Episode 14: Paulette Heller, Vice President of Marketing at Conair

Meet Paulette Heller. Vice President of Marketing at Conair. Listen as she shares what has kept her at Conair for 34 years (!), how to network as a non-drinker and how to achieve life/work balance as a single woman.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHi everyone. We are joined by Paulette Heller of Conair. Welcome to-
Paulette HellerGood morning.
Jodi KatzWhere Brains Meet Beauty. Good morning Paulette.
Paulette HellerGood morning.
Jodi KatzOur listeners are curious about the career paths and journeys of executives in the beauty industry. Not the glossed over, picture perfect, fake storytelling that we hear sometimes, but honest and authentic stories, and you certainly have an incredibly interesting story to tell.
Paulette HellerDifferent. Different for sure.
Jodi KatzWhat's so different, I've known you for a few years now and I think it's so incredible, is that you've been at Conair your entire career for 34 years.
Paulette HellerPretty much, yeah.
Jodi KatzCan you tell us a little bit about the beginning, like how you ended up at Conair, what the first job was like?
Paulette HellerYeah. I actually ... At the time that I graduated from college and started looking for a job, it was in the '80s. And for those who don't remember, we were in the middle of a pretty bad recession and jobs were pretty difficult to come by. I had kind of a difficult time finding a job. I mean, I went to school at [inaudible 00:01:33], I graduated with pretty high honors. It wasn't for lack of not being smart enough or capable enough, companies just weren't hiring, let alone hiring entry-level positions. I was working at retail at the time. I wanted to get into their executive training program, but they weren't taking people from within. I happened to get a call from a recruiter, kind of a friend of a friend sort of thing, who asked me to come in and interview for this position at Conair.

The position actually wasn't a marketing position when I started. I came in and I actually worked in a service program. The company had a service program for K-Mart at the time, which was probably our largest account. I mean, in the '80s, K-Mart was really rocking it as a retailer. I serviced all of the K-Marts in the state of New Jersey. I would basically go in, and at that time we were able to write orders manually. I would set up promotion, get all the shop space, set up promotions, set up planograms, make sure they were in stock. It was really just servicing these stores and I was driving sales within my territory.
I had done that for a couple of years and then I was given the opportunity to come inside and work on the private label business, which at the time, back then private label and appliances was a pretty big business. I mean, today, you don't see it that much, especially in small appliances. We had a lot of different programs for a lot of different categories, so I was exposed to the professional side of the business. When we got into telephones, I did some programs with telephones, hair appliances, all different categories, mirrors, hair setters. So I really got exposed to a lot of the different businesses that the company was in.
I did that for a while, and then eventually got into the branded side of the business. In the interim I also went back to school and got my MBA, and it was after that that I actually started to work on the Conair branded side of business.
Jodi KatzSo you mentioned that when you got out of school it was hard to find a job, and you took a job at retail, it seems, just to have a job and to pay the bills. But I would think that that theme is pretty relevant today, 34 years later. That people just have to figure it out, they're not necessarily gonna get their dream job, or even a good job, right away. Would you give the same advice to someone now, out of school, they can get a job. Just go get a job at retail, be busy, do something?
Paulette HellerWell you know, it's different now when kids come out of school, because there's different avenues for them. There's internships or they sometimes go out and try to start a business on their own, there's more things that they can get involved with other than just working in a retail format. I think there's more opportunity. But, I mean, it depends what your circumstances were. For me, I had to support myself so I actually worked two jobs. I worked retail and then I waitressed as well, so I was really just working hard to make the money.

