Episode 52

 

Margarita Arriagada was a high-powered retail exec who tried to dial back her career not once, but three times. After four decades of logging serious air miles and being what she calls, “A weekend mom, a weekend wife, a weekend daughter and sister”, she spontaneously called it quits on the corner office. Hear how she knew it was time to step out of the org chart and into new, very different kind of life.

Announcer

Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.

Jodi Katz

Hey there, get set to listen to Margarita Arriagada, she’s a consultant and the former Chief Merchant of Sephora, and if you missed it last week we hosted Marisa Arredondo, she’s the founder of Phace Bioactive. Both of these women are incredibly interesting, I hope you enjoy their shows.

Oh, and one more thing, this episode is sponsored by BabbleBoxx. BabbleBoxx is an integrated influencer marketing agency, run by my very good friend, Sherri Langburt. They’re best known for their innovative co-sampling programs. BabbleBoxx creates a competition three, theme-based sampling program that places your products in the hands of social media influencers who’re guaranteed to post, Pin, Snap, Tweet, and share your message. I trust Sherri, and so should you. Enjoy the show.

Hello everybody, welcome back to Where Brains Meet Beauty. I’m so delighted to say it today that we’re joined by Margarita Arriagada … Did I get that right? Close? Close enough. Arriagada, she’s a former Chief Merchant of Sephora, she spent 14 years building that business.

Margarita Arriagada

11.

Jodi Katz

Oh, 11 years, sorry, building that business.

Margarita Arriagada

It felt like 14.

Jodi Katz

Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty.

Margarita Arriagada

Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Jodi Katz

I’m so thrilled that you agreed to be on our show, I’d like to share with our listeners how we met, because I think this is important. I’ll take you on a little journey. I don’t know if the whole way around but Wendi Berger, who’s the founder of Pour le Monde Fragrances, she actually works in the same office building as me; And I met her several years ago here. She introduced me to Caroline Fabrigas, since they’re in the fragrance industry together, and Caroline is the founder of Sun Marketing. And then Caroline introduced me to you.

What I love about this is that Wendy and Caroline are just such incredible, supreme connectors and so generous, and I feel so honored that they chose to share their network with me. And you’ve been so generous to share your network with me, as well. So I just love … I mean, this is the most fun part of our business I think.

Margarita Arriagada

I agree. I love the fact that I have more time to network now than I did before, outside of the inner circle that I used to have. And so it, it’s very rewarding.

Jodi Katz

Does connecting come easily to you?

Margarita Arriagada

No, I can’t say that it does, so it certainly took a little bit of courage to step out there and attend some things, attend some forums, introduce yourself, and I’m feeling a lot more confidence these days, and it’s just, like I said, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Jodi Katz

What were you doing before Sephora?

Margarita Arriagada

I used to work on the brand side. I used to work for a porcelain sculpture company from Spain called Lladró, I was there for 10 years. I spent the majority of my time at Macy’s, like 20 years.

Jodi Katz

Wow.

Margarita Arriagada

And so, but I love being on the brand side and I didn’t have any beauty experience, actually. I started out in fashion, and spent the majority of my time in the home area, and who knew that I would end up in Beauty?

Jodi Katz

Right, so for so many years you were at Sephora, people were coming to you, right?

Margarita Arriagada

Yes.

Jodi Katz

So your networking was inbound. And then you leave, and all of a sudden you have to actually make an effort. Right?

Margarita Arriagada

Yeah. Oh yes, it was daunting because for a while once you decide, ‘Okay I got to get going, I’ve got to get moving. Enough with the traveling and the cooking, the decoration, the redecoration of all the things.’ I did so much cooking, you just have no idea, I was channeling that energy.

But yeah, finally decided no one’s going to come knocking on your door, you’ve got to get out. And that, like I said before does not come naturally for me. And meeting one person led to meeting another person. And it’s … I’ve loved it. I really loved it. I love meeting all the people that I’ve met.

