Brand builder extraordinaire Allison Slater Ray, President of Memebox, has made an impact everywhere she’s been, from her start learning the ropes of marketing and media buying on the Chanel account at DDB to Sephora in its early days as a brand incubator to her marketing position at IT Cosmetics. But entrepreneurship—the desire to build something from the ground up—is in her DNA so she’s just taken the reins at Memebox, a startup group of Korean makeup and skincare brands that she’s looking to put on the map as she’s done for so many others. Listen as she shouts out to those who have helped her on her journey and dives into this new adventure. You’ll love this episode!
|Jodi Katz||Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. I am very, very, very, very excited to be sitting across from Allison Slater Ray. Her title is SVP Marketing at IT Cosmetics. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty™.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Thank you for having me. How many very's was that?|
|Jodi Katz||Well, this has been very long in the making, so I want to give our listeners some backstory. When I first had this idea by my coach to start a podcast, I ... Is that your phone?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Oh, it should probably be shocking my phone is making noise.|
|Jodi Katz||Well, can you shut it off? Or no vibrate or no sound?
So when this idea was first conceived, I thought, "Who would I want to talk to first?" And I wanted to talk to you first.
|Allison Slater Ray||It's so flattering. You've told me that and I find that fascinating ...|
|Jodi Katz||It's totally true.|
|Allison Slater Ray||... because I don't think I'm that interesting.|
|Jodi Katz||You are very interesting. And that was almost three years ago. So finally we are together. The universe made it happen when it needed to happen and I'm delighted to see you.|
|Allison Slater Ray||And I'm very happy to be here.|
|Jodi Katz||And I think it-|
|Allison Slater Ray||Congrats to you on all the success.|
|Jodi Katz||Thank you. I wrote these questions out, I don't know, two years ago. I haven't even revisited them ...|
|Allison Slater Ray||Oh, really?|
|Jodi Katz||... so I wonder what they say.|
|Allison Slater Ray||I think I may have canceled once or twice.|
|Jodi Katz||You've been very busy.|
|Allison Slater Ray||I feel awful.|
|Jodi Katz||But you walked into the door and you said that you have news for me. What's the news?|
|Allison Slater Ray||I do have news. Let's hope this airs at the appropriate time, but I think it's out so it's fine. After four and a half years at IT Cosmetics, I'm moving on. I'm going back to my roots to work at more of an independent startup type of company and I'm going to be the president of Memebox. Do you know Memebox?|
|Jodi Katz||Wow, yeah. That's amazing.|
|Allison Slater Ray||So I won't be able to do the true marketing pitch that I would for Memebox when I'm actually working there, but as I describe it, it's a collection of Korean makeup and skincare brands. One of them is Kaja, which is exclusive to Sephora, and one of them is I Dew Care, which is exclusive to Ulta, and I just think they're a really interesting company. They have a great team and lots of potential, and so-|
|Jodi Katz||I've met with them. Are you moving to San Francisco?|
|Allison Slater Ray||I am not moving to San Francisco. I am currently the only New York employee, which will definitely be a challenge, and I appreciate Dino, the founder, being open to that and the team. When I worked for Sephora, I would travel a week out of the month every month, so my family is used to it, I'm used to it. It might need to be more. We shall see. If my husband's listening, he'll kill me.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Thank you.|
|Jodi Katz||That's very exciting.|
|Allison Slater Ray||I am really excited. I'm excited because I think that there's so many brands out there with such potential and I see a lot of potential in the current brands that are in the assortment and what the future could be, so I'm looking forward to starting. I'm starting at the end of November.|
|Jodi Katz||And will you take any time off before you start?|
|Allison Slater Ray||I will be taking a few weeks off, yes.|
|Jodi Katz||Oh, that's good.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Very happy about that.|
|Jodi Katz||How old are your kids now?|
|Allison Slater Ray||13 and 10.|
|Jodi Katz||A teen ... and is a 10 year old a tween, or not really?|
|Allison Slater Ray||No. I would say no. And yours are?|
|Jodi Katz||12 and almost 9.|
|Allison Slater Ray||So they're probably the same personalities, I would say.|
|Jodi Katz||Well, my son's older.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Oh yeah. Different personalities. I forgot.|
|Jodi Katz||So it's a little different.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Yeah.|
|Jodi Katz||But from your Instagram, I learned ... this was many years ago ... you did a food challenge, like a YouTube-style food challenge with the kids with the gummy pizza and a real pizza, uncovering it like, "What'd you get?"|
|Allison Slater Ray||Yes I did.|
|Jodi Katz||And I was so inspired. I did it with my kids and they loved it.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Oh, nice. That was really one of my more creative moments.|
|Jodi Katz||Do your kids watch a lot of YouTube?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Unfortunately, yes. Do yours?|
|Jodi Katz||Yeah. Do you know who they watch?|
