“A Great Girlfriend To Give You Guidance”: Why Knockout Beauty Puts Skincare Consultation At The Center Of Its Business

Cayli Cavaco Reck isn’t someone you’d expect to need beauty assistance. As a former magazine editor, brand strategist, and the daughter of Paul Cavaco and Kezia Keeble, two-thirds of the triumvirate that formed fashion public relations powerhouse KCD Worldwide, she’s had access to the best makeup artists, hairstylists, aestheticians and dermatologists on the planet. Yet, there were many times in her early life that Cavaco Reck felt just as clueless about beauty as women with far less access, particularly in skincare, where the complexity makes picking the right products for specific issues and figuring out how to apply them correctly incredibly difficult. “People say, ‘This cleanser doesn’t work,’ and you find their technique for cleansing isn’t there. They’ve never been taught,” she says. “They think it’s intuitive, and it may not be.”

First as the force behind Instagram account Knocking on Forty and now as the creator of New York retailer Knockout Beauty, Cavaco Reck makes sure women aren’t left in the dark. Her in-depth consultations supply skincare education to help them meet their skin goals. “Don’t you want a great girlfriend to give you guidance? I want someone to give me their secrets. That’s what we do,” says Cavaco Reck. “People come to us when they have stubborn or challenging cases. We have a lot of before and afters of the way that we transform people’s skin. What that shows is we are able to deliver results. To me, results are worth more than 10% off.” Beauty Independent chatted with her about why Knockout Beauty doesn’t discount, unproductive hero SKUs, formula preservation, ingredient transparency and the brand pitches she ignores.

What are early memories that shaped your idea of beauty?

There used to be a model contest called “The Face Of The ’80s.” The winner got a model contract with Ford. It was a big deal. I remember being backstage at “The Face Of The ’80s,” and there was a woman there named Anette Stai. She wasn’t competing. She had a modeling contract, and it was like she had arrived. It registered to me at that moment that beauty was important. I also remember being really little and being on photo shoots. I didn’t realize that people went to the hair salon to have haircuts because I always had my hair cut on set. I realized, even at that point, how much hair and makeup shaped the visual of something. That was my understanding from a very early age.

Skincare wasn’t a thing that registered for me until I was much, much older. I had a bout of acne and ended up going to see a dermatologist who ultimately decided I should go on Accutane. I had grown up macrobiotic, and the idea that I was having to have a pregnancy test to take care of my skin even though I wasn’t having sex really taught me about the whole idea that what you’re doing on the inside affects the outside. At one point, I got a terrible sunburn skiing in Aspen, and that helped me understand that sun exposure doesn’t just come from the beach. If I got the worst sunburn of my life in Aspen, then just roaming around New York City isn’t that great either [for sun exposure]. That’s when I started wearing sunscreen 365 days a year.

Knockout Beauty founder Cayli Cavaco Reck
Knockout Beauty founder Cayli Cavaco Reck

How did Knocking on Forty come about?

No one was really talking to me about my skincare and about my life, not even just my skin. Makeup tips were for somebody way younger than me. I can’t wear makeup the same way that a 20-year-old can wear makeup. I just wanted a place to speak about those things. I was doing it at the time I was doing brand strategy. Part of it was not so much for myself, but to look at what the landscape looked like. I discovered that women in their late 30s, early 40s are really compliant and, through that, what you realize is that you can actually really help them make a change in their skin. That was really exciting to me. I also realized that women in their 30s and 40s were receptive in an interesting way. They had knowledge, so they could understand when knowledge was interesting and special. They were discerning. They knew what to key into. They know what’s marketing and an ad. What was interesting is I felt like they really responded to my authenticity, and my willingness to be present with them.

How did the idea for the store come about?

I never thought I’d open a beauty store, that’s never where I thought it would go, but somehow opening a store was a jumping off point for whatever this idea was. It felt like a great way to meet the community that had been so active with me on Instagram. The longer I did it, the more it has emerged to be something different. At the start, it was really a place for women to connect, which it still is, and a place for women to discover new products and maybe a way of approaching their skincare or wellbeing.

Because I’m such an insane person about wanting to really give somebody added value and our point of difference, I started to look at the idea of cause and effect, and our skincare philosophies. That was not something I originally had day one. What it is now is really a full-service beauty destination. We say we are, “Conscious beauty for the modern minded.” We define it as highest level of efficacy, lowest level of intervention. That means everything from the type of testing that’s done to the chemicals to the ingredient deck to really looking at the idea of the toxic load of something, so not necessarily a no-no list or yes-yes list, but the overall lifetime load and what that looks like and means. Mostly, it’s what I would have wanted for myself. I felt that I didn’t have somebody to help me with that piece of the puzzle, and I had a lot of access because of how I grew up. If I didn’t have it, then other people really didn’t have it.

When did Knockout Beauty launch?

It started as a pop-up in the Hamptons on May 28, 2016. Very quickly, it was exciting to a lot of people. We were approached by real estate agents and four or five larger stores to live inside them. The one that really struck me was Bloomingdale’s because I had prior relationship with Anne Keating from Bloomingdale’s. She’s really great at identifying what’s missing in a space, and the Bloomingdale’s team was completely on board with what I wanted to do. I really wanted women to love the skin that they were in and consider the products they were using, both their ingredients and their efficacy. We did Bloomingdale’s the same way we did the first store, as a pop-up. We opened our store on Lexington Avenue before Bloomingdale’s ended up opening. When we started, it was the beginning of this intense beauty boom that’s happened. Dovetailing with the K-Beauty craze, skincare became an exciting new category. To me, skincare should be the overall umbrella.

How did you assemble the assortment?

