Joann Marks: “Understand what it takes to be in retail”

Understand the two types of consumers right this minute. In the current environment, you have two utterly polarized shoppers: those afraid to leave their house, and those who don’t want to wear masks and are upset their lifestyle is being dictated. Figure out how to please both! As a part of our series about “Five Things […]

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Understand the two types of consumers right this minute. In the current environment, you have two utterly polarized shoppers: those afraid to leave their house, and those who don’t want to wear masks and are upset their lifestyle is being dictated. Figure out how to please both!

As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need to Know to Succeed in the Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joann Marks.

Joann Marks founded Cosmetic Promotions in 1990 using a borrowed computer and her garage as a warehouse. That inauspicious beginning has culminated 30 years later as a leader in Beauty Marketing, working with CVS and Walgreens as well as every mass beauty brand. Prior to Cosmetic Promotions she worked for Almay, Revlon, Parfums De Coeur and Nat Robbins.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

Almay had just promoted me to National Account Manager, and I was so excited. My very first meeting with the buyer burst my balloon, though, as a major endcap event resulted in a return that erased my first bonus! When it came time to sell in the next endcap, I had to figure a way to NOT have an 89% return on it. I came up with a contest for the stores that resulted in a ~90% sell-through. The buyer, Judy Wray, encouraged me to go into business for myself and show the other brands how to do the same!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

My favorite program I worked on was called Glam Camp; we had created it to improve Rite Aid’s beauty sales and it ran for 5 years. The last 2 years we added a model search in conjunction with Seventeen Magazine. I was so impressed (and humbled) by the achievements of the young ladies who entered. I really enjoyed chatting with all of them and finally choosing the winner. I accompanied the winners to New York for their model shoot and then they were featured in the next Glam Camp magazine ad the following year. for more information and videos.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success?

I started Cosmetic Promotions as a “side hustle” while I was working at Cabot Labs, and it very quickly blossomed to where I needed to leave Cabot and hire an assistant. From that point forward it was 100% Cosmetic Promotions.

Did you start doing anything different?

No, I simply kept building my customer base due to word of mouth. I never did any advertising. One of my first projects was producing Rite Aid’s newsletter for their beauty associates. This gave me the opportunity to work directly with all their beauty vendors, many of who became my clients.

Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

Word of mouth is important, but once you have a client, you need to deliver above expectations. Our clients know they can count on us to get it done, and done well.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m fortunate to have great customers who are strong advocates, including Judy Wray and former DSN Beauty writer Liz Parks. Judy was the one who kept referring clients my way, and we’re still working together to this day on different projects.

Ok, super. Let’s shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion-dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry?

As a marketing and promotions partner for brands and chains, right now we’re exploring ways to continue in-store demos during the pandemic. We’ve come up with ways to do “no touch” sampling and increase digital presence. We’re working on virtual demos, online video tutorials — ways to interact with customers in a safe, non-contact way. All of our programs are moving to a DIY tutorial vehicle coupled with high-value coupons.

How do you think that will help people?

Solving the social distancing challenge and restoring the ability to productively interact will pay huge benefits for the brands, the retailers, and of course the ultimate customers — the buyers and users.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?

  • I love the new virtual makeover tools. I spent a half hour playing with the mirror one at Sephora (pre-pandemic) and could not believe the different looks I was able to achieve. What was funny was my husband was standing right be behind me, watching the process, and the same makeup was being put on him! It was so realistic. These tools are great especially now that makeup artists may not be able to apply directly on consumers.
  • I also love all the new DIY innovations. There’s even a kit to perm your own lashes.
  • I love the proliferation of masks — especially the k-brands.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry?

There is so much competition in the industry and with people flocking to online and digital, it’s difficult to obtain differentiation. New companies really need to know their market and tailor their customer experience to stand out amongst the flood of new products. Before a company starts manufacturing, they need to do tons of surveys and research to make sure their product really meets a need in the market.

We’re also concerned about the tariffs impacting our industry, since we import a lot of promotional items from China. The threat of raising tariffs makes it difficult to develop accurate quotes for future work.

Of course, right now the big concern is when will Covid end and what will be the new normal during and after the Pandemic. If the beauty retail industry can’t go back to business as usual, I am worried that many more stores/chains might close.

If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?