|Allison Slater Ray||I don't know who they ... I know who Sammy watches and she definitely ... She was into beauty for a while and then I think she kind of grew less interested in it. Even the way her beauty flow happened, she wanted a lot of products. She came home one day and said, "Mommy, so and so has better makeup than I do and you're in the beauty industry." And I said, "Well, I've been trying to give you makeup but you're never really interested, and so I was waiting for the right time." And so I gave her a whole bunch of product, but really she just wants an eyelash curler and mascara. And I've never used an eyelash curler in my life. I'm afraid of them.|
|Jodi Katz||Oh, I think that's the best thing in my arsenal, is an eyelash curler.|
|Allison Slater Ray||And did you use it today?|
|Jodi Katz||Yeah, but I might have not ... No, no. I forgot to do it today. But I think it makes the most difference.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Apparently she feels the same way.|
|Jodi Katz||My daughter watches ... She'll watch a few beauty people but she's not so into it. Miranda, who takes squishies and cuts them up and turns them into new squishies.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Oh, interesting. I'll have to tell her.|
|Jodi Katz||It's very impressive. And this guy, Collins Key, who does a lot of these food gag things like, who's going to get the real food, who's going to get the sponge food, or whatever. And my son watches, I think, a lot of movie conspiracy things like, "This character from this movie is really this character from that movie."|
|Allison Slater Ray||Oh, I like that.|
|Jodi Katz||And probably a lot of gaming that I don't pay attention to so much.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Yes, a lot of gaming. But fortunately they're over Fortnite. I'm so relieved.|
|Jodi Katz||You know, my son's over Fortnite, too. What happened?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Okay, this is what I believe. Someone will have to correct us, but one of the YouTubers ... Well, something happened. Something changed within the game and then one of the YouTubers sort of decided he was going to be done with it and went back to Minecraft, I believe, and so as a result all the kids stopped playing it. And he came home from camp and wasn't playing it anymore and was doing Minecraft and I was so elated. I sent a text to all my mom friends and said, "I'm so excited he's not playing Fortnite anymore." But he still listens to all of the YouTube gamers' videos. I don't know who they are. It's like the sound of nails on a chalkboard listening to those YouTubers. I don't know why.|
|Jodi Katz||Well, my daughter also watches this guy UnspeakableGaming. He was a Minecrafter and now he just does silly pranks at his house and-|
|Allison Slater Ray||Oh, I feel like my kids may watch that.|
|Jodi Katz||Yeah, they fill the swimming pool in the backyard with rubber duckies.|
|Allison Slater Ray||I watched that one.|
|Jodi Katz||Or they make a whole pool out of gumballs.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Did they do one where they took those little squishy balls that blow up and fill the entire swimming pool with it? Because I watched that.|
|Jodi Katz||Maybe. I might not have seen that one.|
|Allison Slater Ray||I was kind of intrigued, I have to say.|
|Jodi Katz||I think what's really interesting ... and as a top marketer, we can talk about this ... is watching my daughter's behaviors with YouTube. She's really into something, really into it, and then it's gone.|
|Allison Slater Ray||That's true.|
|Jodi Katz||Right? And then really into something else and then it's gone, and I think we need to think about these behaviors because I don't think women are really any different than my eight year old, almost nine year old, that she's really into it, she enjoys it for a while, she's seen the same baking cake thing and she just moves on. And the YouTube algorithm helps her move on to something new, but that our passion for these content creators, it's not locked in.|
|Allison Slater Ray||That is true. Well, I think that's sort of how ... Even if you think of traditional companies if you go back in time, I sort of think that's what Estee Lauder had in mind. You started with Clinique and then you grew up and maybe you got into the Estee Lauder brand, then you sort of grew within the different companies, right? So I think there's ways that we could build our beauty brands that way. Or, think of it solely for, "This is targeting this life stage." You can't be all things to all people all the time, and I think there's a lot of brands that are flashes in the pan or they're of the moment, they're trends. Then there's the brands that are the loyalty brands.
IT Cosmetics is a brand that, I think, when you discover the product, especially a CC Cream, you never want to give it up. I can't imagine. I'm leaving the company. I know I'll wear my CC Cream every day. I love it. And it just is different. It's not just the product. It's a big piece of it, but it's also the mission of the brand, it's something that resonates for all ages. But Kaja, for example, is not a brand that's necessarily targeted to me. I think of it more for my daughter, maybe a little bit older. I don't know yet exactly what the target is, but that to me is what it seems to be, and you can't pretend that you're going after a 45-year-old woman. So we sort of have to stay in our lanes and, I think, be prepared for things to shift. You have to sort of expect everything. Things happen very, very quickly, much faster than we're used to.