Jodi Katz

Before we get started and dive into the meat of your career, tell us how you’ll spend your day today.

Margarita Arriagada

Well actually, today is not as heavy a day as I had yesterday and as I plan to have tomorrow. I’m looking forward to having lunch with someone very special that I used to work with before, actually. And so, it’s a little bit of a reunion, and then I’ll take a few meetings later on in the afternoon here in the city.

Jodi Katz

And you don’t live in New York you live in California.

Margarita Arriagada

Los Angeles.

Jodi Katz

Right? Do you like coming here still?

Margarita Arriagada

I do. I’m here often. I do. It’s great energy. I love reconnecting. And my daughter lives here.

Jodi Katz

Oh, that’s so great.

Margarita Arriagada

That’s a big incentive for me. So yeah, I do love it.

Jodi Katz

That’s awesome. I’m sure all of our listeners want to hear about what it’s like to be on the inside of Sephora. So, if you’ll indulge us. We’d love to hear about that.

Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get a job there?

Margarita Arriagada

Well it was a serendipity type of situation. During one of my former lives while I was in Macy’s, I used to work with the former North American CEO David Salideano, and we stayed in touch but not too frequently. He was at Sephora and I was at Lladro, and I decided I was going to resign on my 10 year anniversary and just take a little bit of a break-

Jodi Katz

Really?

Margarita Arriagada

And I was at JFK one day, getting ready to board a flight. And at that time he was conducting a search for a head merchant for color cosmetics, and he was landing on the same gate that I was departing from. And he was the first passenger out and I was probably one of the first in line. And so I remember the moment we exchange, we were so surprised, we had not spoken to each other for a long time. He said hello, and what are you up to? And I said actually I’m getting ready to take a long, long, long break. I’ve just resigned from my prior role. And he would say that that was a little bit of a light bulb moment for him, that he felt I was the candidate.

And so we exchanged contacts and he followed up very, very quickly and convinced me that I would have a lot of fun at Sephora. I mean, actually I so loved being on the brand side. I had been quite disillusioned with retail, and at the level of lack of service. I loved that Sephora was all about service and it was a great environment. And anyways, so went my long vacation because I literally started weeks after.

Jodi Katz

So can we just back up to Lladro … You decided in your head on my 10th anniversary working here, I’m going to say goodbye?

Margarita Arriagada

It just sort of worked out that way. I felt that I had done everything that I could within the organization. I had worn many different hats. I had started out in sales, I had I ran retail, I opened up retail for them, I traveled around the world and opened some flagships. Then I was in charge of product development. I commuted to Valencia just about every month for a few years, and there really wasn’t much more to do. I had done it. And the timing was that I was up on my 10 year anniversary and it felt like the right time. And it was on January, 2004.

Jodi Katz

And where was that trip going to be? The long trip.

Margarita Arriagada

Well, I was born and raised in Peru, South America. And so for me, my default is get back to South America. My first thing is always get back to Peru, and then any place else in South America. My husband’s from Chile, so we love traveling.

Jodi Katz

Oh, cool. And did you actually have a trip before you started Sephora? Did you have time to take that trip?

Margarita Arriagada

No, no, no.

Jodi Katz

Good thing.

Margarita Arriagada

Yeah I know. Good thing. But, yeah. Great Journey. Eleven years.

Jodi Katz

And when you went through the interview process and the journey to getting the job, you felt like I want to be doing this?

Margarita Arriagada

I can’t really say that, because I just so much feared the fact that I was new to beauty. This was not a shoo-in for me. When I took the role Lladro, I had been in the home industry. Lladro was a brand that I had under my wing, and so I felt really comfortable and I knew where the opportunities were, and what to do on the brand side … think like a retailer. So, it was a much easier transition..

