Beauty Boss: How Laura Geller Built Her Brand Through the Power of Personal Selling
Laura Geller is the type of person you greet with a hug. Not because you've met before, but because you feel like you've met before. After all, Geller has been a regular guest in your living room for twenty years—nevermind that your conversations have been a bit one-sided. In case you haven't caught our drift, Geller has an ongoing gig on QVC. And by "ongoing," we mean two decades and counting. But before she hit the screen, Geller spent time behind it as a theatrical makeup artist. We got the scoop on the in-between from the makeup mogul herself.
What was your childhood like?
It was great. I grew up in Rockland County, New York in a small town called Spring Valley. It was really special. Everybody was outside; we didn’t have computers. We were out on the lawn doing gymnastics and hula-hooping! My closest friends from childhood are my closest friends today.
What triggered your interest in makeup?
There were a couple ladies in the neighborhood who were real fashionistas; they always wore makeup. And as a 12 year-old, I was just sort of in awe of them. It gave me the bug! I would go to the mall and hang out at the beauty counters in the department stores, even up until high school. So when it came time for college, a friend who knew how much I loved makeup suggested I go to cosmetology school instead. I was conflicted, but it was only nine months to get the degree, and I figured I could always go to college after that. But I never did—that was the start of it!
What was a day in beauty school like?
I was learning hair. They didn’t really have makeup as part of the curriculum, actually. The owner of the school knew that was frustrating for me, so he did a little research and suggested me for the theatrical makeup course at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. I jumped at the chance to go into New York City.
What happened next?
I worked my way up doing makeup for television and film. I was doing a lot of the newer shows, and a producer discovered me. He wanted me to be the makeup artist on all his projects. He was interviewing living legends at the time. So I was going to Hollywood and doing makeup for all these iconic people like Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant. I was also working at a pro makeup store around this time. Huge makeup artists like Kevyn Aucoin would get their supplies there, but "real women" came in, too. So that's where I really learned my makeup application and communication skills.
Because of that, I had enough clientele to open my own store. At first it was just a rented apartment that I converted, but then I opened a real boutique on the Upper East Side in 1993. I was selling my own product and doing makeup for every occasion. I was the queen of occasion makeup. And I loved every minute of it! We had something very different. You have to remember there were no other real freestanding beauty stores at that time. So it was very niche and it was a wonderful environment.
How did you connect with QVC?
I was at a holiday function for [trade organization] Cosmetic Executive Women. I was walking around with my nametag on, and a beauty buyer from QVC approached me, and said she'd heard good things and was interested in learning more about me. I could never have imagined knocking on QVC's door and pitching them, but I had always wanted to be there, so it was a thrill. She made an appointment and came to my store. After, she told me to put together some products that I could potentially sell on-air. The only thing I could think of—what I learned early on in theatrical makeup—was a contour and highlight kit. I pitched it to her, and she ordered 750 of them. I didn’t know about fulfillment houses. I didn’t know who was going to pack it. So I called my mother and asked her to set up her bridge table. All her friends came over and assembled what we called the Face Restructuring Kit. I went on air with that and sold out in five minutes. I cried like a baby. It was totally overwhelming!
How long did it take you to feel comfortable on-air?
Well, the night before that first show, I nearly had a panic attack. But once the camera turned on, it was so natural for me. I didn’t even realize I was on TV. I was doing my educational demonstration on how to contour and highlight. I knew that I was in my comfort zone and I actually enjoyed selling. I loved retail. I loved the art of the sale. So that’s how 20 years later I’m celebrating being the longest-standing color cosmetics brand on QVC.
That's huge! What's your secret?
Year after year, it was the fact that I knew—and got to know—what real women wanted and understood how to educate them. My niche was and is sort of being able to break it down in a way that women can understand it. They could do it, so then they bought it.
What do you imagine the next 20 years will look like for you and the brand?
I know this is sounding so trite, but I just hope that this brand never goes away, and that the legacy I leave behind is that the Laura Geller brand stands without Laura Geller. A young woman came up to me the other day and she said, “Are you Laura Geller?” and I said, “Yes!” I'm always shocked when someone recognizes me. She said, “I just want you to know that you’re the only makeup that I wear.” And I said, “Why? There are so many choices!” She said, “Because it’s that good!” And I thought, wow, that's incredible that she recognizes the sweat equity that we put into it. I mean every brand cares, but I think we care to a fault. So I pray it lasts forever!