But everyone has different circumstances. Sometimes they really need to work and they'll do whatever they have to do to make money. Then other people get out of school and they're fortunate enough to be able to do something that they love, and maybe not make as much money doing it, to be able to get experience. I think today there's different opportunities available.
Jodi KatzI work a lot with students when they're moving in through college and they realize they don't want to be a lawyer, or they don't want to be this or that, and they're curious about my industry. I say to them, "If you can't get that internship or that job that you love in beauty, then get that job in retail. Go find a job at Sephora, go find a job at Ulta." Because this is valuable, right? Maybe it's not your ideal, maybe working in the mall is not what you dreamed of, but really valuable experience with customers, with product, with storytelling, with hustling, cause it's hard. I don't purport it, I think it's really valuable.
Paulette HellerAnd I would agree with that, especially in the beauty business, which is really growing right now. It really has a dynamic unto itself where customers are really into the storytelling, they really want to interact with the product, they want to know that brand's ... Feel something about them, or understand their life, it is a good experience. I think when you work in an Ulta or Sephora you really can get a sense of some of these brands, and what they stand for, because the brands really are rigid about telling their story in those formats. So I do think that that is valuable experience.
Jodi KatzWhen I was a creative director of a beauty brand, it was this brand that had 150 stores in the US and thousands around the world. I learned so much about my team's role in how we connect with customers when I had to go and work in the store, which we all did around holiday time, everybody from the corporate office always went into the stores all over the country. It's there that I realized, oh, so we create all these zany, crazy, fun animations, and then look at how much little time the store staff has to implement these things. We send all these signs and posters and things that spin and decorate them for the shelf-
Paulette HellerOh, forget it.
Jodi KatzWho's gonna put them on the shelf? Who's gonna learn how to do it? Who's gonna know how to fold this a certain way so it pops up right? It was so enlightening for me, so I think that anybody, any one person who wants to end up in marketing or visual merchandising or even wholesale sales or whatever, would be able to contribute so much to their team if they worked at the retail level first. 'Cause they know what it's like on the frontline with those customers.
Paulette HellerYeah, yeah. And even working with, like as you say, when you're trying to implement displays and things like that, I mean, buyers always tell us you have to make it stow simple and easy to execute, because the staff in the stores just will not be able to execute it. That's why, I think, a lot of the time some of these things end up in the storage room in the back and they never even make it out to the shelf.
Jodi KatzRight. Because, you know what, it's that teeny tiny little piece that's integral to the whole thing standing up straight is at the bottom of the box, no one's going to see it. It's gonna get thrown out and then they can't assemble it, and then it's a giant waste of everybody's time and money.
Paulette HellerAnd money, yeah. And we've seen that happen many times.
Jodi KatzYeah, it was fascinating for me. I want to talk a little bit about 34 years, because when I look back at my journey to now, I don't know, I must have had so many jobs they might go into the teens, before I started my own business. Job for a year, another job for a year, get laid off, work in a flower shop, take another job, get laid off. I worked in a manhole factory, get another job, and like it just kept happening. I went from place to place. Not necessarily always 'cause I wanted to, it's just circumstances. Businesses folding, teams changing, in some cases I was just straight out fired. So it's fascinating to me to connect with someone who has been at the same company for so long. So I'm curious about what Conair gave you through those years to keep you?
Paulette HellerI think as I mentioned, when I was first looking for a job, the market was really tough. I had a hard time just landing the job. Then, when I got into the company, the company had just taken themselves ... They were public and they had just taken themselves private again. There was just incredible energy in the company, the company at the time was on this crazy growth trajectory. It was like there wasn't anything that the company could do wrong, everything thing they touched just sold like crazy. Business was just great.

I remember being at a Christmas party and hearing the owner of the company, at every Christmas party he would speak to the group, and I remember thinking there's something ... Something really good is going on here and it's really exciting, and I really want to be a part of this. At the time, that was when the company was moving up to Connecticut, and I just ... I mean, there's not a lot of structure here because it's a very entrepreneurial company, but for me, I kind of liked that frenetic atmosphere. And having the ability to work on a lot of different things and being part of this bigger picture, that just kept getting bigger.
So, at the time, at this Christmas party, the owner was talking about the company was approaching $350 million in sales. And here I am today, and the company is $3 billion in sales.
Jodi KatzOh my God, that's insane.
Paulette HellerYeah. I've been a part of this journey, with the company and all this growth, and how I've seen it diversify and the strategies that they've taken to get there. For me, it was always really important ... You know, you talk about companies restructuring and how you were laid off and had to get another job, and then you've had ... I mean, I can't tell you how many times I've heard this from people that I've interviewed. So it's very common today, and for me it was really important, especially because I had to look for a job at a time when the economy was really bad/ It was really important to me that I was working for a company that was really financially sound. In the midst of all of its craziness, whatever we do here, it just works. And I could say that about the company today, it's just a very financially sound company.