And I was in awe of Sephora, and honestly very, very intimidated. So I mean, I think I probably spent the first year like deer in headlights. You know? It was so entrepreneur and successful. And I thought, oh my god I just … I don’t want to screw this thing up. So, no it didn’t feel natural to me. But I’ve always I’ve always believed in the adage that if you feel you that you have those butterflies in your stomach, it probably is the right thing because I’ve always wanted to learn and grow and expand. And so, no I convinced myself to take the job. But it didn’t feel like ‘oh wow this is it.’

Jodi Katz

And after about a year did you feel like less intimidated?

Margarita Arriagada

I did. It took me a while, to be perfectly honest. I mean, I think that that’s probably the most challenging part of my time there, that it was such a different culture. It’s so fast and it’s sort of sink or swim type situation, just sort of figure out how to get on that path because things are moving so fast.

And luckily for me I was … my roots of having started on the sales floor, growing up in retail and it just really kicked in. I started to spend some time in the stores on the weekend. They took me under their wing, and honestly so did the brand community. And the pieces started to fall into place, and I started … I thought that I started to get my groove. And just started to enjoy, really really enjoy, being the head merchant for color cosmetics my boss said, “How would you like to be as VP of merchandising?” And I went, “No! No.”

Jodi Katz

Did you really say no?

Margarita Arriagada

Yes, “No. No.” I did. The head of HR had to talk to me, and let me know that would not be politically good for me to turn that down. But I was really, really loving and just settling into that position and so, once again I sort of stepped up and had to attempt to rise to the challenge.

Jodi Katz

So then you needed to learn fragrance? You needed to learn skincare?

Margarita Arriagada

Learn the rest of the categories. And it was a time in which Sephora needed to scale. And we weren’t quite prepared. And by we, I meant the brand community, and I had to figure out how can we bring them along.

And so the company literally gave me a year to figure out our strategy, figure out how you get the brands to build their infrastructure. We got to scale, the customers, the clients were really asking for the concept in their hometowns. And so yeah, I grew fast.

Jodi Katz

So when you say bring the brands along, this is coaching the brands on how to be able to support grow from supporting 30 stores to 130 stores?

Margarita Arriagada

Correct. Correct. I mean, I literally developed a little bit of a cheat sheet, if you will, around many different aspects that you typically look at, in terms of an organization and the team. Primarily do you have the supply chain, the infrastructure, and started to evaluate. And then we put a time and action plan together, and then it just kept track of like, okay 60 percent over there, okay we’re getting to 80 percent. And finally the majority of the brands were ready to come along on the ride.

Jodi Katz

That’s so fascinating, because you’re actually working as a coach to their businesses to help them grow.

Margarita Arriagada

Yes. And I think that’s one of the most gratifying things in that role throughout the entire role, over a lot of years as chief merchant. I mean that’s one of the most important things that I’ll take away for the rest of my life. What a great journey we had together. I mean, we were vested. And so, we had a philosophy that you’re only as good as your smallest brand, and so everyone had to come along. Everyone had to have a seat on the table. And so you cared, you cared for every single aspect of the business just like an investor would.

Jodi Katz

Right. Out of curiosity, what sort of relationship would a chief merchant have with, let’s say the head of marketing, at an organization like Sephora. Would there be … So the marketing team is looking to make Sephora the only destination for beauty, right? That’s their vision, and you are building up ‘the why’. Right. With the brands and the products that you carry. What kind of communication or crossover is there?

Margarita Arriagada

Completely integrated, completely glued at the hip with your cross-functional partners at every single level. So, the merchant level, at the vice president level, at my level we had an executive team and you had to collaborate and synergize on the common goal.

What I learned the most about Sephora different than the Macy’s environment is how collaborative it is, and you can’t do anything on your own. Nothing. You have to do it with the rest of the teams, hand in hand. So yeah, we were glued at the hip.

Jodi Katz

So I’m watching the landscape that we have now, right, Sephora and Ulta are the one and two, I don’t know who’s one or who’s two, it doesn’t really matter. But are there. Right. In my point of view, anyway and I’m waiting for that who’s that third, who’s going to round it out to be the other point of the triangle as like where our hearts and minds are as customers.