|Jodi Katz||I notice people in our space, marketers, uncomfortable with the fact that most brands don't aim to be legacy brands. The IT Cosmetics formula is really not typical anymore, right?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Mm-hmm (affirmative).|
|Jodi Katz||To be with her for all of her life cycles and life journeys and life's special moments big and small. Most brands are really just looking very short term.|
|Allison Slater Ray||That's interesting. Give me an example.|
|Jodi Katz||I think there's a lot of people in this business now who are ready to make a quick buck. They think they're going to make a quick buck.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Ah, they want to make a brand, sell it, and move on. Is that what you mean?|
|Jodi Katz||Yeah, or just maybe they don't even want to sell it, they just want the fast few million. ride the trend, ride the wave. We see that with different ingredient stories, definitely.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Fair. Definitely true.|
|Jodi Katz||And there's not a passion for developing a real relationship over time. Their business model's not set up to develop a relationship over time with a customer, it's to just be here for that moment.|
|Allison Slater Ray||For the moment.|
|Jodi Katz||And then if luck happens that they're there longer, great. But I don't really get the sense that a lot of new brands are in it for the long haul.|
|Allison Slater Ray||That's interesting. I feel that that model has seemed to work for Sephora in some ways, if you think about the place you would go to buy those more fast beauty type brands. But it works for them but I don't know that it works for the brands, because what's your exit strategy? You're left with a ton of inventory. You never know when the moment's up. I don't know how that's really sustainable. But then again, it's really difficult to be a legacy brand. It is super challenging and I would think that people would be starting their companies saying, "I want to do X and I want to be here for this amount of time." It's so interesting to think, "I just want to ride the wave of this one trend."|
|Jodi Katz||Yeah, I guess people are just super honest with me as they talk to me about it, that they're, "Oh, I just want to try it. I just want to see." And they're expecting that because the margins are good that it's going to be easy and they just are in for a really rude awakening.|
|Allison Slater Ray||What do you think of that?|
|Jodi Katz||Part of me is a little uncomfortable, that I think I feel protective over our industry and I'm protective of our customers. I'm a little uncomfortable with the fact that someone doesn't seek to have a long-term relationship with me, right? But I'm not that target. I'm really not.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Besides speaking to them on the podcast, have you worked with any of them?|
|Jodi Katz||No, because we have a tendency to work with people who are trying to create meaningful change, whether it's socially or within the industry. So typically, our clients are really ... either they already are a legacy or they're trying to do something really big in the world. If you're not differentiated, we're not going to be able to work with you and we're very honest about that, because there's no room. It's so cluttered here, so you have to be super differentiated.
So part of me is uncomfortable, but then I look at the teens that I know and the young adults that I know and they're totally fine with it. So they don't know from legacy the way that you and I grew up. I think my parents bought Tide, so when I went to buy my first laundry detergent, I bought Tide. That's the way it works. I don't use Tide anymore, but-
|Allison Slater Ray||It's funny. I just bought Tide this weekend and thought, "Why am I using this? It's got to be filled with chemicals. I think I need to change." Literally the thought ran through my head.|
|Jodi Katz||I use Seventh Generation.|
|Allison Slater Ray||That's what I was thinking. Made the most sense. But do you really know what's in it? You just trust?|
|Jodi Katz||I think in the beginning ... Yeah. When the kids were babies, I was really into this, cleaning up the whole life around me, and I was kind of crazy about it. It was only California Baby for their bath and it was only XYZ. Yes, I believe that Seventh Generation is working hard on ingredients, much harder than Tide.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Well, for sure much harder than Tide.|
|Jodi Katz||Yeah. We can only do our part, right? I'm not going to formulate laundry detergent at home.|
|Allison Slater Ray||True. Have you given up plastic yet?|
|Jodi Katz||I have not given up plastic, but we do use reusable straws. I carry things out of stores, I don't need bags, or I'll just take a bag from the car, a reusable bag. I definitely try to be mindful of this in a way that's reasonable for me, but a future passion of mine beyond beauty is actually to be in the recycling industry and find innovation, wherever that may be. So that's maybe in 10 years I'll start that.|
|Allison Slater Ray||That's great.|
|Jodi Katz||Yeah. So this is kind of inside of me.|
|Allison Slater Ray||I love it. Go for it. So-|
|Jodi Katz||Okay, so we're going to talk about you, though. We're here to talk about Allison.|
|Allison Slater Ray||That's fair. I always shift the conversation.|
|Jodi Katz||There's a lot of reasons why, when I thought who's the first guest I wanted, that you came to mind. One is because you're lovely.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Oh, thank you.|
|Jodi Katz||Two is because you've been in this industry in so many right places at so many right times that it kind of makes me giggle. So let's go back in time ...|
|Allison Slater Ray||Sure.|
|Jodi Katz||... through your career. What was your first job?|
|Allison Slater Ray||My first job was very interesting. It's kind of funny. I actually worked for a startup internet company before there were startup internet companies. So I graduated college in 1996 and the summer before I'd had an internship. Well, I could tell you that story. It's funny how I even got the internship, but that's maybe ... we'll see how much time we have. But I wound up ... it was this sponsorship company. They were doing corporate sweepstakes for people ... I remember we did one for PepsiCo ... and I got bored with the company, and so I sort of wandered around the office and there's this woman who was starting her own business and I said, "Can I help you with anything? I don't really have that much to do." And so I wound up becoming close to this woman and she was starting her own business and so when I graduated, she agreed to hire me. I probably was a little bit lazy and didn't look that hard for a job, and she paid me $23,000 a year and it was exactly that, a startup internet company.