So that was really important to me, that was one thing. The other thing was that I think I was always challenged. I think if I hadn't had that piece of it, my journey may have been different. Because, my personal goal is to grow and to learn more and to become better at what I do. And, in order to that, you need to be given opportunities and you need to be able to be exposed to different things, so that you can grow and become more knowledgeable, and in fact be able to bring more value to the organization. For me, that was really what was the most important thing. And they always gave me that opportunity. And if at some point I feel like I don't have that then I think it would be time to move on. But, being challenged is something I always always have to have.
Jodi KatzWell, it's so incredible how you've watched the company grow so much. And I am curious to see if we're gonna find a ton of people wanting what you want, which is a financially stable company. Maybe, at some point, people are going to start of tire of the path of holding companies-
Paulette HellerYeah, I mean, it's hard to find.
Jodi KatzHard to find today. Yeah, I mean, I'm ... The longest I've ever been in a company is my own company. I've had my company for 10 years and I've definitely thought of leaving it at some point. But, you know, before that it was a year here, a year and a half there, nine months somewhere, and eventually it was four years somewhere. I wish it was kind of amazing to me, but I find it so interesting.

So I'd love just to shift gears a little bit and talk about a topic, which I find incredibly interesting, which is around networking and entertaining. I know this is an important part of your job, it's certainly an important part of my job, and I feel a little challenged as of late because I've stopped drinking alcohol. Not interested in it anymore. But, so much of entertaining in business happens at the bar. Those moments of bonding happen after many drinks with people, at 2 o'clock in the morning, and I'm just not interested anymore. I also want to go to sleep by 11 o'clock at night. Like me, you don't drink, so I'm really curious to hear about, as someone else who's not drinking and not taking drink after drink all night long at the bar with people, how do you navigate these really valuable moments to build relationships when there is so much focus on alcohol-fueled activities?
Paulette HellerSo obviously I've ... Having been in business for as many years as I have, different phases of my career ... When I was younger I definitely ... Not gonna say that I didn't drink and go to the bar and do some of the partying, I think I've had my moments. But, I guess I just reached a point in my career, having seen a lot of really, like, behavior that was really not the best in a business environment, I just decided that nothing really good is going to happen when you have that much to drink. And I just stopped drinking. It was a personal choice for me. It doesn't mean that you can't go to the bar, because I do go to the bar and it's [inaudible 00:18:09] to me. You're much more sensitive to this when you don't drink, is you notice how much emphasis people put on drinking for any kind of social activity. It's just like an integral part of it.

It's almost like peer pressure, but it's okay to be ... I found that it's okay to be at the bar and not drink. When you get to my level, the reality is that a lot of these younger people, once you reach a certain point in the evening, they don't really want you there anyway. They don't, I mean, they sort of want to do their own thing. So I'll go and be a part of the group, I'll go to the bar, and I can be relevant, and I can be fun. But, you know, when people start to reach a certain point of alcohol consumption and behavior goes in a certain direction, I usually leave. Because I don't think it's where, really, at this point in my career, where I should really be.
That's a personal decision. But I think I've seen enough bad behavior from drinking to know that it's not really respected. And I think, when you're a woman, it's even harder. Men tend to get away with a little bit more.
Jodi KatzWhen I think about ... My focus, I guess, on business development for my agency, it's essentially sales. When I want to connect with people, you know, let's meet for coffee, let's meet for a pedicure, and their response is let's meet for a drink. Which of course, like I can sit across from them and have my Seltzer with lime, and they can have their wine. But what I've noticed, especially at conferences and events when there's an overnight in a hotel, the bond building between someone like me in my position and someone like you in your position, so my client would be you, right? A CMO, a marketing lead, sometimes even a CEO or a founder, those moments, those long term memories that that marketer would have, it seems like they're made at 2 o'clock in the morning at the bar, with the agency. This is something that I'm not a part of.