  1. I think it would be awesome for the chains to test different brands in different stores — even allowing some stores to purchase items direct. With all the cottage industry out there, that could be a great way to bring attention to smaller brands. One barrier to getting those brands into chains are the costs the chains assign before they even know if the product will take off.
  2. Assuming we successfully navigate COVID and settle on a “new normal” of retail operations, every store should have testers and instore demonstrations. Ulta and Sephora have been going gangbusters in beauty because people really need to try before they buy.
  3. Fragrance HAS to come out from under locked doors! There must be new ways to ensure product security. With the right technologies I think the sales lift would greatly exceed the loss risk.

You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?

For a woman to feel beautiful, she should find colors that genuinely flatter her. So many women are wearing the wrong shade of hair color or lipstick because they don’t really know what colors truly work for them.

The concept of everyone being a “season” still holds true, I think. I’m an Autumn, while my middle sister is a strong Winter. CoverGirl used to put a symbol on their packaging for Cool, Neutral (which I still don’t think is a thing) and Warm so you knew which would flatter best. I know the younger generation loves to play with color, but to look and feel beautiful, make sure you are wearing the right colors! The book “Color Me Beautiful” by Carole Jackson is a great read. I think it would really surprise people to see how the right colors can make you look years younger.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.

After 30 years in the beauty industry as a marketing partner for chains such as Walgreens, Ulta, CVS and Rite Aid and every mass beauty brand, I have unique insights on what it takes to succeed in this industry. My five pieces of advice:

  1. Know your target audience, how and where they shop. Brands think they know, but they don’t always have it right. We did a white paper on the different generations (Gen X, Z, etc) and how they shop. Right now things are upside down and everyone is doing more digitally, but it would surprise most brands to know that the younger consumers love a shopping experience and, during COVID, are more likely to shop with a coupon.

Learn how to interact with the different demographics and generations. Gear your advertising and social media to multiple target markets and use the right one in the right market. For example, there is nothing worse than having a makeup artist go to a Hispanic area store and not be fluent in Spanish. We always match the demographic when we book our makeup artists.

2. Understand the two types of consumers right this minute. In the current environment, you have two utterly polarized shoppers: those afraid to leave their house, and those who don’t want to wear masks and are upset their lifestyle is being dictated. Figure out how to please both!

3. Understand how to stand out in the flooded marketplace

  • Be a lifestyle, not merely a brand. The new way to advertise is to tell (or sell) a story — how the brand started, why it was started.
  • Embrace social responsibility as a core value. People today are more likely to buy from a company who has done something to help the greater good (and not in a way that forces you to buy something in order for them to do it).

4. Pay extra attention to what you don’t know. Running a business is a landmine of legal issues. What licenses you need, different requirements in different states, how to hire correctly. The “independent contractor” approach is a myth in our industry, but many companies still go that route only to get in tax trouble later on. Anyone starting a company needs to visit their local Small Business Association and get the facts on what it takes to be in business. Laws shift constantly, so you keep abreast of changes that affect you. I keep a legal and tax person on tap to help us review all this regularly. Make sure your insurance includes some sort of legal hotline when you have questions.

5. Understand what it takes to be in retail. Everyone thinks the path to riches is to get their product into CVS or Walgreens, but the truth is that this is costly due to all the logistics required to get your product onto the shelf. A brand has to pay warehouse slotting fees, give money back for ads, and even sometimes pay PM’s to the stores. And then what doesn’t sell, you have to take back — like being on consignment. Brick-and-mortar is GREAT, but brands should really build outside of that venue and then plan a pivot into retail.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I don’t know if that’s a “movement,” but I’m a great believer in mentoring. Women especially should be mentoring the up-and-comers. I’m incredibly proud of my three former assistants, who now pretty much run my whole company. One is our VP of Sales and the other two are our Director of HR/Finance and Director of Operations. They love their jobs and have been with me for 21, 19 and 11 years respectively. I credit mentoring and a positive work environment for our consistently near-zero turnover.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a lot of favorite quotes. Maybe the best is, “Life is short, but it’s wide!”

If I can have a 2nd one it would be, “Praise costs you nothing.” It really helps teamwork and results when everyone fosters supportive, positive reinforcement with their coworkers and everyone under them, above them, and beside them in the chain of command.

How can our readers follow you online?

Go to our website at We’re building great base of helpful articles and other resources for beauty professionals.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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All images courtesy of JOANN

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