Beauty Industry Powerhouse

Bluemercury spas and luxury cosmetics spread to Macy's stores
Wednesday, June 10, 2015

For Barry Beck ’90, there was no other option— he had to become an entrepreneur.

“My father, who was a man of great honesty, integrity and action, was adamant that I go into business for myself, just as he had done,” Beck says.

His earliest ventures involved landscaping and window washing. “After an attorney pointed out that I had earned more money during my high school senior summer than he had all year, I was hooked!” Beck says.

When he was an ILR junior, he and his brother founded U.S. Maintenance, a chain store management company that counted Starbucks and Walgreens among its clients.

The brothers built the company into the largest of its kind, with revenues at its peak of more than $500 million; ultimately, it was sold to EMCOR Group, a Fortune 500 company.

“As a student entrepreneur, I learned the value of repeat customers,” he says. “I learned to build a customer-centric business, where everything we did was targeted to customers’ total satisfaction.”

Beck, of Bethesda, Md., founded Bluemercury — providing “service to an extreme” — with his wife, Marla, in 1999. She is chief executive officer; he is chief operating officer.

They kept their roles and titles when they sold the cosmetics and spa business to Macy’s this year for $210 million.

Together, the Becks have revolutionized the cosmetics industry — by taking luxury beauty products out from behind the department store counter and offering them at upscale neighborhood shops.

“We encourage clients to browse and interact with products,” he says. “We would rather they leave with a bag full of samples than purchase the wrong product.”

To realize its vision of being the best at giving beauty advice, Bluemercury employs more than 600 beauty experts, described by Beck as “the most knowledgeable and well trained in the industry.”

Beck’s ILR education, he says, taught him the wisdom of hiring full-time employees, counter to the traditional retail model of part-time employment — a move that boosts retention and allows him to invest in product, management and leadership training.

Bluemercury’s shops, which have been called “a serene beauty oasis” by Vanity Fair, also offer spa services and a proprietary line of natural skincare products.

The first shop opened in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Today, there are 62 shops nationwide, including nine in Washington, D.C., six in Philadelphia, 12 in New Jersey and seven in Manhattan.

With the sale to Macy’s, the Becks plan to grow Bluemercury to more than 400 freestanding stores and make it a digital powerhouse.

Beck, who serves on both the ILR Advisory Council and the Cornell University Council, has a personal mission to guide students and future entrepreneurs toward success.

“If I can contribute in any small way to student learning through my participation, I believe the endeavor to be priceless,” Beck says.