This woman was actually brilliant in her concepts and probably didn't have the execution, but she basically went after businesses that she thought were going to be the future. So she sort of honed in on the idea of the celebrity chef. This was in 1996 where I don't think there were that many celebrity chefs out there. She found this guy. He's great but not going to be the celebrity chef, and so we created a website for him. Then she went after NASCAR. Brilliant. NASCAR has ... at the time. I don't know the stats now, but it was the number one spectator sport. So if you can imagine all these people showing up how much interest there was. And so she had the gaming rights to all the NASCAR drivers. I don't know how she did not make millions just off of that, but that was one aspect, she wanted to do websites for them.
There were other aspects, but basically I was writing code. I learned how to actually build websites. I went to AOL's headquarters in Virginia and learned how to do RainMaker. That was the language that they wrote for writing code. I remember doing live chats before really anyone was and getting on with my friends, and literally it'd just be the three of us, because really we weren't doing any marketing, nor did we have any followers. Just doing live chats with my friends, that was fun. And then in order to get recognition, you go on AltaVista. Do you remember AltaVista?
|Jodi Katz||Mm-hmm (affirmative).|
|Allison Slater Ray||And you would just register your website and try to get traffic there and try to grow awareness for the brands. The interesting thing we did is we created a video with this celebrity chef and all the wives of the NASCAR drivers, and they brought their favorite recipes and we cooked it. We actually filmed it on one of the racetracks. I should remember where. I feel like we were in North Carolina. It was super interesting, but nothing ever took off. She ran out of money. I think there was a $5 million investment and it wasn't a time that money was being thrown at everyone, and so I remember ... Literally there was a point where I wasn't getting a paycheck anymore and I thought, "Okay, I think it's time to move on." Probably still owed about $2 grand somewhere.
So I went back and thought, "Okay, what did I want to do with my life?" And I always wanted to be in advertising. I was a marketing major, coincidentally. I applied for some jobs. I remember just learning how I knew nothing about advertising and going for my first interview and them saying, "Well, what do you want to do? Do you want to be an account person? Do you want to be in media?" And I didn't even know what that meant, and just goes to show you how naïve I was and how naïve I can be sometimes still. I don't think anyone would ever do that today, not do their research, but I just was a dumb kid that just thought, "Oh, I should be given an opportunity."
And I was really lucky to know a woman, Alyssa Goodman. She happened to be working at Chanel. That was her first job, she was my age. And she said, "I think the agency is looking for someone." So I went in and I met with Ellen Jacobs, who was my second boss, I guess, but my first boss in the industry, and she was working at DDB on the media account for Chanel. I sort of consider that my first real job because the other job was kind of figure it out as you go. And Ellen was amazing. I absolutely loved her. Still close with her today. Learned a lot. I was there for a year as a media planner. What was cool is that, first of all, you walked into an agency and I'm working on the Chanel account and everyone around me is working on toilet paper and computers ...
|Jodi Katz||Pet food.|
|Allison Slater Ray||... and they are like, "Really? How does this girl just walk in and get this job? It's not fair." Of course, all the women there wanted the Chanel account. And they had no account team, they were just doing media, so you met directly with the client which made it a lot closer connection, because oftentimes the media team would be kept in the back. And granted, I mean, this is such a different time. You're not buying anything online. I was doing television and radio and print and local print. I mean, everything. There was definitely big budgets.
But I learned a lot about life, I would say. I had two bosses. I had Kathy Erisman and definitely people know her. She worked on the Chanel account, I believe, almost her entire career in different agencies, and Ellen. And Kathy was the worker bee. She really taught me how to do the job, the nuts and bolts. And today, it's rarely ever that I hire someone or someone gets hired and they get sit down and are taught the job, but she really taught me how to do everything instead of just saying, "Figure it out." And then Ellen, she was the business mind, she was the fun person. She actually taught me how to behave socially in an environment with people. We were now being taken out by all these media people. I had the best life, I thought, of anyone because I was 22 years old. I made no money, but I didn't care because I went to every party there was, I went to every Broadway show, every sporting event, the best restaurants, because I was on the Chanel account.
It was a time when media had a lot of money, the magazine industry and they threw great parties. So I would say I went out five nights a week during the week, and when there wasn't a party to go to, I was home ordering in Chinese food and that's all I could afford. But Ellen taught me just how to really act in a professional way, how to be social. Oftentimes she'd come in and she'd say, "We're working like the boys today." And that was a day that we were just really head down, working hard. Of course, you'd never say that today, "We're working like the boys," but it seemed right when you think of the agency days. And other times we just had fun and she'd come in at 4:00 and she'd be like, "Okay, day's over. We're drinking now."