And I’m looking at a lot of organizations, because of course as an agency we want to help somebody get thee, so I’m really studying this. And I look at like a department store environment where my sense is that the marketing team is not connected with the merchant team; That there isn’t this common goal to be seen as like the destination. It maybe feels like two different boats going in two different directions?

Margarita Arriagada

Never, during the time that I was at Sephora. Never. No, everyone was heading and marching to the same vision and same goal, and very interconnected.

Jodi Katz

And I think that’s what it’s going to take for whoever, whatever retailer to get to that number three spot is to be so linked. So sharing of a strong vision that we are for the x y and z customer, and why we’re differentiated from Ulta and Sephora’s a b and c, but we are that for the consumer. And I haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t seen it come to life, which is why I’m looking closely at it. But I love that you were able to benefit from that common goal and common vision.

Margarita Arriagada

Oh no. It was a magical time. I just it was Camelot, for me, really because I wasn’t there from the very beginning but enough, certainly early on, where that building development momentum, that brand entity which Sephora stands for, how that came to life. Taking the concept from initially bringing a house of brands into to a concept that has a strong point of view, a strong vision in terms of what it wants to offer to its clients. So it was an incredible journey.

Jodi Katz

What’s the most number of people that you were managing in your team, at its largest?

Margarita Arriagada

Probably about 80 to 100, and I had responsibility over the planning team for a brief period of time. No, not a brief, for a good period of time. So probably 80 to 100 people and then back down once we separated the planning organization.

Jodi Katz

And why leave your Camelot?

Margarita Arriagada

Well it was time. You know how you just know it’s time. I mean, for me it was a combination of things. From a personal standpoint I had … in late 2014 I had lost my mom, someone who was an incredible inspiration to me, and someone that was very, very close to. And her loss impacted me.

At the same time, I had started to … probably a good year or a little over a year, I had started to feel the change in the industry, and I felt that it was major. I thought it was big, I didn’t know how big. And that means the whole social wave that was starting to build, and I could feel it like a barometer or my body.

And I had to think to myself, I mean, I’ve been commuting for 11 years from LA to San Francisco. I had commuted for Lladro for 10 years, traveled all around the world. I traveled around the world when I was at Macy’s. And so, I had to ask myself, “there’s a big chapter that was being written, that needs to be written, and do I see myself here five years from now?” And the reality was that I didn’t. And so, I had to make that tough decision quickly, because I felt that this way was rising fast. It was an opportunity for my teams, our teams, to rise up and take ownership and write that next chapter in history.

And so it was a very spontaneous moment for me, to be perfectly honest. I thought if I think it through I’ll never do this, if I overthink it. And yeah, I just I made a decision cold turkey, and in hindsight I think it was the right decision for sure.

Jodi Katz

Do you think your team was surprised?

Margarita Arriagada

Oh, I think everyone was shocked. I think were shocked. But you know, things just happen in life that you just don’t foresee. And the loss of my mom left a huge gaping hole. And I had never experienced much of my family. I mean I was a weekend mom, and a weekend wife, a weekend daughter and sister. And I thought, you know, I’ve done a lot. This is the career I’ve had, no complaints, I’ve had the role in my life. Is this how I want to see my next chapter? And I wanted a little bit more of a balance.

My kids coincidentally were getting ready to graduate from college in 2015, at the same time. I had missed so many chapters in their lives growing up, I just wasn’t there. And I remember how daunting it was when I entered the workforce, and how daunting it just feels today relative to that. And I thought I want to be there for them, in whatever way shape or form I can, whether it’s to kind of play HP for them or you know be on speed dial as it eventually turned out to be. And so, yeah, that balance finally kicked in for me.

Jodi Katz

And how does it feel to now, with this is a year later? Or two years later. Three years later. Does your everyday feel very different?

Margarita Arriagada

Every day is different. Every day is that discovery. Every day is I don’t know what today is going to be like. And I love it.

