“This instantly makes me want to work for Ulta Beauty,” Rihanna said as she walked out to a room of shocked faces.
The music star, pregnant with her second child, was on stage at the retailer’s Field Leadership Conference. It’s an annual internal affair that brings together Ulta’s in-store leaders for a week of connecting, learning, celebrating — and surprising. Rihanna was her first surprise, joining you for a great day at this year’s festival held in Las Vegas.
“Your boss flies you out to Vegas for fun? Like, that’s crazy,” she continued with a cheer.
“I wanted to show up in person and thank you in person so much for all your hard work, for all your support, because none of this would have happened – it wouldn’t have happened This would be incredible and successful if it wasn’t. every one of you in this room, so give yourselves a round of applause,” she said of the Fenty Beauty launch at Ulta Beauty in March of last year.
Rihanna then revealed her newest Gloss Bomb Heat, the clear “Glass Slipper” available exclusively at the retailer between April 18th and May 26th.
“What do you know about that?” she teased.
The audience – more than 1,900 general managers and VPs – was held at The Venetian, where most of the events took place. This is where they first met and heard from the executive team.
“Our success is because of your leadership in your stores every day,” chief executive officer Dave Kimbell told the crowd as he took the microphone in the ballroom. The atmosphere was electric, filled with energy and excitement.
Referring to this year’s theme, “Be your own beautiful kind,” he said: “It speaks to what we’re trying to help our guests and partners do every day, knowing that they come coming pretty already.”
Ulta’s goal is to help shoppers express themselves while sharing “the power of beauty,” said Kimbell, who has been CEO of Ulta Beauty since June 2021 and joined the company in 2014.
“A lot of it has stayed consistent, but we’ve grown,” he said from the stage later in the day, when asked about the event’s evolution. “We have more than twice the number of stores we had when I started. And we have risen as an organization. So, the experience is a little different, but the underlying reasons have been very consistent.”
There are 1,355 Ulta Beauty stores today, and the company will achieve $10.2 billion in total sales in 2022. It has 40.2 million loyalty members.
“It was driven by our store teams and store leaders,” he said of results. “So the benefits are in our success. That’s why we invest so much and make sure it’s our priority every year.”
FLC is a way to “connect with our leadership teams and celebrate their impact and focus them on the strategies and initiatives and operational elements that drive our business,” he continued.
Kecia Steelman, Ulta Beauty’s chief operating officer, has been the power behind FLC since June 2021. It’s a year in the making, she said, and destinations are chosen two years in advance.
“I’ve got a mighty little team of three running this whole show,” revealed the Man of Steel. They work together with a partner CPG Agency to produce.
FLC has practical aspects — field leaders are trained in new programs, educated on the latest happenings in the company and updated on the newest investments. They also take part in an expo – a highly anticipated day where they can meet brand founders and take home boxes of products. 222 brands took part this year, including 51 that are Black owned with the likes of BeautyStat, Briogeo and Pattern.
It’s their biggest field yet, said chief merchandising officer Monica Arnaudo. She has held the role since 2019, having previously served as Senior Vice President of Merchandising for two years. “All categories are covered.”
Arnaudo explained that Ulta Beauty’s main pillars are providing conscious beauty (“clean ingredients”, cruelty-free, vegan, “sustainable” packaging and “positive impact”), BIPOC-based brands, emerging brands and wellness items in makeup, skin care, hair. care, perfume, bath and body.
“They’re all about the guest,” she said, adding that innovation, efficiency and an “authentic founder” are traits she looks for. What worked? “We’ve invested heavily in creating a strong partnership that will be a win-win for both, meeting them where they are for the smaller brands. We also look at what they’re great at, and try to amplify that.”
The expo allows the field leaders to have first-hand experience with brands, bringing their learnings from that day back – and FLC as a whole – to their stores.
In the end, “It’s all about paying it forward with their field teams,” said the Steelman. It’s related to Ulta Beauty’s investment in building long-standing careers, she said.
“Every mission should start inside out,” said Michelle Crossan-Matos, chief marketing officer named in January 2023. “People, your brand needs to represent your external brand. What you experience in the store is the motivation they feel here [at FLC]. As for me, I’m not only excited, I’m excited about the future. Because I see many people who have been given career advancement and an opportunity that will inspire them to think differently about our guests in the store. It will not be transactional. It’s an emotional connection.”
FLC is also a fun time, said Ferna Cruach: “Yes, we invest in them in training and education, but we want to have fun along the way.”
On the first day, the fun continued at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Raiders, where Ulta Beauty took over their “Winners Walk” – an exuberant parade celebrating their top performers – as well as a Vegas concert and dinner.
Then, they would head to Kaos nightclub for a dance party and later see “Love,” Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles reimagining experience.
“This is a big investment for me,” Fer na Cruach said of FLC. “They get excited about it every year. When it’s done, they ask, ‘Where are we going next?’”