It just was such a nice balance and such a great way to be brought into the corporate world and I was fortunate enough to know people. One of the media people recommended me for a job at Calvin Klein Cosmetics when it was owned by Unilever, and there were actually no cosmetics, it was just the fragrances. I was there for almost three years. And similarly, a media person recommended me for the job at Sephora. I remember they wanted someone who wasn't a diva, so I was happy that I fit that mold. That was really the only requirement that Betsy Olum had at the time. And that was the start of my career. Very long-winded answer.
|Jodi Katz||What did you do at Sephora? That's when I met you.|
|Allison Slater Ray||When I started at Sephora, I was hired to oversee the media agency, the PR agency, and the creative agency. That's really where I started, and truthfully, it was a time when we were just building up marketing at Sephora. I remember the concept obviously was brought over from France. When we launched in the US, business was tough. I came on the same time as David Suliteanu, not that he knew who I was when I was being hired. But Betsy hired me in New York. They decided that ... I believe Betsy was first hired to do some of the launch parties and then they said, "Well, we need marketing." And the French team said, "You don't need marketing. People will just discover Sephora. They'll just walk in. It'll be a discovery." And-|
|Jodi Katz||What year is this?|
|Allison Slater Ray||This is in '97, so not ... let's see. I have to look at my LinkedIn profile to remember what year everything is. Is that really pathetic? But it's true. It probably was '98, because Sephora launched in '96 and the website launched a year later, I believe, in October '97, and so it was probably September '98. It had to be later than that. '99. It was September '99 and that is definitely when it was. You can edit this, right? You're going to keep all my rambling?|
|Allison Slater Ray||So Sephora, people thought that it was going to close and people were saying, "Why are you working there? They're going to shut down the doors. It's not going to last." And David obviously turned it around, but it was exciting time to be there because I was doing marketing plans for store closing. "We're closing Rockefeller Center. What are you going to do?"|
|Jodi Katz||Oh my god.|
|Allison Slater Ray||"How are we going to drive people to the other stores?" And that was obviously a small blip, but we just did everything. We were doing tons of events in store. I mean, in the beginning, we were just trying things out, taking something that had done really well in Europe and trying to establish it in the US, starting out with the black glove, and how does that translate. Obviously, everyone at Sephora at the time seemed very aloof and like they didn't care and how could they be knowledgeable, and that's when the big transition happened where education became super important. And really, the biggest piece was operational, that David really had an impact on. But also, investing in marketing and telling not only the Sephora story but also those individual brand stories.
And so the Perricone and Steels of the world, who were tiny, tiny and only at Sephora, how do we create them into big brands? And so we sort of developed this really reputation of being brand incubators and growing brands and creating brands, and so a big piece of what I did years later ... and I was at Sephora for 11 years ... was bring on brand marketing and actually help grow certain brands. And some brands that had been around forever but needed a reboot or a shift or, "How do we tell this brand's story in a different way?" And so we had brands that we worked really, really closely with and grew them, and whether it was helping to tell their brand's story or help them hire a PR agency, help them just ... what does it take to be a successful brand at Sephora?
|Jodi Katz||That's still, I think, what differentiates Sephora from the rest, is their ability to really partner. We're working on, let's say, packaging redesigns for a brand that's sold there and that Sephora team gets super involved, right?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Yes.|
|Jodi Katz||We show them stuff. "Hey, here's the six options we're looking at." We don't even finesse it. They're a part of the thinking around it, and that's very distinctive.|
|Allison Slater Ray||I would agree. And I think as a brand, you sort of have to have that mentality to work well with Sephora, and I think ... We used to say open kimono. I don't know who coined the phrase. I'm sure someone will tell me they did. But you have to be willing to share everything if you want to be successful there. It just works better.|
|Jodi Katz||When did you know that Sephora was going to be a big deal?|
|Allison Slater Ray||That's a good question. I think I just thought it was such a cool concept. I almost couldn't imagine it not working. I probably was, again, naïve to all of the issues that were going on, but I just saw that craze and excitement, and everyone in the industry felt it. Interestingly enough, most of my friends weren't into beauty. I remember walking around SoHo and them distracting me ... before I worked at Sephora ... so I wouldn't actually walk past and have to go in the doors. But I just feel like from the beginning it just seemed like such a no-brainer to me. It was such a wonderland, so exciting to walk in those doors. Do you remember all those bright colored bath ... Okay, so for anyone young listening, I feel bad, but all of those circular bright-colored bath products that were red, orange, yellow, the rainbow when you walked in the doors of Sephora? It was just so fun to be there, and just you felt like you were always discovering.
