Indie Beauty Retailers Sought To Stand Out During Black Friday With Services, Surprise Gifts, Charity Tie-ins And More

Brick-and-mortar beauty stores experimented with an array of tactics from founder meet-and-greets to charity tie-ins over Black Friday and Small Business Saturday to combat e-commerce websites’ and brands’ encroachment on deals territory formerly dominated by traditional retailers.

Overall, Americans were in a buying mood following Thanksgiving, and Mastercard estimates they spent $23 billion on Black Friday, up 9% from a year ago. Online sales soared 24% for the day to reach $6.2 billion, per Adobe Analytics, and store traffic dipped 1.7% from 2017 as shoppers shifted their attention from shops to screens, according to ShopperTrak.

The results were mixed at indie beauty stores populating cities and towns across the country. Tracy Trellis Gori, owner of Trellis Beauty in Raleigh, N.C., was upbeat in the wake of the shopping extravaganza. “This past weekend, we hit our anticipated goal and then some, but there is room for growth for next year,” she shares, adding, “The projection for the year is still on track, even a bit higher after the weekend. I’m happy with where we are for the year and feel confident that we will continue to see sustainable growth moving into 2019.”

Black Friday 2018
Tracy Trellis Gori, owner of Trellis Beauty in Raleigh, N.C.

Trellis Beauty certainly didn’t slide into Black Friday and Small Business Saturday without a plan. Trellis Gori was proactive about packing the store’s holiday shopping schedule to intrigue customers. On Small Business Saturday, aka Self-Care Saturday at Trellis Beauty, the shop preformed mini facials with brand partner SkinOwl, star of the store’s SkinOwl Beauty Steam Bar. The mini facials were announced to Trellis Beauty’s customer base via its newsletter and social media.

“I really focused on maximizing the experience in store knowing that it would be more difficult to compete with online promos from other retailers,” says Trellis Gori. Trellis Beauty didn’t completely sit out of the promotional game. It offered free beauty steams with purchases of $25 and above, and free shipping online for orders of $50 or more along with a full-size surprise gift worth 40% to 50% of the total order.

“I really focused on maximizing the experience in store knowing that it would be more difficult to compete with online promos from other retailers.”

“Most of the guests in the shop this weekend were taking advantage of the giveaways and promos for themselves, for sure. I’m confident the gift shopping for others will start in December,” says Trellis Gori. “The average sale was definitely higher than most weekends. We had a lot of repeat clients in the shop stocking up on their replenishable items like skincare and foundation.”

Trellis Beauty wasn’t the only beauty retailer entering the heavy shopping days prepared with initiatives to rev up customer interest. Chicago store Lena Rose assembled an eight-page gift guide highlighting bestsellers and slower-moving items to make sure it’s shoppers were aware of them. Wildcraft in Charleston, S.C., invited Courtney Weisel, founder of brand Steel Birch, and Kara Reich, founder of the brand Me Time Botanicals, to interact with customers on Small Business Saturday.

Jenny Duranski, owner of Chicago store Lena Rose

New Augusta, Ga., retailer Field hosted an in-store pop-up from candle and clothing purveyor American Journeyman. “That brought in some customers who ended up shopping at both businesses,” says founder Jennifer Tinsley. Furthermore, Field had a live jazz duet play for three hours on Saturday, and passed around mimosas and vegan brunch snacks.

Field’s Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sales bested Tinsley’s forecast by 25%. “Saturday surpassed Friday as far as sales, but Black Friday exceeded sales for a typical Friday. Saturday was our best sales day since the grand opening,” she says, noting, “People that shopped at Field went specifically to support downtown businesses. I was open 9 to 9 on both days, but I think my regular hours of 11 to 6 would have been fine. There were no early lines for Black Friday. I think people liked the more community-oriented activities and the more laidback shopping experience.”

“It’s a very competitive weekend and, as a small, independent retailer, it’s hard, if not impossible to compete with the deep discounting of larger stores or the brands themselves.”

The store discounted products by 20% Friday through Monday. On top of the discount, Field sent $5 coupons to its email list for use on Friday and Saturday. The Smell My Bod and Smell My Feet products from the Field brand were big sellers as were Harper + Ari sugar cube box sets, Juniper Ridge travel body washes, No Tox Life and Crazy Rumors vegan lip balms, Fast Soft Press lavender eye pillows, Sanctuary bath bombs, and Marley’s Monsters cotton facial pads.

