Beauty Barrage founder and CEO Sonia Summers

The quit rate in the United States retail and hospitality sectors is among the highest. It outpaces the average US quit rate by more than 70 percent, according to McKinsey research conducted in 2022. The retention challenge and on-going labour shortage of retail staff globally is driven by the lack of flexibility and limited career development opportunities compared to those increasingly offered to corporate staff.

Consequently, retailers and brands are facing increased pressure to find innovative solutions to support and retain their frontline workers.

Beauty Barrage supplies expert brand ambassadors to work in the likes of Sephora, Ulta and Nordstrom to educate sales associates and retail management — a third-party service for brands on the retail floor, spanning categories from indie to clinical, established or emerging. The company is designed to help beauty brands focus on growth and revenue generation.

Within its network, Beauty Barrage has over 300+ beauty professionals who are based in over 3,000 doors in the US and Canada. The company was certified as by the Nationally Recognized Minority Business Enterprise for creating jobs across the country and was named in the top 10 percent of the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in America.

Now, BoF sits down with founder and CEO Sonia Summers to discover her insights on the retail landscape in beauty today, the role education plays in consumer and employee retention strategies and how turn-key, data-led solutions can drive sales growth.

How are you addressing the on-going labour shortage in retail?

To combat the challenges of getting retail staff back in-store, all of a sudden, companies were offering astronomical rates to people just to go in for a few hours, but that isn’t sustainable for full-time employees. The majority of our people are full-time workers, and they get paid a very good salary — but they are also going into stores and building relationships. It is about trying to speak to how fun it can be working in a store and all of the perks that brand ambassadors can receive from working with us.

I have always been on the corporate side and to me, internally, it seems as though there’s not a lot of respect for field people. But if you try to ask a corporate person to go into a store and sell $3,000 worth of product at an event, they struggle to do that. That field person is so seasoned and understands how to build those connections, how to make people feel great because that’s what the beauty industry is all about — you are solving a customer’s problem.

How is shifting consumer shopping behaviour shaping the beauty market today?

Today, consumers are looking for connection, for human interaction. So, you want to be able to create an experience for them, where they can be immersed in what the brand is, have fun and bring friends. Events are aplenty right now and we have increased our staff just for events as a result.

Consumers are not necessarily believing everything they see — they are questioning everything, like asking: “What is clean beauty? What does that mean?” They are also very educated — or at least, they believe that they are well-educated. As a result, it is important to be able to have proper representation in store that is going to speak to the questions and challenges consumers have, to guide and educate them.

It is important to be able to have proper representation in store that is going to speak to the questions and challenges consumers have, to guide and educate them.

For instance, if an influencer gives a negative review of a concealer, a consumer might have already disregarded it. But the influencer might not have known how to apply it properly, this is a great opportunity for our brand ambassador to show the consumer instead how best to apply the product. We don’t need to hard sell because we are credible experts that understand how to deliver key information.

How do you train your brand ambassadors to meet both retailer and consumer needs?

We have a stringent training process, so it doesn’t matter if our employees have years of experience in retail or a cosmetology certificate — we have our own standards. So, with any new hire, we walk them through the science of skin and how skincare works for different individuals. We do the same with hair, fragrance, makeup — we go into the structure of hair, through the application of makeup. We provide important, foundational knowledge.

Then from there, we layer on training into whatever brands they may represent. Brand ambassadors receive a full education on the products, their function, the ingredients and the science behind it, if there’s any clinical studies. Then, we cover the founder’s story and the why behind the brand.

It’s a thorough and in-depth training, which we cut into bite-sized tidbits so that every time they go into stores, they are sharing something new.

How are you leveraging technology to inform your approach at Beauty Barrage?

We developed our own proprietary app that helps us to manage each business. With our proprietary app, brands can access all the data and the information that they need to know, whenever they want — it is tailored to their needs. For example, they can download everything from brand ambassador feedback to their inventory and even sales reports. We also add new functionalities based on their requests.

Typically, after we host events, brand productivity increases to 80 percent — this is something we measure closely.

We are always looking at the data, looking at the sales figures and making sure that what we are doing is actually working. So, a brand partner might tell us that their productivity is under 50 percent and they need to get it over 80 percent. In this case, we would build a strategy that includes events. Typically, after we host events, brand productivity increases to 80 percent — this is something we measure closely.

We have a brand partner that we run four events for every year — big events during holidays and Halloween. Every year, we challenge ourselves to blow out our performance from the previous year. For instance, last year we saw a 76 percent increase on one of the events and this year we were able to procure 90 percent. As a company, we strive to bring a strong ROI for our brand partners.

How do you share brand ambassador learnings with your brand partners?

After every shift, as soon as they clock out, our associates have to fill out a survey on our proprietary app. They answer a series of questions which are all customised based on what the brand they are working with wants to know. There’s some questions that we ask them, which could be like: did you make your goal? What does the stock look like?

The survey results are collected and the brand can go on via a client portal, so they receive all of that information. This also includes feedback from the brand ambassador or if someone asked a certain question that they don’t even know, so we can integrate it into our training. We then have our bi-weekly calls with the brands in which we will go through all the wins and the opportunities.

What is your mid- to long-term strategy for Beauty Barrage?

The things that power us on and make us excited is seeing the growth in our brand partners and seeing that we make a big difference for these brands in store, and retailers love us. They are the ones that are referring us to their brands.

The Beauty Barrage services include: retail support on a national or regional scale; the creation of sales manuals; expert training of sales force and field sales strategy; field product training; in-store events professionals; and inventory management support, verifying stock levels at every door. Beauty Barrage also manages all brand ambassadors while training, planning and nurturing in-store retailer relationships.

We want to continue to grow, we are super proud of the impact we have made in the industry — we were listed on the 2020 Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America and then, a year later, on the Inc. 500 list, and 2023 will be our biggest year yet.

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