Monica Arnaudo: “Trust the endless possibilities”

Believe in the power of beauty: It’s not only a job, but a privilege, to help people tap into their creativity to express themselves. That’s what makes it so exciting to get up every day and do this work. Because Beauty is a “feel good” industry and everyone wants to feel good, I often say […]

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Believe in the power of beauty: It’s not only a job, but a privilege, to help people tap into their creativity to express themselves. That’s what makes it so exciting to get up every day and do this work. Because Beauty is a “feel good” industry and everyone wants to feel good, I often say to people “we get to do this!”

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 Monica Arnaudo.

Monica Arnaudo is the chief merchandising officer at Ulta Beauty and has been with the company since 2017. Together with her team, Monica has built an unparalleled assortment of mass, masstige and prestige products across makeup, skincare, haircare, and more. With 40 years of beauty industry experience at companies such as Bare Escentuals, Sephora, L’Oréal Group and Estee Lauder Companies, Monica leverages her expertise to consistently position Ulta Beauty as the premier destination for beauty.

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 a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

At a very young age, I had a strong desire for independence and knew this required financial means. At 16 years old, I saved enough money to invest in a “Jafra Beauty Product Kit” and became an independent consultant (similar to Avon). I dug right in and started to influence my friends and their parents to host Jafra parties so I could educate and sell products. At the same time, I started working at Longs Drug Store in the Cosmetics Department. The combination of immersing in sales and influence AND retail and merchandising let me find the joy in bringing beauty to friends/customers. This quickly cemented my passion for the beauty industry — and I haven’t left the space since!

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

Such a tough question — I have so many interesting stories in the span of 40 years! A recent and extremely memorable moment was when I had the opportunity to interview Nicole Kidman, a beauty icon, on stage at our General Manager Conference — in front of an audience of +1,500.

Her agency requested all questions be approved in advance, but when we met and started to get to know each other, she said, “Let’s make this conversational and it’s ok if we go off script.” This was music to my ears because I knew I could style flex to her answers. We did go off script, which gifted the audience a more intimate conversation and was really fun to chat all things beauty with a natural leader in the space. Nicole was lovely, gracious and incredibly engaging as a beauty influencer who embodies joy and can easily infuse humor to conversations. She is stunningly beautiful — inside and out.

This moment not only reinforced how beauty is meaningful to all, but also reinforced, as a leader, to trust your instincts and follow the natural, meaningful content that can resonate with your audience.

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

Being in this ever-evolving industry has yielded many “tipping points” in my career. I’ve learned success comes in multiple forms — and sometimes that includes failures. Here are three main takeaways I’ve learned:

  1. Seek out the or “ah ha” in your failures. Too often we look outside of ourselves in these moments; when we ask “what could I have done differently, or better” — we uncover new learnings for the next time around.
  2. Focus on what you can control. I find there’s often time and energy spent on the things outside of our control. When you flip it and focus on what you can control, you will more readily see change and be inspired to grow based on the impact you can influence.
  3. Your interview for your next job is the job you’re doing now. Sometimes our ambition distracts us from our current role. Stay focused, always add value, support the greater team and good things will come.

None of us are able to 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?

My career has been filled with incredible mentors and I am extremely grateful to have worked with so many talented people.

I’m most grateful for my parents because they led by example and helped me get where I am today. The values my parents instilled in me at a very young age are core to my success as a leader today. As I reflect, those values that rise to the top include kindness, strong work ethic, integrity, curiosity and strong collaboration skills (though I didn’t realize it at the time). My parents were both teachers and musicians who encouraged my siblings and I to respect and value education, hard work and music. I couldn’t be more appreciative for their guidance.

Ok super. Let’s now 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? How do you think that will help people?

What I love most about this industry is that it’s constantly evolving and fueled by innovation. Throughout my career, I’ve been honored to support and launch innovative programs, and as I look ahead, I am even more excited about our industry’s potential.

We have always taken pride in being innovators at Ulta Beauty. This year, COVID certainly accelerated some work in this space for us. We have been actively working to continue meeting guests where they are and as they need us. Here are two examples of that:

A safe, fun alternative to in-store testers, GLAMlab is our virtual try on tool that lets guests test more than 4,500 products across every category, at their fingertips. While the tool was available pre-COVID, we have grown the number of products offered and are continuing to invest in this technology as its role in product discovery is more important today than ever before. We continue to see strong engagement (up 5x) and we will keep working to provide more! Add to that, we recently launched Skin Advisor, a digital skin analysis to help personalize skincare with relevant products and routine recommendations.