I think that's how people feel now. I think there's a lot of people who still probably feel totally overwhelmed walking in those doors.
|Jodi Katz||I met you through Jen Blitz, who worked at Sephora, I knew from day camp, so that's how we got to know each other.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Yep. And she worked with you.|
|Jodi Katz||She worked at Base Beauty and now she works at IT, so there's a lot of sharing through the years.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Yes.|
|Jodi Katz||So why did you leave Sephora? What happened?|
|Allison Slater Ray||I left Sephora because they wanted the whole company to be in San Francisco and I didn't feel like I was daring enough to pick up and move to San Francisco. Also, my husband had his ... still has ... his own business. It's New York based. And to be honest, if I didn't have that sort of path, or that crossroads that I was met with, I wouldn't see myself leaving there. I don't think that would have been right for me or for Sephora. I probably got really comfortable because every year was something new and different. I mean, Sephora evolved so much, and many of the people I hired are still there, or I see them elsewhere in the industry, way more successful than me, which I love seeing.
But I didn't want to move, so I sort of went out and said, "Okay, what's next?" So I haven't always been at the right place at the right time ...
|Jodi Katz||Okay. Tell us.|
|Allison Slater Ray||... because when I left Sephora, I went to a startup called OpenSky, and actually they did get acquired by Alibaba and they seem to still be around, but I wouldn't say ... It was probably my least favorite work experience and it never really took off. But I loved what I did at the time. I basically oversaw health and wellness and beauty, and the idea was ... And the concept, I thought, was brilliant. It was different experts in different industries ... whether it was food, beauty, home ... true industry icons saying what they really used. So not a paid endorsement deal.|
|Jodi Katz||Oh, that is a good idea.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Right?|
|Allison Slater Ray||And they did it all through video, and so the idea is like, "I'm going to create a video and tell you why I love this product and then you'll want to buy it," and then we would sell it at a discount. And so I brought in all these brands and I met with all these amazing people who were just real legends in their field. Pati Dubroff was one of the makeup artists and then Tony Robbins was one of the people for health and wellness, Bethenny Frankel was one of the people. All these interesting people that really had these passions about products. I so vividly remember all of Pati's products that she loved, because one of them I still use today, which is Papaw Cream, the red tube that just I can't live without. I put it on my nails, on my lips, everywhere. I'm obsessed with it.
So it was interesting learning, but it never really took off, didn't really get the base of customers needed, and ultimately I got let go with a slew of other people, probably for the best. And I started consulting because opportunities just came to me and I knew that I had to find a job, and I figured, "Okay, I'll do this while I look for a job," and it wound up working out.
|Jodi Katz||So you didn't have a moment to feel lost or confused?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Oh, I definitely did. I definitely had that, but I was also so relieved. I don't think you realize how unhappy you are sometimes until you're out of the situation. My husband came to pick me up that day, and I was with another woman who happened to live in my building and she got let go too, and she was hysterical crying and I was just so relieved. I was happy, and it was such an unusual feeling. I couldn't believe it because it's not like me, but I just felt so relieved and I wasn't worried about the financial situation. I'm sure if I had a month after that, I would have been devastated.
But I remember talking to the first brand that wanted to work with us and it was probably one that I met through OpenSky, and they said, "Can you help us in the US? We want to decide if we want to go into retail. We want to decide what's next." I remember saying, "Okay, sure I can do this many hours." I was figuring as I went and I said, "Okay. Can you pay me $4000 a month?" I remember them saying yes. It was like, "Oh my God. I'm going to make $4000 a month just for doing what I know how to do." Then I remember the next client and the next client and saying, "Will you pay me this much?" and kept increasing what I was asking for and obviously figuring out what really what I would have made if I was working full time.
I loved it. And actually, that's how I met Maggie Ciafardini, who I know you met and had on the podcast. She was one of my clients when she was at St. Tropez and PZ Cussons was the parent company. But I got to reconnect with all the people I knew from throughout the industry.
|Jodi Katz||Are you a natural networker and connector?|
|Allison Slater Ray||100%, and I think that's really such an important thing, and it's hard for people who aren't that way. But I think the reason that I have had so many opportunities and have been at the right place at the right time, it's all because of people. Nothing to do with me. I feel like I got super lucky. I mean, my first job was because of someone I met. Every single job has been a reference from someone else. Fortunately, knock on wood, I haven't had to really go looking in my career.
I did look when I left Sephora. It was a very interesting time. I learned a lot of lessons at that time because I had six months that I knew I was leaving and I could tell everybody I was leaving and why I was leaving, and so I met with everyone I knew. I really went in with no agenda. I just wanted to meet people and talk to them, and so I so appreciated everyone's time. But the people who you thought would help you the most wind up helping you the least and the people who you didn't expect much of wind up helping you the most. It was just my chance to hear what people had to say and to learn from them, and even career advice. I didn't know what I wanted to do, and look, I maybe made a mistake, but I have no regrets.
