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I Am American Business

Bobbi Brown

Producer Notes

Shooting business profiles is not usually much of a creative collaboration. Most of the time, we show up with our crew and makeup person and decide how to shoot the subject. But Bobbi Brown was different. Even before we arrived, we received style frames showing their ideas for shot set-ups and additional images. They thought about how the walls would look, and cleaned them up for us. They thought about what our crew should eat, and ordered healthy food for us. And of course, they brought their own make-up artists…quite a few of them! When you work with the Bobbi Brown team, you realize that every decision: the texture of the eye shadow powder, the type on their packaging, even the choice of flowers in their offices, is very carefully considered. And everything works to support Bobbi’s mission, to make women feel good about themselves. Eating the incredibly good, dark chocolate that was ordered for our mid-afternoon snack, it seemed obvious that this is a brand that knows what it believes in, and lives by its own very high standards.

Video Interview

This Makeup Isn't Going to Work
The Last Cent I Had
Makeup is Very Emotional
I Don't Like Market Research
The Company Was Not For Sale

The "I Am" Q&A

What kind of car do you drive?
BMW.

What's your favorite place to go?
The beach.

What website do you like to visit?
Amazon.com

What was your worst moment in business?
When my lipstick caps fell off. When they were not made properly.

What's your favorite drink?
Vodka on the rocks. I call it a Yogi Bear.

What's your favorite food?
My favorite food is chocolate.

What's your idea of fun at work?
My idea of fun at work is being with a great group of people making products.

What personal weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
I forgive people that don't know something. Lack of knowledge.

What business weaknesses do you forgive?
Wearing ties.

What movie star do you like?
Susan Sarandon.

Who’s a business hero of yours?
Ralph Lauren.

What personal qualities do you admire in business?
People that are comfortable in their own skin and have an opinion.

Are you doing anything for the environment?
As many green things as we can. Definitely not using a lot of bottled water.

What was your greatest moment in business?
Selling the company to Leonard Lauder.

What is your dream?
My dream is for the people that I love to be happy and healthy.

Do you have a motto?
My motto is simple; it’s to be who you are.

And what is your present state of mind?
My present state of mind is I don't want June to end cause then my son is done with high school. I'm trying not to cry on TV.

Transcript

CNBC:
What are your methods for reaching the women’s market?

BOBBI BROWN:
I really think that women are attracted to my brand. They have become very loyal to my brand and my message because I think we're one of the first if not the only cosmetic company that actually tells women what's right with them. That’s how I started my brand, telling women how to enhance what they have and not change who they are. With a lot of cosmetic companies in the past, you’d go to the counter and they would just tell you that your skin’s wrong, or your nose is wrong. When I look at a woman, I find a natural beauty there, and so when I make up a woman I find the natural colors that appear on her skin. That way you use makeup and you look like yourself only better. Makeup is very emotional. It’s emotional because if you could pick up something that instantly makes you look better, you’re a much happier person and you have more power to be able to do what is right. To make yourself help other people, to help your family, to build a business, just to go about day to day. I think the media sends such a bad message to young girls and women all over that they’re not good enough. I think that my makeup helps women think and know that they are good enough.

CNBC:
It seems like in fashion and in makeup that a lot of products that are marketed to women, make women feel inadequate.

BOBBI BROWN:
As much of a product of fashion magazines that I am, if you look at them you’ll just feel bad about yourself, because most of the magazines feature very tall, young, skinny women that basically are hangers and they look amazing in the clothes. Then women go into the store and try on the clothes and it doesn’t look as good on them. If I were a fashion designer, I would figure out a way to find clothes that are versatile and comfortable and easy to wear while keeping them beautiful. That is what I look for when I look for clothes. So for me, it’s the same in makeup. I want makeup to instantly make you look better, to make you look fresher, to make you look smoother, to make you look beautiful, to be easy to use, and to pack quickly, because we're always in a rush. To me it's no nonsense.

CNBC:
Can you talk a little bit about how you run your company?

