to help you glow! We have a beautiful eyelighting crème for eyes and face at $20, blushing crème for lips and cheeks at $22, and my favorite reviving oil lip tint for $20 to give you a wonderful dewy glow.”
– “Nudestix is another great option for affordable lip, eye, and cheek pencils. Check out my exclusive collaboration with Jenny Frankel, Nudestix’ founder. Each of us chose our favorite lip shades, with our daughters, and created exclusive sets for you to enjoy!”
• For skincare:
– “M61 cleansers (especially Power Cleanse and Perfect Cleanse), PowerGlow Peel, and PowerSpot help you get power-packed skincare results in minimal time. Mario Badescu is a great go-to line for students on a budget. Mario’s botanically based skincare is simple and effective. I especially love the Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs, and Rosewater for a hydrating pick-me- Dermalogica is the brand I used when I was in high school. It was my first “real skincare”. The Daily Microfoliant is an amazing exfoliator, and the Clear Start line is a wonderful, affordable line for those with combination and oily skin.”
6. If you could go back and do it again, would you study the same things in college and graduate school? If not, what would you do differently?
• “I wouldn’t change anything. College teaches you how to get up the learning curve quickly and how to get work and projects done. Graduate school enables you to take this skill set to a deeper level in something you are passionate about. I graduated a long time ago – and what I have taken away from these experiences is a passion for learning, an ability to learn anything, and an amazing network of individuals to go to if I need insight or advice on any area.”
7. You have an amazing family. You have an amazing company, and you are so active in the community in so many ways. How do you do it all?
• “I don’t sleep. Just kidding. I have an extremely clear sense of priorities and an ability to say no to things if they don’t fall within my priorities. My key priorities are family and work. I do not go out when I am home in Washington DC on week nights since I travel so much for work. I believe our choices become our actions, our actions become our habits and our habits become our character. Every day I do a mental check in. Did I work on the right things? How are each of my kids really doing? Did I connect with my husband. How you spend your time says everything about what’s important to you.”
8. Do you have a favorite quote or line from a song that you can share?
• “Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous.” Tina Seelig, a professor from Stanford who is an expert on creativity talked about this in her book. . Every day, we are given micro-opportunities. You need to show up and do great work, even for the most minor events or meetings. You never know what will come of it!
9. Thoughts on leadership? How does someone (woman or man) become an inspiring leader?
• I think there are many types of leaders and the only way to lead is to be your authentic self and not try to be someone who you are not. You lead by having a vision and figuring out how to drive an amazing team towards that vision. You lead by creating something that is bigger than yourself and helping others to become the best versions of themselves.