But I really loved that startup environment and the newness idea, and that's really where my passion for that started. I mean, probably at Sephora it was there because we were working with so many new brands. And so I just thought, "This person should be hiring me for my Sephora knowledge. Just create a role for me. Hire me for six months. Who cares? You can learn so much from me. Your entire company knows nothing about Sephora and you have everything to gain from my knowledge." Probably I wasn't that blunt and I should have been. I should have said, "Pay me this much money, hire me for six months, and I'll teach you everything you need to know." But-
|Jodi Katz||Maggie would be that blunt.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Maggie would be that blunt, right? I know. She always went after it. I sort of thought, "Well, they'll just see it," and I probably should have said it. Who knows. My life would have been different had I said it, so again, no regrets. But-|
|Jodi Katz||Did Ellen teach you the mechanics of networking? Is that one of the things she did when you said she was so good at being an advisor in that way?|
|Allison Slater Ray||For sure. She was one of those people. Do you know Ellen? You have to meet her.|
|Jodi Katz||I don't, but I'm envious of the fact that there was someone in your career to give you a toolbox because I've had to figure it out, hiring different coaches along the way because I had nothing. I didn't even have the box. It wasn't an empty box, it was didn't have the box.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Well, I would say I really probably learned it from my mother. She is that type of person. She talks to everybody. She just connects with people and I saw that throughout my whole life. She decided when she wasn't working that there was no synagogue in our town, so she said, "Okay, I'm going to create a synagogue," and she just started it. It was out of a church first and then she actually got a building and she just decided that's what she wanted to do. Then we moved to Monroe Township, New Jersey from Brooklyn. I was three months old. I think we lived on 7th Avenue, was the name of our street, and she decided, "That's too much like Brooklyn and I didn't move to the suburbs to have it sound like Brooklyn," so she had the street name changed. So she went to every single person on the street and said, "Can I get your approval to change the name to Cameo Drive?" She thought that was much more suburban. You have a cameo ring, I noticed.|
|Jodi Katz||I do. Yep.|
|Allison Slater Ray||And so I think that sort of socialness and polite aggressiveness I learned from her.|
|Jodi Katz||Well, there's follow through, too. It's one thing to be friendly and talk to people on the street, but it's the other thing to actually make something happen.|
|Allison Slater Ray||True. I think you learn so much from people. I love listening to ... I mean, just meeting people, hearing their story, and then connecting other people to other people. I think you never know what will come of it. That's always what happens. I met my husband on a blind date. I really believe in all those connections of people so much and there's no reason to not connect people.|
|Jodi Katz||So how did you end up from the consulting world getting into IT? Was that the next step?|
|Allison Slater Ray||That was the next step. I also consulted for Ipsy, which was my main gig, and I worked for them three days a week and that was amazing. I loved it and I so believe in what they are doing, and I find it interesting that they are doing so well. I'm not sure where Birchbox is now, but they were always very under the radar and I as the marketer was like, "No, we need to get press and we need to talk about this," and they said, "No, no, no. We have a bigger vision. We're not just a sampling company. We don't want to be known as that, so let's wait until we really have our studio and have content creators and have so much more." It was a very interesting platform that they started. And so-|
|Jodi Katz||Is that when Michelle was there?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Yes. Michelle was there when I was working for them, but she was never involved day in and day out, I would say. It was a great partnership and she brought in a ton of the influencers, but then it sort of started working on its own.
So actually, a recruiter called me about IT Cosmetics and TSG was the investor and I thought, "Well, I kind of have a good gig. I don't know if I really want to take a full-time job. I have so much flexibility." I remember meeting with Jamie and Paolo, and I did call Diane Miles because she was at TSG and I said, "Diane, how come you didn't think of me for this job?" And she said, "Oof, what a great idea." She was wonderful to work with. She's a person to learn a lot from.
I went for nine interviews to get this role and I remember-
|Jodi Katz||Nine different people or nine different occasions with Jamie?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Nine different occasions, not always with Jamie. Different people the whole time. But I remember them saying, "This is a 24/7 job." And I said, "Well then, I'm not interested. I have work/life balance for the first time, I'm enjoying it." And they wound up hiring someone else, who I believe used it to make a counteroffer to his current company, and so they came back to me and said, "Okay, what do you need to have work/life balance?" And so it consisted of being able to take my kids to school twice a week and pick them up twice a week. I think that's the deal we worked out. The hours were 9:00 to 6:00, so I would have to come in 10 minutes late 2 days a week and leave a half an hour to 45 minutes early 2 days a week, and I so appreciated them being accommodating.
