by Elisabeth King
Specialist beauty retailers need to be high-tech wizards, event planners and personal troubleshooters these days. Customer expectations are higher than ever and savvy beauty lovers are looking for a convergence of shopping, entertainment, exclusive brands and high quality service. No one knows better that creativity is often born out of necessity than Jacob Stanley, Head of Education, Mecca Brands. “Our customers are looking for the best of the best at all price levels and the challenge is to keep service and training in all of our stores consistent”.
Stanley himself has always possessed the competitive edge that has earned Mecca its leading position in the prestige beauty business in Australia. I followed a zig-zag career path at first, he says. “I have started three uni degrees, believe it or not. The first was in visual communications because I wanted to be a music video producer. But I dropped out when I quickly realised that they weren’t going to hand out cameras straightaway. After a stint as a Christmas casual at Myer, I signed up for a performing arts degree and recognised that acting wasn’t really for me, either”.
Like many young people, Stanley discovered that his career trajectory as a 20-something was more about finding out what he didn’t want to do career-wise. “A major part of my decision to join the workforce at that time was because I was offered a great position by Myer in visual merchandising at the Erina Fair store on the NSW Central Coast. It was a wonderful opportunity and taught me that retail is all about detail”.
A shift to another visual merchandising role at the Myer store in Warringah Mall prompted the realisation that Stanley was more interested in the customer side of retailing. “I relocated to the youth fashion department at Myer Bondi Junction. That’s where my love for cosmetics really started. I became the floor manager in the beauty department with a team of 60 people. It was a very administrative position but I really became fascinated with fragrance, skincare and makeup and read and learned as much as I could”.
As his knowledge deepened, Stanley also became very aware of MECCA and how influential the company was as a beauty destination and breeding ground for the cream of indie brands. “I knew that MECCA had a passionate interaction with customers by introducing them to products that make a difference in their lives and earning their trust and loyalty in the process. I was so nervous at all of the three interviews I was asked to attend and even wore a suit and tie. Thankfully, they decided to take a punt on me and I started work at the MECCA store in Galeries Victoria in Sydney’s CBD”.
Stanley then took another stab at getting a uni degree, this time in communications. “I joke that I really wanted to be a beauty writer and travel the world. But within the first three months of working for MECCA, I knew I was on the right path. As it turned out, I do go overseas multiple times a year with my job – Paris, Budapest and other major fragrance, skincare and makeup hubs. The company has expanded so quickly that many of the roles that have been created didn’t exist when I started”.
After a year at Galeries Victoria, Stanley moved to the key Paddington store. “My experience in performing arts actually came in handy after all as I did makeovers. I loved being a store manager. I put up my hand for everything to make myself an expert in multiple areas. I also continued to do heaps of research. I became regional manager for Sydney and Canberra, working with the wonderful Emma Goddard for two years. She is still with the company as well and together we were able to truly foster talent which resulted in greater staff retention”.
In 2014, Stanley moved to Melbourne to take up the role of national training manager. Even though he missed going to Coogee Beach in Sydney, he admits that his next infatuation was with the MECCA Maxima concept. “It’s so fun, so playful, so experimental. There’s so much opportunity to give the advisors and managers more responsibility, a greater sense of ownership and to develop their own authority”.
Stanley believes that face-to-face time is crucial in his current role as Head of Education. “One year I was on 120 flights. Having said that, we have fully embraced technology, working with digital learning leader MindAtlas, on interactive courses, fragrance manuals and skin physiology. All of which offer amazing interaction to keep skills and product knowledge up to speed”.
One of the best things about working for MECCA is meeting some of the great visionaries of the cosmetic universe, says Stanley. “I’m talking about legends like Terry de Gunzburg of By Terry, the creator of YSL’s iconic Touche Eclat highlighter, and cult dermatologists such as Dr Dennis Gross. We celebrated our 20th birthday this year and staged some wonderful events relevant to our core brands. Our goal is to be Australasia’s number one beauty destination and we stock over 120 of the world’s most sought-after brands. We have 90 stores now and it’s been such an amazing journey to be part of the on-growing process and brand development”.
On a personal level, Stanley believes that the biggest takeaway of his career at MECCA is learning to become more resilient. “I know my track record in study didn’t look too good. But when I told my then-manager that I was going back to uni to complete a communications degree while working full-time, she was very sceptical. She told me that she had tried to do the same herself and it didn’t work out. I said OK, but I want to try. She gave me one month to prove that I could still do my job at the highest level and study at the same time or step down. I was happy to prove her wrong. Not because of one-upmanship but because I proved to myself what I was capable of and how far I had come professionally”.