BOBBI BROWN:
Well everything I do for my company as well as my brand is how I would want to be treated. If you come to my office and see that the atmosphere is really comfortable. My employees are allowed to dress casually, wear jeans, and people spend more time at the office than they do at home, so I want people to be comfortable. We have a manicurist there everyday. We have a masseuse on occasion, we give lunch on Friday, and we really try to make people happy in their jobs. I’m a really big believer in what you put in your body. So with food there is an accepted menu of what we serve at meetings and it’s healthy and fresh which I feel is important and then it translates to counters. The way we train people is that I train my team of people and they go out and train the next team. You want to teach them and you want to empower them to do their job. To make people feel good about whom they are when they come up to the counter, and never push product. Never ever push product. Be honest, truthful, and have integrity.

CNBC:
Why shouldn't you push product?

BOBBI BROWN:
I really believe if you give a woman the right products for her, she will be a life long customer. However if you’re pushing products that aren't something that she needs or something that isn’t right for her she’s going to get home and not be happy. So it’s really important that a woman feels in control and in charge of her purchases and what she does with her makeup, it’s really simple.

CNBC:
What was your experience doing makeup for Mike Tyson?

BOBBI BROWN:
The time I did Mike Tyson’s makeup. He said, “you ain't touching me with that stuff.” I said, “OK,” and then I said, “Do you want to look shiny”? And he said, “no,” I said, “OK, then let me touch up.”

CNBC:
That must have been interesting.

BOBBI BROWN:
Yeah it was. I worked with he and Joan Jett, for a cover of some New York magazine years ago. I’ve worked with a lot of different guys, I’ve worked with The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, and being a freelance artist you get really fun opportunities.

CNBC:
How do you get the customer to come to you?

BOBBI BROWN:
We are a company that doesn't advertise, so word of mouth has been our biggest attraction to get customers. Getting customers in the store has not been that difficult, we also have a lot of PR, and to me PR brings people into the store much more than advertising. And what it does is just tell women about the product, why it works and then when they get in the store. The job is then for the artist to be able to make the woman up in the Bobbi way. We spend a lot of time training our artists. We probably spend our advertising dollars training and educating our artists and gifting them with product and making sure that they feel part of the family. We have newsletters that go out that are called Bobbi Buzz, and they let people know what's happening at the counter or in New York with the products. So it’s really reaching our artists, communicating with them, training them, and making sure that they’re the best. Then in turn, the artist does it to the customer, and the customer’s happy, she comes back, she tells her friends. It’s really simple.

CNBC:
So in a way, it’s not sales, it’s sales education?

BOBBI BROWN:
We train education, we train sales as far as what goes with what, and but the way that we sell a product is to educate the woman on it. We train not to sell anything to anyone that doesn't work for them. We don't want them to be unhappy. If a woman comes up to the counter and says, “I’ve never been able to get a red lipstick to look good on me, but I suppose I should have one.” The answer is not, “let me show you your perfect red”, the answer is “you’re either a red lipstick person or you’re not, if you don't like red lipstick, let me show you something that you’ll like better.” That’s the trick.

CNBC:
I heard that you’re one of the fastest growing brands at Estee Lauder, why do you think that is?

BOBBI BROWN:
Our growth has been due to the fact that we offer women products that actually work, it’s really simple. Our marketing team works with ideas that are missing. Not creating something in which the purpose is to shove it into a woman’s bag. It’s really about answering women’s beauty needs, making things simple, and just making sure that we are always doing the best job. We work really hard on our basic things. We don't discontinue our basic products. When a woman finds her perfect lipstick or her perfect eye shadow, it’s there. So women trust us and I also tell women the truth. I think integrity is probably one of the most important things in a brand. That women know when they buy something at Bobbi, it’s going to be something that works.

CNBC:
How did you discover the best way to use makeup?

BOBBI BROWN:
Well, the reason I think that I discovered how to use makeup was because, when I was growing up the role model was Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley, who were blonde models and the first time that I felt pretty was after I saw Love Story. Ali McGraw was a big role model, because it was the first time someone with dark hair, strong brows, and a very natural style was so beautiful. So, Ali McGraw really helped me form my style and I've always wanted someone to say “You’re pretty,” but I didn’t want people to know I was wearing makeup, and that’s how my makeup style was born. When I broke into the fashion industry years ago, it was the eighties and the makeup was white skin, red lips, contoured cheeks, and I just didn’t think it was pretty. If you look back in my makeup from the eighties, and compare it to now, it pretty much looks the same.

