COMPANY PROFILE: The first Mecca Cosmetica store in the Melbourne suburb of South Yarra opened in 1997. Twenty years later, Mecca Brands has over 2,300 employees and over 80 stores in Australia and New Zealand. Mecca Brands offers an exclusive edit of over 120 brands, paired with exceptional customer service and beauty expertise within each retail environment.
IRW: How did your idea for Mecca come about?
JH: I literally had a kernel of an idea that was incubated on the living room floor of my Albert Park terrace in Melbourne. I started Mecca because there was a groundswell of extraordinarily exciting brands such as Nars, Urban Decay and Stila coming on to the international beauty market and I felt Australian women would really embrace them.
The idea was to bring these innovative brands into a service-driven, luxury boutique environment where women could shop across all brands and customise the product offer to suit their specific needs and wants.
Our goal was to take someone from a beauty novice to feeling like an expert in a single session, and for a makeup artist to feel like they had found their nirvana – we really wanted everyone to feel welcome, in control and walking out having had a great time.
The business started with one little store on Toorak Road in South Yarra here in Melbourne in 1997. Twenty years in, we have 80 plus stores across three concepts.
IRW: How has Mecca celebrated its 20th anniversary? What would you say are some of the things you’re most proud about in the business?
JH: We’re celebrating our 20th by thanking our customers because without them, none of this would have been possible. The fact that they have embraced Mecca and love beauty as much as we do is something I am grateful for every day.
So, we nominated 7 October as National Mecca Birthday Day and had celebratory activities in all our stores. We have also just launched a collection of limited edition MECCA20 birthday products which a slew of our brand founders dreamed up. We absolutely love them – and hope our customers will too.
What am I most proud of? That we deliver a service and experience that is second-to-none and one that our customers value. Also, that we have built a nurturing, supportive culture around the business that extends across our store network and into our support centre and distribution centre as well.
I thought when we opened that if we could get to 10 stores that would be a knockout success. In September this year, we opened our 80th store – and our biggest to date – with a 550 sqm Mecca Maxima store on Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall. We now have over 3,000 employees across our stores in Australia and New Zealand, as well as our Support Centre and Distribution Centre and over 1.5 million active customers shopping with us each annually – and we are continuing to grow, as we will be just shy of 90 stores by year end.
IRW: What was the beauty retail landscape when you first launched Mecca and how has it changed since?
JH: Before Mecca, there really were no multi-brand experiences in the beauty space – and hence no brand-agnostic advice. These new, innovative beauty brands, which have ultimately completely transformed the beauty landscape globally, weren’t available in Australia – and of course there was no internet.
I love the beauty business as it is ever changing, and at such a rapid pace. Now, digital is transforming beauty as customers can tap into endless information and education online and of course buy a myriad of products from anywhere around the globe.
This allows Mecca to not only leverage digital as a way to connect with our customers, but it ensures we stay laser-focused on the in-store customer experience with a goal of making it ever more compelling – be that through additional services, group tutorials, integrating digital into store. The possibilities are endless. But underpinning it all is our connection with the Australian customer and what she wants – something we have obsessed about for 20 years.
IRW: What have been some of the challenges along the way since you launched the business?
JH: There have been so many challenges along the way, with those at the outset still looming large, as they had the greatest ability to topple a small, nascent business. We lost 50 per cent of our sales with the closure of Georges department store after one year in business.
Our cost of goods skyrocketed by about 50 per cent as the Australian dollar went from 78 cents to 50 cents in the course of the first couple of years.
Experiences like these made the roof falling in on our first store, complete flooding in another and our entire holiday fragrance order disappearing in Marseille all feel eminently manageable.
IRW: Are there any lessons you could share about building a brand and business that stands the test of time?
JH: We have had a maniacal focus on the customer since the outset – the customer is queen – and every decision has been built with this in mind. It has meant a higher cost of staffing and education than any industry norm; it means not compromising on any customer facing item – brand, store build, collateral and so the list goes on.
It makes what we are aiming for very simple and clear, it’s just the execution that becomes more challenging as a result. We endeavour to stay focused, stay curious and keep asking ourselves ‘How can we do this better?’ and ‘What next?’ to ensure we are ahead of any customer expectation.
To be able to do this, the team has to be completely engaged. Building an extraordinary team over 20 years who have higher expectations for Mecca than even I do has been Mecca’s winning formula.
IRW: For the past few years, Mecca has appeared in the Best Places to Work list. How have you created a workplace culture where your employees enjoy going to work every day?
JH: We have a very simple purpose – to make people look and feel their best – and a clear set of values within which to operate. We then endeavour to empower people to step up, take responsibility and give them the ability to achieve things individually and as a group that give them a great sense of pride.
By spending nearly three per cent of turnover on education, we give teams the tools to develop. By ensuring over 90 per cent of promotions are internal, we ensure people are recognised for their achievements and given opportunities. By always celebrating the teams’ successes, we endeavour to show our gratitude and ensure the team feel treasured.
We put a real focus on recruitment and the recruitment of the right people. I could go on and on and on, as I’m really obsessed about team engagement.
IRW: How would you describe the current beauty retail landscape around the world at the moment?
JH: It’s competitive, for sure, but I’d like to think that we deliver an incomparable experience and that’s what sets us apart. Exceptional service and the experience of shopping with us is central to what we do and a big piece of that is, of course, the importance of our store hosts, hence why we ensure they are perfectly equipped to deliver that experience to each and every customer.
Add to that an exclusive roster of the most exciting beauty brands in the world and we like to think it’s a really compelling offer.
IRW: What are some of the interesting beauty retail trends that you’ve got your eye on at the moment?
JH: There are so many! If I had to choose a key one, it would be ‘experiential retail’. At Mecca, we talk about ‘excitement per square metre’. With our new store builds, we are dedicating 20-30 per cent of floor space to customer services and experiences.
We have launched The Beauty Lab in Maxima Wintergarden, where customers can have group tutorials on key trends, build on YouTube tutorial knowledge, have one-on-one ‘beauty shots’ of 15 minutes and the list goes on.
We will also be expanding our skin service suite to ensure we accommodate the innovation in the skincare space. Finally, we try to ensure we create ‘brand moments’ for key launches so that customers have a unique experience every time they walk into a store.
IRW: What are some of the greatest challenges in the beauty retail space at the moment?
JH: Working with landlords to find the right store locations continues to be a real challenge. Being able to seamlessly integrate digital into the retail experience is another challenge as we look to recruit great people quickly enough into our Support Centre team.
IRW: How has the beauty customer changed and how have his/her expectations changed since you first launched Mecca?
JH: The obsession with beauty is stronger than ever and its place and influence in popular culture has never been more obvious. With the rise of the internet and sites like YouTube, our customer has never been so well-informed across products and ingredients, as well as looks and techniques – they are always hungry for more.