BOLINGBROOK, Ill. — Few retailers in recent years have shone more brightly than Ulta Beauty Inc. Thanks to a relentless focus on its guests, the company is attracting new customers, growing its share of the beauty market and increasing its store count.
Shares in the beauty retailer are up over 100% over the past five years, outpacing the 79% gain for the broader market, as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.
“We see our stores as a beauty playground, and our core customer — who we call the beauty enthusiast — loves to come in to our stores to play, touch and feel, so we try to deliver on that,” says Paul Desiderioscioli, vice president of merchandising at Ulta Beauty.
“We’ve been able to elevate the in-store experience, particularly on the mass side of the business,” he adds.
Bolstering the mass side of the business has been central to Desiderioscioli’s job since he joined Ulta Beauty three years ago. For his successes, Desiderioscioli has been identified by MMR as one of Six Executives Who Made a Difference in mass market retailing in 2017.
“Ulta Beauty is on a mission to bring the fun side of beauty to everyone by constantly delighting our guests with all things beauty, all in one place,” he says. “One of the areas I have a big influence on is providing relevant, innovative and often exclusive products that excite our guests. One of the ways we do this is by continuously working with brand partners on newness and innovation. That’s a critical driver of our business and what keeps our guests coming back to our stores.”
Ulta Beauty operates more than 1,000 stores in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The stores stock more than 20,000 prestige and mass market items, including cosmetics, fragrances, skin care and hair care products and salon styling tools.
Shoppers can also receive salon services, including hair, skin, brow and makeup services.
Desiderioscioli sees his role at Ulta Beauty as helping to shape a differentiated retail environment where shoppers browse and select from an unparalleled variety of beauty categories, price points and services.
The Ulta Beauty shopper is someone who looks forward to coming into the store and wants to curate her own look by combining beauty items from several categories and brands to express her unique style.
One way that Desiderioscioli keeps shoppers coming back to the store is by quickly spotting beauty trends. He and his teams were among the first to recognize the potential of cutting-edge cosmetics and skin care products with exotic natural ingredients that originated in South Korea earlier this decade and then exploded across East Asia, North America and Europe.
“We partnered with brands like Tony Moly, Skinfood and Memebox that were at the forefront of the K-Beauty trend, and we’re proud that our teams were able to identify those trends and bring them to the U.S. market first,” he says. “That trend is about a skin care regimen that adds more steps to the process. That’s great for business because it adds a lot more items to the basket.”
On its face, a regimen would seem to run counter to the convenience and simplicity that is a core promise of many dual-acting skin and bath products that are popular in the marketplace. Those qualities might hold less sway for the Ulta Beauty shopper, however.
“If they find a specific item that fits an incremental need, they’ll certainly purchase it,” Desiderioscioli says of Ulta Beauty shoppers. “Beauty isn’t a chore; it’s something that they love doing.”
Desiderioscioli oversees all merchandising efforts in Ulta Beauty’s mass beauty categories. His counterparts have responsibility for Ulta Beauty’s prestige and professional offerings. Additionally, Desiderioscioli leads the company’s assortment planning and gross margins planning efforts for the mass beauty categories.
He was recruited to Ulta Beauty from Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., where he held a number of merchandising positions, including vice president and divisional merchandise manager at the company’s Babies ‘R’ Us unit.
“I operated in the baby consumables space, so I worked with diaper companies, formula companies, baby food companies and CPG companies, which is how I gained experience building relationships,” he says.
Those relationships have helped him at Ulta Beauty, where he works closely with L’Oréal, Revlon Inc. and other consumer packaged goods giants.
“I worked with Johnson & Johnson and [Procter & Gamble Co.] in the baby consumables market, so using those experiences and leveraging those relationships in the beauty world has been an important skill to have. These companies can be challenging to navigate, but when you understand what they’re going after, and you’re able to collaborate, you can start growing the business at a pretty decent rate,” he says.
Building brand relationships is a talent that helps Desiderioscioli bring innovative products to market, elevate the in-store experience and communicate effectively about Ulta Beauty’s advantages.
“We focus on offering value beyond just discounts. We’d rather educate our guests and create unique stories about these brands. We’ve been able to change the way our marketing teams go to market with these different brands, and create some new events that elevate the mass side of the store.”
Desiderioscioli, a former Eagle Scout, says the Scout motto — “Be Prepared” — is a message that has served him well in his retailing career.
He also credits Mary Dillon, Ulta Beauty’s chief executive officer, with being a big influence on his current job.
Desiderioscioli is a native of New Jersey and graduate of Montclair State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, management and marketing.
“I moved my family here two years ago, which says a lot about Ulta Beauty as a company and its culture. It’s not easy to pick up and move two teenagers (14-year-old Gianna and 13-year-old Dominic), but it definitely was a great decision.”