A decade since its founding, Beautycounter is looking to an Amazon veteran to help drive its next phase of growth.
Chief Commercial Officer Kara Trousdale joined the beauty company in March after nearly eight years at Amazon, most recently as the chief marketer of its Amazon Fashion division. Nestled under her role are several key responsibilities, including scaling Beautycounter’s retail, e-commerce and partnership channels, and leading the brand’s overall omnichannel strategy.
Beautycounter is a much smaller business than the behemoth that is Amazon, but Trousdale nevertheless is bringing the lessons she learned from the retail giant to her new role at the startup, starting with Amazon’s well-known dictate of “customer obsession.” At Amazon, executives “always work backwards from the customer,” Trousdale told Retail Dive in an interview. She intends to do the same at Beautycounter, paying particular attention to what Beautycounter’s customers want and where they are shopping to determine the company’s path forward.
How to grow Beautycounter's direct sales channel and “how are we thinking about continuing to meet customers where they are?” are two questions Trousdale is prioritizing.
The physical experience will surely play a role in that, especially now that shoppers aren’t as homebound as they once were. “Things are opening back up after they’ve been on strict lockdown,” Trousdale said. “So how do we evolve that? How do we think about having a really strong virtual presence but also an interesting physical presence, whether that’s in our own retail stores or if it’s doing other retail partnerships? Those are things I’m evaluating right now.”
Beautycounter’s own stores — the brand already has a few in key cities including Los Angeles and Denver — will play a part, but how many the company will eventually run is unclear. Trousdale said simply that Beautycounter was “evaluating” what a final store footprint might look like. Trousdale is likewise exploring wholesale partnerships, the likes of which Beautycounter has landed in the past with Target and Sephora.
“I think wholesale is very important to the beauty category, mainly because we want to be where our consumers are,” Trousdale said.
Along with thinking through its physical footprint and partnerships, Trousdale is investing in Beautycounter’s current channels and implementing another lesson from Amazon: operational excellence. Operations is often a sore spot for startups, with many popular DTC brands struggling to reach profitability and run operations efficiently once they grow beyond their roots.
Trousdale knows something about how to grow businesses effectively.
“Learning how to scale businesses really quickly at Amazon is definitely something I can apply to Beautycounter,” Trousdale said. “I was really interested in coming to Beautycounter because it wasn’t quite a startup, it had seen a lot of great success and was really primed for that next phase of growth. So thinking about: How do I instill operational best practices?”
Trousdale is one of a number of chief commercial officers DTC brands have recently called on in pursuit of scale. The position has grown in importance over the years, and is becoming more popular with retailers seeking transformation, according to Catherine Lepard, partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Chicago office and managing partner of the global retail practice.
“In these positions, the skill set isn’t cookie cutter, rather it includes a variety of backgrounds such as management consulting and strategy, and we’ve seen heavy indexing into talent who came up through digital platforms and are more digitally savvy,” Lepard said via email. “Companies are looking for chief commercial officers to be focused on growth, strategic thinkers, and bring a forward-looking approach to navigate different business models.”
Indeed, several chief commercial officers in the retail space have been tapped to lead major DTC brands. When Casper founder Philip Krim stepped down in November last year, Chief Commercial Officer Emilie Arel took on the role, and has since taken a firm stance on profitability, vowing to cut back on what Casper sells and focus on its core products. Similarly, beauty favorite Glossier replaced founder Emily Weiss in May with then-Chief Commercial Officer Kyle Leahy. Layoffs and its first wholesale partnership followed as Leahy developed a new strategy for the brand.
The chief commercial officer position could be well positioned for CEO succession, as it tends to require strategic and visionary skills, Lepard said, but the role is not yet widely adopted in retail. Lepard pointed to the chief operating and chief stores roles as corollaries in that those positions have similarly been tapped to take over the top spot.
”With the addition of P&L responsibility, it can potentially serve as a platform for CEO succession as these individuals will be at the forefront of digital transformation and customer strategy,” Lepard said. “I think it is a role that is created more so to suit a moment in time, typically to lead transformation, unify ‘bricks and clicks’ and maybe provide another succession platform.”
Beautycounter founder Gregg Renfrew herself recently exited the top spot at the brand, setting up the company for a new phase of growth. Renfrew founded Beautycounter in 2011 and centered the company around clean ingredients and advocacy for stricter ingredient laws. She remained the brand’s CEO until February this year, when Beautycounter brought in Shiseido Americas CEO Marc Rey. A month later, Trousdale joined, setting up the recently acquired business with several veteran leaders in key roles.
Trousdale’s focus for now is centered squarely on Beautycounter’s omnichannel strategy, and the interplay between physical and digital has become increasingly important for DTC brands as they reach the limit of online-only growth. In addition to helping the retailer reach new shoppers, Trousdale also believes physical locations could help spread the word on what differentiates Beautycounter from other beauty brands, something it also tackles through a brand advocate platform.
“It’s not just about touching and feeling the texture of the product with us, it’s also about educating the consumer that we eliminate 1,800+ ingredients from all of our products, we have a robust fair sourcing program, that everything we have is completely safe for yourself and your family,” Trousdale said. “I think that’s just a level of education that not always can be communicated in just a quick Instagram post.”
Clarification: This article was updated to clarify Trousdale's top priorities at Beautycounter.