We’ve also just launched Conscious Beauty, a holistic approach to guide, educate and simplify product choices through the lens of what matters to our guest. Knowing how important this is to guests, we are thrilled to be the first beauty retailer to break down beyond ingredients to focus on five key pillars — clean ingredients, cruelty free, vegan, sustainable packaging, and positive impact.

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

  • While this year has been challenging, I think it also presents us with an opportunity to re-imagine many things. One example is the in-store guest experience and re-imagining a new, safe approach to experiencing our brands and products in store. This is so exciting because we have the opportunity to better incorporate technology, trial and merchandising sustainability.
  • Wellness and self-care are becoming a much larger part of all things beauty. During this time of uncertainty and change, we are certain taking care of self and others will remain at the forefront of beauty. I am confident we’ll see this come to light in new creative brands, product & category innovation and self-expression.
  • The increased consumer interest in clean ingredients, sustainability, inclusivity and making a positive difference in the world (much of which is driven by the younger generations). We are already seeing the influence of these trends in most of the brands we are launching today and in the coming months.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?

There are a lot of exciting elements happening across the industry, and with that, there’s also room to continue improvement. Some challenges right now are directly tied to what makes me most excited and where we see possibilities.

Transparency: We know transparency is extremely important to consumers and we want to help guide, simplify and educate our guests wherever they are in their beauty journey, which is why we are launching our Conscious Beauty Platform.

Diversity and Inclusion: These are core values at Ulta Beauty, and we know there is work to be done in the space. For us, we will continue to focus on growing our product assortment and for the industry, we look forward to greater representation on the whole in beauty.

Brand and Product Innovation: Consumers will always gravitate to new, exciting innovation that authentically drives and fulfills needs in the industry. It’s about quality over quantity and we cannot wait to help our brand and our brand partners grow in this space.

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

That’s a great question and something we really take to heart at Ulta Beauty. We believe you aren’t coming to us to get beautiful — you already are. Beauty is a form of personal expression; I always encourage people to play with products and create looks that make them feel good. Beauty brings to life possibilities in all of us.

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.

  • The customer always comes first: I grew up in beauty retail with a very simple (and very powerful) quote: “If you take care of the customer, the sales will follow.” If every decision is guided by “what’s best for our customer,” we will continue to win affinity and loyalty.
  • Be nimble: The beauty industry is rapidly changing — trends evolve and consumers seek the next product or service. It’s important to remain flexible and keep guests at the core of decision making. When digitally native brands started gaining traction, we quickly determined a need to offer these brands in our stores. Launching brands such as Morphe, Kylie Cosmetics and Colourpop are great examples of this and our SPARKED program embraces it fully.
  • Stay educated: With new products, new formulations, new market research, and new social and digital influences and influencers — it’s critical to remain informed and savvy. I think back to when we launched Florence by Millie Bobby Brown as an example. We knew our core audience for this brand consumed media differently — specifically they were very engaged with Tik Tok, a newer platform at the time of launch in late 2019. We created our first Tik Tok campaign to support the brand launch and gained valuable insights about the platform and Gen Z audience that continue to inform our campaigns.
  • Believe in the power of beauty: It’s not only a job, but a privilege, to help people tap into their creativity to express themselves. That’s what makes it so exciting to get up every day and do this work. Because Beauty is a “feel good” industry and everyone wants to feel good, I often say to people “we get to do this!”
  • Trust the endless possibilities: There are so many paths in the beauty industry — be open to different avenues and learning new skills. One of my favorite roles was a business development position (somewhat outside of my wheelhouse). I was able to drive several initiatives for the company, adding value to the company and gaining incredible knowledge that I still utilize today.

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. 🙂

My movement would be “Empathy & Action.” Now more than ever, we need to be an empathetic nation and have compassion for others. We have so much to understand about one another and this requires us to think first about how other people are feeling — and really seek to understand that. Then we need to take meaningful action and commit to the path forward, together.

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

“What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are but tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is so purposeful, and one I often refer back to it in life and work. It reflects what I, and we all, have full control of — what lies within us. How we think, what we think, how we treat ourselves, how we treat others and our inner souls. It is all within us. And when we treat ourselves well, we treat others well.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can visit my LinkedIn page

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

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