CNBC:
And it was probably radical then?

BOBBI BROWN:
It was really radical. A very famous makeup artist said to me, “This makeup isn’t gonna work. If you really wanna stay in the industry, you better stop doing the natural, healthy makeup...” but he was wrong.

CNBC:
I know you got started with quite a remarkably small sum of money.

BOBBI BROWN:
Well, at the time it was a lot of money that we invested.

CNBC:
How much was it?

BOBBI BROWN:
I started Bobbi Brown Cosmetics with five thousand dollars, which was basically the last cent that my husband and I had in our bank account. We started with a partner and her husband and we really never thought it would be any more than just launching ten lipsticks, which is what we did. If I would of thought we would’ve accomplished what we have today, I never would’ve done it, because it was the same time that I started having children. So, my company is as old as my oldest son.

CNBC:
Even before Estee Lauder bought you you had twenty million dollars in sales business. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like in the early years and how you came to be so profitable?

BOBBI BROWN:
In starting the company, I knew absolutely nothing about business. I was a makeup major from Emerson College in Boston. I knew makeup, that’s it. I knew nothing about business. Every business decision has been my gut and common sense, every single one of them. To me, that’s what business decisions should be. All my business decisions have been from my gut. It’s always been the first thing that I feel, usually is what the decision is. When I hire someone, I usually know in the first two minutes, for anything from a nanny to a person that walks in the door at work, it’s usually an instant decision. I’m usually right about eighty percent of the time.

CNBC:
Is it true that you don't like market research?

BOBBI BROWN:
I don't like market research. I find that often the information is not there. I’m usually ahead of the game. If I had done research on brown-based lipstick, it would’ve died. If I had done research on foundation sticks, it would’ve died. So, I don’t really like to do that. I do like people’s opinion, but usually the people that I know.

CNBC:
So, you think market research is old, by the time you get it?

BOBBI BROWN:
I mean it also depends who you’re asking the questions to. Market research is asking a bunch of people certain things and maybe they don't even know about this new thing. So they’re giving you an opinion on something, but they don't know the new thing.

CNBC:
You don't trust it?

BOBBI BROWN:
I trust me, I trust myself, I trust the people around me, and I trust my friends. I'm a combination of a chameleon and a sponge. I'm pretty consistent. My team always says, “Oh, my God, you’re so consistent.” I rarely change. The only times I will change my decision is if I realize something doesn’t really work. It’s not easy. I like things to be easy and I really like the word “organic.” For me, organic means that it’s just natural, and it just happens. I don't like things that everybody else is doing and to jump on the bandwagon. I don't like mineral makeup and I think I’m a little worried about everything going green, because I think that everybody’s doing it. I get really bored and I just think, that while I believe in the right things to be green, but you don’t have to do it because everyone’s doing it. I’m totally as green as I could be, but you can’t have a green cosmetics company, because you need to put something in your products to be able to make them last more than two days.

CNBC:
Do you look at the competition at all?

BOBBI BROWN:
I don't look a lot at the competition, but if I ever looked at the competition, I would just get stomachaches, because I would see what they copied from me. I think it’s kind of funny. I’m constantly buying products and bringing them in, but then they usually go in a bag that I donate. I’m not a big fan of a lot of the things I see.

CNBC:
How do you know when there’s a void in the marketplace?

BOBBI BROWN:
I am very visual and I am a searcher and a seeker. I’m often not satisfied. I always think I could be doing something better. Unfortunately, it drives me crazy. I think it’s one of my assets. That I walk into a perfect store counter and I will go for the one eye shadow that maybe has a little crack in it and say, “could you replace this?” It’s kind of a bad visual thing. It’s from working magazines for so long. But a lot of things are just guts and feeling.

CNBC:
What gets you excited?

BOBBI BROWN:
The things that get me excited are things that work. Things that are amazing, but work.

CNBC:
What about color?

