NYC beauty professionals adopt stiff upper lip as they navigate ‘seismic shifts’ caused by coronavirus
Retail beauty professionals, Natasha Cornstein and Bruce Teitelbaum, are pictured together on Dec. 8, 2016, in New York City.(Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
Coronavirus has rocked the $75 billion U.S. beauty business to its very foundation.
Consumers are stuck at home, masked when they go out and repeatedly warned not to touch their faces – leaving those whose careers revolve around cosmetics and skincare to face up to a pandemic-era industry makeover.
Blushington CEO Natasha Cornstein closed her six beauty lounges in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas on March 13 and has spent the last two months retooling.
The hardest part was furloughing 77 employees, the Manhattan-based entrepreneur said.
“Against the advice of counsel, I did call every person personally. I made 77 phone calls on April 9,” she told the Daily News. “That’s been the toughest part of all this. Our business doesn’t exist without our artists.”
During an initial three weeks of “financial triage,” which included negotiations with landlords, vendors and insurance, Cornstein cut 81% of her expenses, she said
“Early on, it was really sink or swim,” she said.
She’s rehired 10% of her team to teach virtual online classes. While her in-person sales cratered with her doors closed, her e-commerce business shot up 577%, she said.
“Our No. 1 request is makeup for Zoom meetings,” she said. “Zoom brings the intensity of being on camera all day. It feels like we’re spending the entire work day looking in a mirror.”
Looking ahead to reopening her stores, Cornstein said she’s in the process of hiring a Chief Health Officer.
“This is completely new territory. We must have medical guidance,” she said.
“We certainly expect we’ll need masks and gloves and hair coverings. Maybe we’re going to resurface our makeup stations with anti-microbial materials, change our brushes to copper handles, add hand washing stations at the front of our stores."
Brooklyn-based makeup artist Deborah Altizio could be one of the first back on the beauty front lines as lockdown orders ease.
She’s been out of work and living on unemployment and savings since the local stay-at-home order started.
But her agent recently reached out to say Amazon was inquiring about what it would take to hire her for a job doing make up for models for a shoot for Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer Amazon acquired in 2009.
“They want to start shooting,” she told The News. “I mentioned I would have to be wearing gloves and face gear, maybe a big face shield. I would need to be social distancing the whole time. I’ll go, but I have to have guidelines.”
In the meantime, the Greenpoint resident is doing her homework.
“I’ve ordered a lot of alcohol sprays. At first I thought 99% alcohol was the highest quality, but 70% actually works better, because it doesn’t evaporate as quickly. It’s better at killing germs,” she said.
She’s also investigating ways to work her magic with minimal contact.
“My career is touching the face but I’m getting more into the idea of airbrush, if it can be done safely,” she said. “I probably won’t be using my super high-quality brushes for a while. I’ll be using disposable.”
“The magnitude of the impact (of the pandemic) on our business was far greater than initially anticipated,” Estée Lauder CEO Fabrizio Freda said on a May 1 earnings conference call.
The company, which owns several brands including Clinique and La Mer, said net sales for the last quarter fell 10%, with the Americas and its makeup category suffering the biggest shortfalls.
The company declined to give “explicit” sales guidance for the rest of the year, citing “uncertainty.”
“While we are encouraged by the weekly acceleration of our global online business, we do not have enough visibility into the progression of the rest of the business until more retail doors open in the coming months,” CFO Tracey Thomas Travis said.
One business working on ways to navigate the return of brick-and-mortar beauty retail is Manhattan-based RPG. The design-and-build firm makes cosmetics displays for clients including Saks Fifth Avenue, Ulta, Bloomingdale’s, Burt’s Bees and Benefit Cosmetics.
“We’re going to see seismic shifts to the industry,” RPG founder Bruce Teitelbaum told The News.
His team is working on new displays capable of dispensing single-dose samples using motion detection and voice activation.
“The retailers are really confused about what they’re going to execute, and the brands are full of fear on how the retailers will respond to them,” Teitelbaum said. His company is working to bridge the divide and “provide a lot of confidence" on serving customers safely.
The beauty professionals who spoke to The News all agreed that moving ahead, coronavirus is shaping new trends.
Trusted “hero” products are expected to make gains, lip dominance is giving way to a new focus on eyes and bold color could make a big comeback, they said.
“Pre-closing, lipstick was one of our biggest sellers but now we’ve seen a swap to eyes,” Cornstein said. She cited masks as a main culprit, and the fact eyes and eyebrows are focal points on Zoom.
Susan Feldman, the co-founder of OneKingsLane.com who now runs the lifestyle website GetInTheGroove.com, recently hosted a live Blushington tutorial on her Instagram with 30,000 followers.
“The truth is, for the last six weeks or so, I haven’t worn a stitch of makeup. It’s been delightful. But it’s starting to feel like the time to get out of that a little bit,” she told The News.
“I think there’s something good for your morale and spirit when you put a little color on," she said. "You don’t have to go overboard. But if you’re going on a Zoom call for work or Mother’s Day, you want to look your best.”