So yes, I can sit at the bar and I can make conversation, but that's not what I think people who love wine and love their vodka or whatever, that's not getting to the heart of those big bond moments. I think the big bond moments are happening for them when everyone is really, super tipsy. So I don't have that, I just go back to my hotel room, I order room service, I watch The Real Housewives, and I know that those relationships are being made without me. So I'm curious if you have any advice on how to find ways in that are not drunkard ways in.
Paulette HellerFor me, I think what's really important is you have to make a connection with people, and it has to be for something other than alcohol. Everyone is passionate about something, and you have to find what that is. Sometimes getting to that passion comes from having conversation, meaning conversations. I mean, if someone was really into wine, chances are they're really into food too, because the two go hand in hand. And maybe you don't drink, but you probably would enjoy having a great dinner somewhere.
Jodi KatzYeah, yes.
Paulette HellerSo there's always a way to make a connection. It can be that, it could be ... Someone might be really into music. You can take them to a concert to see their ... Who their favorite band is, or musician is. Or sometimes someone is really passionate about sports. Take them to a sporting event. People always have something that they're passionate about, and it doesn't always have to be about alcohol. As a matter of fact, sometimes it's more meaningful if it's not, because they're gonna remember it. You know when you're out getting drunk and it's like 2 o'clock in the morning, chances are the next day they may not remember everything.
Jodi KatzThey may not remember your genius idea for transforming their business.
Paulette HellerYes, yes.
Jodi KatzWhich is never so genius when there's booze involved, right? It's never really that good an idea. Okay. So I just want to switch gears a little bit before we run out of time. Talk about life, work balance, which is always on my mind. I realize that life is short and I really want to be in the moment, and I want to make sure that I'm spending my time in a way that feels meaningful. You've mentioned to me that, as a single woman, it takes a different type of effort to break away from work to achieve a balance in your life. So I'm really curious, and I think our listeners will be incredibly curious, is like how you keep an eye on that. How do you shift the gears when you don't have that constraint of, "Oh, I have to relieve the babysitter." Which a lot of your peers might have. You have to work harder at it, so how do you do that? What is your approach?
Paulette HellerIt's difficult, and I will admit that when I was younger I probably did a much poorer job of it. 'Cause it's easy to fall into that workaholic syndrome. Especially if you don't have another demand on your time. So it's really easy to fall into it, and I think you tend to get a little more demands placed on you because you don't have something else pulling on your time. But I think it's all about setting boundaries. You really have to set boundaries for yourself if you want to have some respect for your personal time.

It's really important because, at the end of the day, you would need to be able to be an interesting person. And being able to sit down and have a conversation only about work, sometimes, you might be out with a buyer or a client and the last thing that they want to talk about is work. So you really have to have some other passion in your life, or other experiences in your life that you can talk about. You need to understand what else is happening in the world around you or have other people in your life that you can talk about.
Because, you know, people are so stressed out today, on their jobs, that when they get out of the office they want to just leave it. They don't want to talk about business when they're out at a dinner at night. You really have to set your boundaries, and I think lately ... I've lost a couple of people in my life at relatively young ages, it's become very profound to me the fact that life can change in an instant, and I don't want to just be remembered for how hard I worked. There really is so much more to life than that. Even if you're single, there's still a lot more to life than that.
Jodi KatzWhat was hard years ago for you to create those boundaries? What was kind of getting in the way, in your head, around saying, "No, I'm gonna shut the computer, I'm gonna leave the office and walk away"?
Paulette HellerI think, when I was younger, it was just ... I was always working towards something. If I put X amount more time into this, it's gonna be that much better. And so I would always put the extra time into it. If I can leave here and go walk a couple of stores, how much more can I learn about what I'm working on that'll make me that much better at what I'm doing? Because I didn't have, I may not have had something else to do, it was easy to just fall into that pattern of always, you know, I'll just stay and do more work.
Jodi KatzSo do you think, looking back now let's say to 10 years into your career, if you didn't spend those two extra hours a day on work and you went home and went for a run or do whatever you like to do when you're not working, do you think it really would have changed your career trajectory?
Paulette HellerProbably not, probably not. I think I knew ... I was better at what I did than I thought. I had a lot more knowledge than I ... Sometimes you don't know until you're given the chance to talk about it. Putting the extra time in, like I probably already had that knowledge and didn't need to do it. But, I don't know, I felt when I was younger, I just felt like this is the time for me now. Let me just put more time in, I'll get more recognition if I put more time in. It doesn't really work that way.
Jodi KatzSo would you seem that you're-
Paulette HellerI think it's about accomplishing more in less time.
Jodi KatzRight. So I was having a conversation with a friend who spends, I don't know, she was in her company for three or four years. I think like 16 years, it was a very long amount of time at an agency. And she felt like, when she was there, that she couldn't do the things in her personal life that she wanted to be at. She couldn't say no to traveling when she was going to be missing her kid's birthday. And like, "Sarah, why couldn't you say no?" And she just felt like the culture there said to her, I don't know if anyone outright said it, but she felt like the culture was speaking to her and saying no, you're not allowed to protect your personal time when it's important.