The assortment was actually much larger at one point. It’s been condensed by about 30%. The editing process has happened as our criteria for being on our shelves has become stricter. At first, we were new and, because we were opening in Bridgehampton, part of it was just about having access to great beauty in the Hamptons. As we grew outside the Hamptons, it became clear that our point of view had to be stronger. “Conscious beauty for the modern minded” was our tagline from the beginning, but the “modern minded” piece had to come into full view. For me, what I started to realize was that people were using products that were maybe clean or considered organic, and those products were cleansing or moisturizing the skin, but not transforming it and, in some cases, creating irritation. So, people would go from going on organic lines to going the doctor and going on a prescription. Then, they would come to us. I thought, “There has to be something in this.” There was some type of intervention that had to come before. It became really about effective products with an ethos that matched mine as closely as possible. You do need preservatives in products. So, what kinds of preservatives? What does that look like and mean? I really dove deep into really understanding parabens. My take on it today is that parabens are very, very complicated.

Do you allow parabens in products?

If you cannot pass the European standards, I’m not interested in your product. The European standards do not allow the longer-chain parabens. It’s a very complex conversation. Parabens are found in blueberries. My feeling is that, if a brand wants to have a conversation with me, a great thing that they can do is be extremely transparent from the get-go and not make me do the work for their brand. In 2019, that transparency should exist.

Knockout Beauty
Knockout Beauty has a permanent location at 1031 Lexington Ave. in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and a seasonal location at 2400 Montauk Hwy in Bridgehampton.

How should brands pitch Knockout Beauty?

Cold shipping me your product is a terrible idea because there is so much flow in and out of the store every day that the product is not going to get its day in the sun. The best thing to do is to write a compelling email that’s authentic. Who doesn’t like praise? I adore that you adore my store, but what I want to know more is how amazing your product is, and I will know whether it’s a good fit. Your canned sales email is not going to work with us. We can see right through it.

I don’t need the product to be proven, but I need your ingredients to be proven or I need you to highlight the revolutionary ingredients you have and don’t say they’re revolutionary if it’s not true. You are not the singular source of blue tansy in the world. We are very ingredients-driven and, when I say ingredients-driven, I do not mean a no-no list. I want to talk about the ingredients that we know are aiding skin health. So, your vitamins, your pre- and probiotics, your peptides. I want to know all that stuff. That’s what I think performs for us. What performs for us is really the product that can transform. We are not really a ritual store.

People often complain about pushy sales tactics at department stores. Do you make the hard sell?

We have a no-sale policy as in I’m not selling you anything. People will come in and say, “What do I need in here?” There is nothing in my store that you need. There are, however, thousands of things that will help you reach your skin goals and to really feel empowered and good about yourself in a way you haven’t felt in a long time, if ever, but we don’t upsell people. A lot of brands will approach us with an incentive. Can we reward a salesperson for selling through? No, you may not because I want our salespeople to be recommending what people need, not what they are trying to get a bonus out of. We don’t really do gifts with purchase. We don’t do specials. We don’t do sales. The added value is not from I’ve saved 15% to 20% on this, the added value is our expertise and handholding, which you don’t get anywhere else.

How do people shop your store?

I believe we have the highest average ticket of any independent beauty store. I think that is because people are not buying single SKUs from us. They are buying their whole beauty routine with us. The discovery is not about discovering a product, it’s about discovering a new way of taking care of your skin.

You say people aren’t buying single SKUs from Knockout Beauty, but are there hero SKUs that do particularly well in your store?

Often, we will meet with a brand, and they will say this is our top seller, and it will sit on our shelves. Sometimes, a lot of what we see as hero products in the industry is marketing and not so much about the efficacy of the product. Sometimes, there’s a secondary product or a tertiary product that’s really incredible. I will give you an example. Colbert MD is really well known for Illumino Face Oil. We barely sold it, but we sold Intensify Facial Discs and Tone Control Facial Discs like they were going out of style. Here’s another example. I don’t know how much we sell of The Organic Pharmacy’s Carrot Butter Cleanser, if we sell any, but their body oil is top drawer. It’s such a good product. If your hero is good, I believe in it. If it’s Vintner’s Daughter, I believe in it, but the hero SKU strategy doesn’t work for Knockout. It doesn’t seem to resonate with our clients.

Do you care if a brand is on Amazon?

I would prefer a brand not to be on Amazon. You are buying it with no guidance on Amazon. I feel like, particularly for a product that has a pretty active ingredient deck, there needs more education for the client, and mixing some of the products can be very challenging for people. Sometimes, we end up with people coming to us because they’ve created a sensitized situation, even if they don’t have sensitive skin, they get it because they’ve played alchemist on Amazon. Mine isn’t a discount issue. I don’t see it as competition. If someone shops with us, they can see it’s a completely different experience. I understand the Amazon experience, absolutely, but I don’t know if I need that ease for the type of skincare people are coming to us for. You don’t want the ease, you want the expertise, and the types of products that sit well in our store are the types of products that do well with our expertise.

Knockout Beauty
Among the brands available at Knockout Beauty are Royal Fern, Agent Nateur, Georgia Louise, Odacité, January Labs, Kat Rudu, Supergoop, Vintner’s Daughter, Orlane and Environ.

How do you want to grow your business?

It’s important me to be able to connect with as many women as possible and to be able to deliver what we do to as many cities as possible that don’t have what we have, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to open a store in those cities. It will probably look like activations and events in different areas, and it will look like more opportunities for digital community.

When did you move to Los Angeles? Would the city be a good fit for a Knockout Beauty in the future?

I have lived here for a year. I moved for family and a different lifestyle. You know, I want to do something everywhere, it’s a question of what is the best thing for the business and is there an appetite. I know there is an appetite here because we have a big customer base here, but can I give the Knockout Beauty experience here in the way that I want to do it?