Mented Makes Its Brick-And-Mortar Debut At The Market @ Macy’s As It Readies For A Long-Term Retail Partner
How do you play a hot hand?
That’s the question facing Mented Cosmetics as it ponders distribution moves. The color cosmetics brand, which has raised $4 million and is on track to register a sales gain of 400% this year with a 300% leap expected next year, is testing retail temporarily at The Market @ Macy’s in the department store’s Herald Square location in New York through a Facebook program before deciding on long-term retail partners.
“We know a lot about our customer and how loyal she is. We know how many thousands of people are waiting for the retailer we are going to partner with, and that’s valuable,” says KJ Miller, co-founder and CEO of Mented. “We have a strong point of view about the brand we are building, and we want to make sure that brand view and perspective comes across on shelf. We want to be in a place where we have a say about the brand presence.”
Miller started Mented with fellow Harvard Business School alumna Amanda E. Johnson in January 2017 and, until its residency at Macy’s kicked off last month, it stuck to a direct-to-consumer model. Miller explains the brand wanted to oversee messaging and establish strong customer relationships prior to ceding a substantial amount of control to a third-party operator over the environment it’s housed in and the story conveyed. Mented plans to roll out to traditional retail in 2019 or early 2020.
“We have a strong point of view about the brand we are building, and we want to make sure that brand view and perspective comes across on shelf. We want to be in a place where we have a say about the brand presence.”
It’s not only aiming to keep as much control as possible, it’s searching for a distribution partner prioritizing the consumers it values – women of color whose needs have long been considered secondary in the beauty industry – and that those consumers value. Mented has been in discussions with many retailers to determine the ideal fit. A critical component of the evaluation, according to Miller, is identifying where Mented’s clientele is comfortable shopping.
“Is this a retailer that is showing that it is looking to really cater to women of color as a demographic?” she says, adding. “Working with retailers who want to come to the table as partners is incredibly important for us.”
Due to finish on Feb. 2, Mented’s stay at The Market @ Macy’s has helped it understand store dynamics. Facebook invited the brand to participate in the concept, and the social media network covered the costs of Mented’s entrance at the Herald Square store. It recruited Mented after spotting the brand’s intriguing Facebook videos. A Mented video entitled “Their Nudes vs. TRUE Nudes” deftly captures the shade issues women of color face shopping lipsticks deemed nude.
“The problem we sought to solve from the very beginning was to offer everyday beauty for women of color. What we have been known for is, particularly in lip, really getting the shade right. That expertise for us has extended into other products.”
Typically, brands pay an upfront fee to be part of The Market @ Macy’s for one to three months and retain 100% of their sales. They don’t have to endure the customary buyer vetting process to be involved. While extra staffing isn’t required, Mented has opted to hire five staff members to work at the store from Wednesday to Sunday at its expense.
“Macy’s is a great partner, but it’s running a multibillion-dollar retailer, and they are focused on much more than our 40-SKU makeup brand. They are going to give the shelf space, and make sure the lights are on and the rent is paid, but, in terms of bringing excitement, we have put our people in Macy’s because it’s worth it to us to make sure that the customer has Mented representatives tell her about the brand,” says Miller. “Is that scalable for every store that we launch in? Maybe not, but it’s something we can do when we have one door.”
Out of Mented’s assortment of roughly 40 items, about 37 of them are in the lip category, and lip products have been its bestsellers until recently. For the past two months, Miller reports the Everyday Eyeshadow palette, a spring release and the brand’s debut eye product, has been tops. The success of the palette so far is a promising sign Mented’s customers are willing to pick up its products beyond the lip category.
“What I have been really trying to do is think a lot about our organizational health. I firmly believe we have the right products, the right message, and customers are excited to tell their friends and family about us. What’s going to make us or break us in terms of our growth is putting our team in the right place and having the right resources to fuel our growth.”
“The fact that she’s really taken to our eyeshadow palette lets us know that we’re not just a lip product company,” says Miller, revealing Mented plans to dive into “every major color product category by the end of 2019.” Johnson elaborates, “The problem we sought to solve from the very beginning was to offer everyday beauty for women of color. What we have been known for is, particularly in lip, really getting the shade right. That expertise for us has extended into other products.”
Pop-ups and events have been significant elements of Mented’s strategy to introduce products and connect with customers. This year, the brand hosted a minimum of one pop-up per month and made stops at festivals such as the Essence Festival. In 2019, Mented anticipates throwing fewer pop-ups that create bigger splashes. The brand’s events have featured conversations with notable influencers about their businesses, and it did makeovers at Essence to prep employees for executive photos. Mented also has a program called Moguls in the Making teaching entrepreneurship to girls of color.
Of the pop-ups, Johnson says, “There’s wine, music and food. It’s a very fun experience. Women show up, and they stay for at least an hour. Not only are they having fun with makeup, they are having fun with friends. They walk away really feeling like Mented ambassadors. Our goal for the pop-ups this year in terms of sales and return on costs has been to break even, and to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to in terms of acquisition, retention and education. We’ve been very happy with the results.”
To assist with pop-ups, marketing and logistics, among various functions, Mented has increased its team from three to 10 people in a year. Marketing is its largest department and accounts for 50% of the team, a percentage Miller predicts will persist for the foreseeable future.
“We focused on young, hungry talent who we could train and who could play jack-of-all-trades roles. We’ve now reached the point where we’re beginning to build our leadership team, which means looking for people with deep expertise,” says Miller. “What I have been really trying to do is think a lot about our organizational health. I firmly believe we have the right products, the right message, and customers are excited to tell their friends and family about us. What’s going to make us or break us in terms of our growth is putting our team in the right place and having the right resources to fuel our growth.”
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