The minute you meet Laura Geller it is easy to see why she has been able to sell hundreds of millions in beauty products, reaching countless women across the world over the QVC airwaves.
With her conversational New York accent, bubbly personality and a smile that seems to exist permanently on her face, Geller is a beauty rule breaker who introduced now cult categories, like primer and baked highlighters to the market. To be sure, another part of Geller's modern legacy is her enduring television presence, as she has been featured on the direct sales network for more than 20 years. Geller, also a single mother, is the longest standing beauty founder on QVC, known for her lighthearted, uncomplicated approach to makeup and dedication to teaching women how to do their own makeup.
“People will often say I'm a 40 year overnight success," Geller tells SWAAY. “I just knew that for me beauty was a business I wanted to be in. I didn't know if it meant I would stay a makeup artist for a zillion years, which I was, or if it would mean owning my own line of cosmetics. My path came about by seeing need and following that venture. Every time an opportunity opened up, every time I saw a niche that I could follow I walked through that door. I never got comfortable. I never got stable and thought; 'This is it. I made it. I'm done.'"
“Laura Geller Beauty is a brand that is founded on education. It's often said about me that people identify with me. People who don't know makeup, or are afraid of makeup don't feel threatened when they work with me."
The numbers speak for themselves; Laura Geller Beauty is currently available in more than 1,200 points of global distribution. One of Geller's groundbreaking primers called Spackle is sold every 90 seconds, while one of her Baked in Italy bronzing and highlighting powders is sold every 48 seconds. When Geller introduced her Baked Gelato Swirl Illuminator in Gilded Honey, the entire inventory sold out just one week after launching.
“Had I known them I was starting a whole category that would become a staple in every woman's handbag, I would have done something more important to protect that," says Geller of Spackle's success. "But I am so proud of it. It makes us unique and iconic. And as [far as] Baked, it's an artisanal way of baking products with all natural pigments. It has very few ingredients because it's good for your skin."
Clearly, the magic Laura Geller formula is one that takes the consumer deeply into consideration, and it has paid off.
“My inspiration has always been the customer. I always say it's not just good enough to create a product. The product has to not just touch her, but she has to have a way to connect with you. She has to feel like there's somebody behind this brand. If it's not the founder, it has to be somebody who cares."
It is apparent that Geller's relationship with QVC has been a win-win for both parties. For Geller, QVC provided a platform to reach millions of women with her story, and for the television network, it allows them to continue their mission of showcasing brand founders who speak directly to the consumer.
“QVC dreams to continue to have founders of their own businesses out there really sharing their mission, and that's generally what's been the perfect marriage and success for the QVC platform," says Geller. “We are the longest standing color brand today at QVC. I am very honored that QVC gave me a platform when I wasn't known. They helped me to build my brand recognition."
“It was really all about supply and demand. As the brand grew, customers demanded more and more product, and thus I grew the product line."
"When I get on QVC I'm a teacher. So, it's not just the teaching aspect, but then we went on to have a mission to give people products that's different and unique."
Geller, who opened her first store in 1993 says her company was originally completely self-funded. Geller said rather than seeking investors she borrowed capital from friends and family who believed in her mission, and she poured her own money into the business. Although Geller says she didn't have the business acumen, she was able to learn how to navigate her company's growth by bringing in others.
“When I started I was a working makeup artist so I didn't know the path," says Geller. “It was just me, myself and I. I didn't have the business acumen. If I could go back and talk to my younger self I would say there comes a point when you realize you can't do it all yourself. You have to find a way to trust and engage people who might know a little more than you. You can't get to where you want to get when you're doing everything."
To wit, in 2012, Geller decided to bring on a private equity investor, selling a majority stake of her company to Tengram Capital Partners, a firm that focuses on branded consumer and retail businesses. Although numbers were not disclosed, industry sources reported Tengram typically spends between $15 million and $40 million on each acquisition. Just last year, newly-formed Glanasol (co-founded by former Revlon President and CEO Alan Ennis and private equity firm Warburg Pincus) acquired Laura Geller in its first round of acquisitions, along with indie brands, Julep and Clark's Botanicals.“[Sometimes} you're better off being a lesser percentage and having somebody with an interest in the business and having some balance in your life," says Geller, who recently spoke on a panel at the White House on entrepreneurship, and has served as a participant in the FounderMade Challenge. “As I kept growing, I realized I needed more support to help me run the business. That's why a strong, supportive team is so key to growing a brand."
“When I launched Laura Geller New York, there weren't many brands educating women on makeup and how to use it. QVC gave me the platform to fill that white space and connect to customers in a different way."
For Geller, who is focused on future expansion in international markets, says part of her brand philosophy is to keep evolving as the customer does.
“We keep breaking ground; we listen," says Geller. Thank god for social media today. It's a platform that has helped me build my product range based on customer need and desire, so everything we are doing is to fulfill the need of the customer, and to make makeup fun."
“I am so not done yet," says Geller. “I think the next phase for this brand is to continue not just to grow in US but internationally too. You are going to see a lot more of retail expansion a lot of great things. Also, we have an amazing new mascara launching this spring that will show you how to be the boss of your lashes. We also have a new hydrating foundation that literally feels like a splash of water, but with coverage! Plus more for lips and eyes as well."
When asked what she learned throughout her journey to beauty founder stardom, Geller says there are countless lessons, but her biggest is to keep your brand identity regardless of what happens.
"Be true to yourself and true to your brand heritage," says Geller. "You don't always have to do what others are doing. Do what is best for your brand. And of course, it's so important to stay on top of global trends and growing social media presence."
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.