You know, I've been leading my own business for so long and my vision total focus on my agency is about life, work balance. So it's hard for me to know if that's really true. Do you think it's true? Are people working in corporate environments truly not allowed to protect and build walls around those really big occasions like graduations, birthdays, things like that?
Paulette HellerI think there's certain ... I mean I definitely have felt the obligation to make certain trips, to be at certain meetings, to not schedule any vacation time around this time because I know I'm going to have this meeting to attend. I've definitely felt that pressure to be present at certain times. I mean, this is a very ... One thing about this company, it's a very hard working company. It's sort of known for that. I'd say, if you're not really working hard, people know about it. There's not a lot of ... We're kind of lean here, so there's not a lot of people and you're exposed, even when you start ... When you're at lower levels of the organization, you're exposed to top management.

So, if you're not at all these meetings, if you're not at these shows, if you're not really working it, people know. So I definitely have felt that pressure to be ... Even now I do. But, I think I'm more conscious. I have help, I have people supporting me, and I'm working for me. So we sort of work together to have the coverage. But I definitely feel the pressure that there's certain things that somebody has to be at this, or somebody has to be at this meeting. I definitely feel that. And I think it's in the corporate environment you get that.
Jodi KatzYeah, I guess I wonder, does it need to be you? I understand that someone from the team needs to be at the meeting, but does it always have to be you? Or can it be like ... You know when I have an important occasion, I can't be in Vegas on that day, I can stay for one of the days and Sally on my team will be there for the second day. Is that an option?
Paulette HellerNow it is. Now I do that.
Jodi KatzNot when you were younger.
Paulette HellerBut I would say, when I was younger, I did not. I would be like no, I need to be there.
Jodi KatzShe and I were having a lively discussion in the train station yesterday. She was like, "Your situation is ... Jodi, what you have, what your husband has ... " Is completely different from being in these environments where she feels like she does not have a choice. That her time has been bought and there's no negotiation on how that time is spent. I feel for her, 'cause it's challenging. There's a life beyond the office.
Paulette HellerAbsolutely.
Jodi KatzAnd there's unspoken rules, right? I guess it'd be easier if there were direct rules, right? But they're unspoken, which makes it more complicated-
Paulette HellerAnd you know, a lot of times they'll say, "Okay, there's a big meeting happening, I'll let you make the decision." Is what they say. But, you know deep down like, "I've got to be at that meeting." You just ... There's definitely a deep sense of responsibility and obligation in that regard. Especially when you get to a certain level.
Jodi KatzRight. Well Paulette this has been incredible. I so appreciate your honesty and your openness in talking about these topics, and I know our listeners are gonna find this so valuable. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today.
Paulette HellerYou're welcome.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

Want to sponsor the pod?

Available On:

Apple Podcasts