And obviously, in the beginning, there was a lot of sort of expectation about the hours you were to work and tons of travel, and I loved it. I loved working there. We definitely changed the culture, helped to change the culture so it wasn't about the number of hours that you worked. Maybe we took it too far because it feels like sometimes people are running to get out of the office at 5:00, but it seems to have worked.
|Jodi Katz||So you were able to achieve your balance goals while growing that business?|
|Allison Slater Ray||No. I would say I did not have balance there in the beginning. I pushed for balance and there were things that I definitely put my foot down on. I will not miss my kids' first day of school, I will not miss X, Y, and Z. But I would say work probably won to family in the first few years there, then it got better.|
|Jodi Katz||Before the acquisition?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Yes, before the acquisition.|
|Jodi Katz||And is that the end line you were all running towards?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Yes, but not outwardly. It wasn't always discussed. I think we all knew, but it wasn't like, "Okay, when we get sold, X, Y, and Z." We just knew that was sort of hanging out there and that was a goal. But the drive was always about success of the business, but also always about the IT Girl. That's what I loved about IT Cosmetics and still love, is that really, truly so customer focused.
One of the first things that I did when I was at IT Cosmetics is work with Jamie and Regina and Diane Miles and Jackie Finnan, who was the first employee, and work on the mission, which really was always in Jamie's head, but actually put it to paper. We had a mission statement and our "we believes," which really defined the type of person that we wanted working for the company, the "we believes." And then the mission was really what we stood for. It's something that we've never brought to the customer, but I really think should be. We use it internally as a guiding light and it just helps so much to work at a place that has meaning. Whether you believe it or not, for me it really makes a big difference.
I would say to my team ... and maybe they weren't always buying into it, but, "Listen, if things get bad or if you have doubts, just think about what we're doing." Because you really would hear from women all the time that IT Cosmetics was changing their life, and there's not a lot of beauty brands that can say that, and there's a lot I'm going to miss about that, leaving the brand.
|Jodi Katz||When you were choosing to have the work sort of infringe on your family goals, did you reconcile it in your head like, you're making an investment in yourself? What was the processing that you were using to say, "For this amount of time or this extended period of time or this whatever, this is my choice"? Because you do have choices, right?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Absolutely.|
|Jodi Katz||You made it clear to them in the beginning that this was more important to you.|
|Allison Slater Ray||I'll talk about my husband a lot, because I do think having a partner in life ... it doesn't have to be a husband. Anyone that you can talk to, whether it's your parents or your friends or whoever that can help you make these decisions. I sort of needed to know that I could leave at any time, and so I said to him ... and he was still growing his business, and still is, and I said, "Tell me. Let's discuss this. Can I walk out the door? Can I just quit?" And sorry, Jamie and Paolo for telling you this now, but at first it was a no and then it was yes and then just knowing that, you know what, if I had a shitty day, I could walk out the door, I could be like, "I'm out," and just walk out the door gave me comfort.
And then I decided for myself it was about the acquisition. I took the role knowing that there was a big chance that we were going to be acquired. I actually had no idea what my equity was worth. It was worth more than I thought but probably less than maybe it should have been. I was very happy, but I had no expectations. Other people, I think, had higher hopes and were really let down, so I'm super pleased with where I am. I didn't necessarily expect much, so ... But it did become about that and saying, "How could I work so hard and not get to that check mark?"
And then I still believed so much in the brand and there was still so much opportunity. I saw so much there that I wanted to keep going, and so it's three years post-L'Oreal acquisition and a lot of people are like, "I can't believe you're still there." But I think L'Oreal's an amazing company and everyone I've met is super smart and creative and strategic and I've loved all the people I've met. I've learned so much from them. But I don't want to be at a corporate company. I had to make that decision. It took me a long time to say, "Well, I could stay here and I could have amazing benefits and a pension." I mean, who gives a pension anymore? "And I could be really comfortable and I'm sure I can grow here. It might take me a little bit longer. Or I can go back to what I really love doing," and ultimately I had to ... I mean, it's a much riskier move, what I'm doing. Who knows? Maybe it'll only last a month. I hope it doesn't, but who knows?
|Jodi Katz||How long did it take you to make that decision?|
|Allison Slater Ray||Probably almost three years. Because I didn't actually start looking for a job. I just said, "Okay, I'm going to start taking some of these calls a little more seriously," and so that's really when I decided.|
|Jodi Katz||And what was that one shift that went from, "Okay, people are approaching me but I'm not interested"? What happened?|
|Allison Slater Ray||I think it was the companies and the opportunity. Sort of being able to envision what the potential of a company ... There was two companies that I spoke to, one of them being Memebox and the other one I just felt like, "Wow, this seems like so the future and I can see all these different ways that this can come to life throughout our industry and maybe outside of our industry," and being able to see what the future is, that's what got me excited again. I thought, "Wow, I haven't felt that way in a while," just where you keep thinking about what the future is and what needs to happen, and so that was really the turning point.|
|Jodi Katz||Well, I am so excited that we got to do this finally.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Me too.|
|Jodi Katz||I'm so grateful for your time.|
|Allison Slater Ray||Thank you.|
|Jodi Katz||I love knowing you. I think about you often. I hope you feel those vibes coming your way.|
|Allison Slater Ray||That's so sweet. Thank you.|
|Jodi Katz||I'm really proud of you.|
|Allison Slater Ray||I'm proud of you.|
|Jodi Katz||Thank you. And for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes, and for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast.|