Jodi Katz

Is that one of the biggest differences from having a job that you go to every day?

Margarita Arriagada

Yes. I mean it’s a little scary every single day. And I’ve learned to develop that courage. I’m very much an introvert, I’m not an extrovert. I’m not the most outgoing, you know. Things just don’t come that easy for me. I’ve been very fortunate to have received a ton of reinforcement from people that have given me that encouragement. I was mentally prepared when I left. And yet, while I was still mentally prepared, it was daunting.

And so, I actually wanted to grow in that area. I wanted to have the courage. And now I’m loving it, it’s a great ride every single day because I don’t know who going to meet. I don’t know what this relationship, or this conversation, or this meeting that I’m taking, or this new project that I may be working on where it’s going to lead me to. And I often take projects that don’t come naturally to me, just to see where it takes me.

And so I really feel like I’m growing, I’m expanding, I’m learning a ton. And it’s kind of a Woo-hoo moment for me. I feel very stimulated.

Jodi Katz

So for the people who are listening, and there’s many of them who are considering a career change, like real shifts like you have, what would you say to them if they’re in that moment where they’re kind of before the decision is made, that sort of vacuum of knowing which direction I’m going in?

Margarita Arriagada

Well listen, everybody’s in a different situation. I certainly was in situations where I felt I wanted to leave a prior role and I couldn’t. And so I would never say to anyone yeah, jump. You really have got to trust your instincts and my instincts kicked in when it needed to. And you know I was sort of seize the moment type of situation.

What I would say is I would encourage anyone to take the time to the extent that they can afford to. You know we go through life so fast, and I don’t have any regrets. But if I could just slow it down a little bit, if I could just slow it down, I would. Because you are in a little bit of a race, you don’t have time to think.

And I always pushed back in that role, I was in a very strategic role at Sephora and you had to think, and there was no time to think because you’re always on a deadline. You always have to figure out ‘okay this is due”, you got to run to the next meeting, and then before you know it you go wow, what year is this? How did this happen? And life is precious and so not to say that you shouldn’t do, you shouldn’t have these career goals and all these things you do, but really it’s not about the end goal. It really is about the journey, and how you’re interacting every single day with the individuals, and through your family, the people you spend the most amount of time with, and you’re racing through all that.

And so allowing myself to get it out of my system, to you know crossover as I call it. I mean I went as far as I could, I went to the Amazon when I resigned. The first thing I did was book a trip to the Amazon.

Jodi Katz

Awesome.

Margarita Arriagada

And so it gives you a different perspective. And we all need a little bit of check and balance on perspective. So I would encourage anyone to just allow themselves the time, if they can, to reflect.

Jodi Katz

I think it’s very brave. And I know a lot of people think it’s brave, which is why they don’t do it, because they don’t think they’re brave enough. You know, if you can sustain yourself for whatever amount of time on whatever you have in the bank and make a decision for yourself that’s going to be better for you, and slowing things down, and spending more time doing the things and being with the people you love. It’s hard. It’s very brave, requires a lot of courage. I’m very proud of you.

Margarita Arriagada

Oh, thank you. I’m proud of you, too, by the way.

Jodi Katz

Many years ago I left a job that … I don’t know that, I mean, I liked it enough, but I was kind of bored. And I didn’t see it as an act of courage at the time to say I’m just going to go start my own business. It just sort of felt like well people in my business freelance, right? It just felt very normal.

And now that I’ve been on the roller coaster of owning my own business for 11 years, I realize that I am very brave and I have a lot of courage, and I am doing something that a lot of people would shy away from because it’s not easy.

So let’s talk about what you’re doing now. Tell us, how you spend your time?

Margarita Arriagada

So, I consult. I’m a strategic adviser and I sit on a few boards. I try, ironically, I kind of feel like I do much of what I used to do before. I know what inspires me… that founders passion, founders vision. I mean I sit on the board of the brand, LXMI, that is a great mission, brand skincare and great founder with an incredible story. I mean, I’m stimulated by seeing the vision of founders that want to conquer the world. And so, to the extent that I see that, I want to participate.