BOBBI BROWN:
Color, I love color, there’s color in make-up that works and then there’s color in the world. It doesn’t always do the same thing. Often the color of my make-up line doesn’t look as exciting as color in other make-up lines. But the important thing is how it looks on the skin. That’s the only thing I care about is how make-up looks on the skin. It’s great when it looks cool in the compact, but that’s secondary. It’s really how it looks on the skin. Which is why most make-up on the market doesn’t work on people’s faces. I always thought, what an amazing idea, a make-up line designed by a make-up artist instead of someone with a MBA. Early on I was the only make-up artist.

CNBC:
You had to really know the product.

BOBBI BROWN:
Well many other make-up artists have started their own lines, but people just have different visions. For some reason, my vision in make-up was not just about what I thought was right. I mean I’ve never been anything except normal. I am who I am and I think that I pretty much understand who women are and what they want. It’s really simple.

CNBC:
But also you’re not afraid to go on The Today Show. You’re very visible.

BOBBI BROWN:
Right. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been on television shows my whole life. I’ve been on The Today Show for seven or eight years as a beauty editor. I’ve been on Oprah for the past ten, fifteen years, at least once a year if not more. I was on Oprah before she was even national. We both had perms back then, it was quite funny. I’ve been working in magazines, both doing the make-up and being interviewed, this is all before I had a line. I was doing fashion shows, way before I had a line. So, lucky for me and lucky for the brand that it all came together. By the way, our make-up company, the products are named what they are, tote, mahogany, sandy pink, so if I ever go on a show or magazine talking about what colors people should wear, I never push my make-up. I just talk about what colors I like, because I want to be an authority to women so I could give them advice and not be just a salesperson. I’ve also written four books, soon to be a fifth book. The books are another way to reach women, to teach them and to empower them. My goal now is to really help women and help people feel better about themselves, both by what they put on their skin, but also what they put in their body. I’m a fanatic about health and fitness.

CNBC:
You mentioned that you are getting involved in Live Strong.

BOBBI BROWN:
Yes, I’ll be the official beauty and lifestyle editor of livestrong.com, which I’m very excited about. So it’ll be a way for me to not only give make-up tips, but to help women figure out what they could do to look better and feel better as they get older. I was really upset about the live strong tag line, because that should have been the Bobbi tag line, “dare to be young.” And I love that. “Dare to be young.” I just think that’s really cool.

CNBC:
What does that mean?

BOBBI BROWN:
It just means I dare you to do all the right things to make yourself feel good. Anyone I meet who looks great for their age, they don’t smoke, they exercise, they eat really healthy, they do whatever they have to do to be fit and to be young. It makes all the difference in the world.

CNBC:
Let’s just talk about the sale to Estee Lauder and how you decided to go with them?

BOBBI BROWN:
The company was not for sale; a few people approached us. As our business grew in Neiman Marcus, we soon became the number one line in Neiman Marcus. We started to get phone calls and we weren’t for sale, until I got a phone call from Estee Lauder, who is the most romantic businessman in the entire world. He’s genuine, he’s incredible, and basically he took us out for dinner and said, “you guys have done a phenomenal job, we can’t beat you, but we wanna buy you.” My first reaction was “we weren’t for sale.” He said, “let me explain to you why I want you to do, what you do, but I wanna take away all the things that you don’t wanna do. Which are the distribution and backroom things. You will have complete integrity. You will have complete autonomy.” And, I’ve never once had to go back to that and say, “You guys promised.” They’ve been really great. I figure I own my own company. If you ask me, I own my own company. CNBC: How important was that for you to stay? You could have taken the money and done something else.

BOBBI BROWN:
Right, well my work for me is my joy. People always say, “Get a hobby.” Wake up; what I do is my joy. I love doing what I do. I feel so fortunate to be able to use my creativity and create something, and have a great team of people to work with to get the idea done, and actually have people buy it and be successful. So that allows me to create something else. I mean how many people get to do that?

CNBC:
In a way make-up for women is like candy, it’s pretty, and it’s fun.