At Lena Rose, owner Jenny Duranski reports business on Friday and Saturday was “slower than normal.” “It’s a very competitive weekend and, as a small, independent retailer, it’s hard, if not impossible to compete with the deep discounting of larger stores or the brands themselves,” she says. Duranski isn’t entirely discouraged and emphasizes the holiday shopping season has a long way to go. She says, “People are getting excited. The holidays tend to sneak up on us, so I think this week and next we will start to see how the season will turn out as a whole.”

fieldLauren Carnes Photography
Jennifer Tinsley, founder of Augusta, Ga.-based Field

The products that sold well for Lena Rose during Black Friday and Small Business Saturday were in the bath and body category. Standouts included Ari Rose’s Ying + Ylang Skin Frosting and Apoterra Skincare’s Tulsi Luminous Scrub. At Fox Naturals in Grand Rapids, Mich., body products scored with customers, too, and bar soaps and sugar scrubs were bestsellers. The store offered 15% off and a free bath bomb for customers shelling out over $15.

“This is our first Small Business Saturday, and it greatly exceeded our expectations,” says Fox Naturals owner Patrick Stoffel, mentioning Small Business Saturday was “much more profitable” than Black Friday for his store. “Our average spending amount for the day was much higher. People were willing to pay more for handmade gifts.”

“One thing that is hard is that every brand offers a fairly deep discount to clients shopping them direct online. We cannot really compete without sacrificing most of our margin. As a smaller business, it would be nice to get something back in future shopping or be given a heads-up to match the discount.”

Extreme bargain hunting didn’t rule Black Friday and Small Business Saturday at indie beauty stores. Kathleen London, owner of London Beauty in Brighton, Mich., says, “I sense that people are willing to buy higher-priced items and are putting together shopping wish lists with higher-priced items like the Ziip device or Artis Brush sets.”

She divulges sales were “good, not great” at London Beauty last week, elaborating, “One thing that is hard is that every brand offers a fairly deep discount to clients shopping them direct online. We cannot really compete without sacrificing most of our margin. As a smaller business, it would be nice to get something back in future shopping or be given a heads-up to match the discount.”

Kathleen London, owner of London Beauty in Brighton, Mich.

Skincare, a robust segment this year, gave bath and body a run for its money at several stores, nudging up the prices customers were willing to pay. At Lorde Beauty in Grand Rapids, Omorovicza’s Blue Diamond Gift Set, Gold Set and Holiday Intro Set for $560, $375 and $95, respectively, were strong sellers. African Botanics’ Perfecting Lip Balm for $45, Marula Oil for $120, and Bois De Santal Hand & Body Lotion for $120, and Abel’s Golden Neroli Parfum for $150 were also hits.

Lorde Beauty was one of many stores that steered clear of percentage-off discounts. Instead, it gave gifts with purchase priced from $90 to $200 to customers buying at least $200 worth of merchandise. It dedicated 5% of retail sales online and in-store to Manasseh Project, an organization dedicated to ending the sexual exploitation of children.

“My clients are driven by the value of experiencing the exquisite. They do not have a problem with a high price if it makes sense for what they need or to whom they are giving the gift to.”

“My clients are driven by the value of experiencing the exquisite,” says Lorde Beauty owner Rachel Williams. “They do not have a problem with a high price if it makes sense for what they need or to whom they are giving the gift to.” Discussing the store’s give-back program, she remarks, “This has been extremely meaningful to me and clients for they realize where they shop matters.”

Williams suggests its more important than ever for small stores to pursue strategies to set themselves out from retail crowds during the bustling holiday shopping period in the hopes of rising above the noise. “Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Women Led-Wednesday, honestly have morphed into one event, even though the intention behind each has a different meaning, the goal feels the same. Drive sales. Offer enticing deals,” she says.“I wish that they were spaced out more. Again, great thought, but a little too much, too close. It diminishes the impact and how personal it needs to actually be. People honestly get desensitized to the search of deals after a while.”

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Rachel Williams, owner of Lorde Beauty in Grand Rapids, Mich.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Indie beauty retailers tried their hardest during Black Friday and Small Business Saturday to keep their stores busy by putting on meet-and-greets with founders, pop-ups, mini services and more.
  • Overall, Black Friday sales jumped 9% from last year, according to Mastercard. However, results at indie beauty stores were mixed as retail traffic dipped. Most reported sales on Small Business Saturday outpaced Black Friday, but that lines were few and far between.
  • Bath and body-care products that are relatively affordable and ideal stocking stuffers were robust sellers. However, the strength of skincare, a segment that’s been stellar this year, didn’t appear to ebb over Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, pushing up order sizes.
  • Several stores opted to stay away from straight percentage-off discounts. Instead, they provided tiered-discounts or gifts with purchase that were doled out when customer orders hit specific totals to encourage increased spending.  
  • Indie beauty store owners are optimistic the rest of the holiday shopping season will yield healthy sales. Although there are a few troublesome economic signs such as stock market volatility, job cuts at General Motors and uncertainty over trade, unemployment and gas prices remain low, and consumer confidence high.