And so I’m selective, and I choose the projects that I think I can contribute but that I feel highly stimulated or that the founders have a strong vision for the future. And so I try and help them out, whether it’s brand positioning, brand essence, product, I’m a product junkie, or thinking about retail, I mean many of the fundamentals really, while the world has changed a lot, the fundamentals are still the same. If you want to build a brand to last you know and sustain, you have to think about those things.

So, there is an element that I’m certainly learning, the whole digital social world, which allows me, this consulting opportunity, allows me that perspective that I didn’t have before, as close as I have it now.

Jodi Katz

And you said every day is different.

Margarita Arriagada

Every days different.

Jodi Katz

I find that to be true for myself, as well, which is maddening and awesome at the same time. What do you do to give yourself the structure that you need, as someone who has had structure for so many years?

Margarita Arriagada

Yeah. You know actually while I had structure, I always pushed back on too much structure. Probably because I came from the brand side. I was challenged with a culture that was so much in the office when I had been on the road traveling and being in stores as often as I did.

And so I love taking meetings out and being out. The structure that has not changed is that I will take time on a Sunday afternoon after 6:00pm and think about that week, and be very calibrated on my priorities. So I’ve always juggled 20 things up in the air, and so I can move from topic to topic very easily because I’ve always done that before. And then I know the times that I need to concentrate, which is typically weekends, when I can have that quiet time I work on a strategy or on a project and go a little bit deeper. But I can juggle, a lot.

Jodi Katz

Are you a list maker?

Margarita Arriagada

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

Like, a notebook with a pen?

Margarita Arriagada

Yeah. I write everything and I check off, and even when I’ve done things that were not on the list I write them back and so I can check them off.

Jodi Katz

And just to have the satisfaction of checking them off? I totally understand that. So for a while I was a list, I would make lists in my notebook. And then things would change, I moved the list, like I’ve moved whatever to another page, and I got really tired of the list moving.

So I needed a new strategy because I would actually forget that there was a list. So, I moved to making notes on my calendar.I just put it any time that was available, like the things I need to do, even if it’s in four weeks or three weeks, so that the list is following me instead of me following the list. There is something about the notebook list that started to get so maddening for me and crazy.

Margarita Arriagada

No, it’s always been the same system for me. But I do have buckets. I love lists. And I do change the list from week-to-week, so I have a weekly lists. And I love this white paper thing. I love looking at white paper. It helps to clear the head. But my lists are very prioritized. There’s a bucket for the emails, there is a bucket for the secondary things, the primary things, and I can tell you that in five minutes, I know exactly what I can get done in five minutes.

Jodi Katz

That’s awesome. I want to see this bucketed list. I need this inspiration, that’s awesome. Well it’s been so wonderful having you here, I’m so grateful.

Margarita Arriagada

My pleasure.

Jodi Katz

Was this a little out of your comfort zone being on the podcast?

Margarita Arriagada

Oh, for sure. It’s only because you insisted.

Jodi Katz

I’m that persuasive?

Margarita Arriagada

Yeah you’re very persuasive about it. Thank you. You know what? I really appreciate knowing you, Jodi, and you’re doing an amazing job. I love how engaged you are. And you have such great follow-up and such a great human being. I really appreciate you.

Jodi Katz

Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I’m so delighted to know you. What’s happened in the past year for me, the way of connecting, that I’ve embraced it and the people around me have embraced it, it’s changed everything about the way I live my life with my work.

It’s so much more fun, so much more full of joy. I used to feel so alone, and I am a loner at heart. And now I don’t feel alone at all, and I feel like I belong here. Which is a really good feeling for me. So thank you, Margarita.

Margarita Arriagada

Thank you.

Jodi Katz

Well for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Margarita. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes, and for updates about the show please follow us on Instagram at Where Brains Meet Beauty Podcast.

Announcer

Thanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

 

 

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