BOBBI BROWN:
But it’s not. Make-up is not just a toy. Yes those sparkle pieces and the fun pieces, they’re like accessories, they’re jewels. But honestly, make-up is about your confidence. Because we live in a day in age, even if we don’t want to admit it, what you look like really affects you, and you’re judged. When you walk in a room for an interview, to a business meeting, people look at you, and if you have the wrong make-up on, or you have no make-up on, it’s a judgment. So you want to walk in and feel good about whom you are and be who you are. Make-up really helps you get there. It will help a new mom; get rid of her dark circles. It will give someone who you know has been out too much during the week a way to look better. It gives all of us just confidence. So make-up really helps a woman feel good about herself. Besides, the women that are able to afford our make-up are women that work with Dress for Success, and we help women really get empowered and get confident so they can, rebuild their life or as they rebuild their life and make-up does help.

CNBC:
I’d like to just talk a little bit about how you get the customer to come to you.

BOBBI BROWN:
Well, when someone comes to our counter, make-up is not pushed on them. Because, the most important thing that a woman learns when she goes to the counter, is to be able to use make-up, the Bobbi way, which is, the way that’s right for them. She needs to understand what she needs to use to look like herself. By teaching a woman that, when she goes home, she loves what she’s bought, she uses the make-up, she trusts us, she comes back when she wants a refresher or something new. Some women are happy with the same six to ten items. They’ll have it for a year until they run out. Other women, every three weeks or every month come in, “what’s new? What’s new? What’s new?” You have both types of customers. So, we need to be able to give a woman everything she needs when she gets to the counter. I don’t want to turn away a woman. We also need to give her something fun and exciting and new. The products have to look good enough so that when they’re photographed for the fashion magazines, they pop. Often our star products, you start seeing in every other cosmetics line and there are some similarities of what the original was. I always buy them and they’re never the same.

CNBC:
Someone had asked if you determined the success of the brand in the cosmetics business? And you said, “the power’s in the hands of the customer.”

BOBBI BROWN:
The success of a brand really depends on what sells. For me it’s about returning customers. I always wanted a business that was really healthy. Really healthy means that there are actually products that people want and they can come back for. A lot of companies are all about quick success and there’s no back up. By promoting products that say they’re going to do something and don’t actually do it. To me, that’s not a healthy company. A healthy company is one that is able to implant things, and will continue to grow. As the company expands to other parts of the world we have to make sure that the company is doing those things. That we're taking the artists and we’re training them, teaching, we’re empowering the women; we’re educating the women. Whether it’s Tokyo, the Middle East, in England, in China, or Mexico. Bobbi Brown now is a global brand and everything that we do, what we do in New York, in the home office in New York, it’s taken out around the world and making sure it’s the same. We don’t do things different for any parts of the world. It’s the same.

CNBC:
How many countries are you in?

BOBBI BROWN:
We’re in forty markets and territories. We are only in about three hundred and fifty doors, domestically. So our penetration in each door is pretty deep. It’s pretty amazing.

CNBC:
What’s happening with your international market?

BOBBI BROWN:
Our biggest growth is international. Our Korean market is on fire. China’s right behind them. Japan is really strong. Our Asian business is incredibly strong. It’s very important to me to have a strong American business. I will never let go of that.

CNBC:
Do you think women need the same things all over the world?

BOBBI BROWN:
It’s amazing, wherever you go women want the same things. Women want to look pretty. They want it to be easy, and the Bobbi message about be who you are and feel good, is something that is so new to people. Honestly, it’s everything I learned from my mom, my dad, and my Aunt Alice. All women want the same thing, wherever you are in the world, they want to look pretty, they want to look natural and they want to look like themselves only better.

CNBC:
What did you learn as a makeup artist that has applied to business?

BOBBI BROWN:
Well being a makeup artist is what really brought business into my life. My training in college was theatrical makeup, so I learned how to use the style of the way a person dresses and their personality to what kind of makeup they should wear. What I learned was that what you put into something is what you get out of it. But also being a makeup artist and being very sensitive to women's needs and really knowing what women need and what they want. Also training people to understand that if someone’s not happy with what you do, change it. It’s not about your ego; it’s about making the person happy. I like things that make sense and that are simple. I don't like it when people waste time or money and I like to do things quickly and I like them to last. It’s all very common sense, and it’s a combination of common sense, good parenting and being from the Midwest.