‘Violet Grey 2.0’: The luxury beauty retailer charts a new path to growth

Luxury retailer Violet Grey is building on its content-first strategy with two new monthly series. It is simultaneously exploring private label products and joint venture e-commerce partnerships.

Violet Grey currently hosts its own magazine-style blog the Violet Files. It includes series like Violet Vanities, where celebrities and beauty industry insiders offer glimpses into their bathrooms and the products they use. In a new monthly series called Screen Test, Violet Grey is taking this same inside-look approach and doubling down on it. Screen Test kicked off on Feb. 25 with KNC Beauty founder Kristen Noel Crawley, featuring a photoshoot, a shoppable page (called Shop Her Bag) of what products she keeps in her handbag and a 16-question interview between Noel Crawley and designer Virgil Abloh.

“The screen tests are deeply rooted in the Violet Grey DNA,” said Vicen Akina, Violet Grey’s creative director. “This wave of content [allows us to find] new ways to blend content and commerce, highlighting our beloved brand partners and finding new muses to inspire shopping behavior .”

In addition to Screen Test, Violet Grey plans to have its “own version of QVC,” called Behind the Counter, consisting of short-form content on VioletGrey.com. Its Melrose Place storefront, which is closed due to Covid-19, will serve as the film studio.

Cassandra Grey, founder and CEO, said that the retailer is embarking on a “Violet Grey 2.0.” She noted that the accelerated shift toward e-commerce in 2020 came with growing pains and the focus is now on scaling that side of the business. Areas of focus include customer service, customer experience and backend technology. Violet Grey also does not ship internationally, and Grey said that the retailer is in the early stages of exploring an e-commerce partnership, which could result in a joint venture. Between 2016 and 2017, Violet Grey was in discussion about a similar concept with Amazon to enable Violet Grey to sell luxury products on the platform, but the deal fell through, Grey said.

Grey declined to comment on business performance. The L.A. Times noted in a 2019 story that Violet Grey made $10 million in revenue in 2018, while WWD reported in 2020 that the retailer expected to earn $15 million last year. WWD also reported that Violet Grey’s investor Shiseido was looking to shed its minority investment in the business, which it made in 2018. Though Grey confirmed that Shiseido was still an investor, she declined to speak about the conglomerate’s involvement in Violet Grey’s future activities. According to Pitchbook, Violet Grey secured a debt-financing loan for $1.35 million in May 2020 from Assembled Brands, a financing business, and Agility Capital, a venture debt fund.

“This time last year, most of our customers were still shopping at the brick and mortar beauty counter,” said Grey. “It’s about scaling the business and getting better at it which requires a lot of improvement, innovation and technology. As we scale the business, we want a partner to scale the e-commerce distribution versus doing it ourselves.”

In other news, Grey said that the retailer was on-target to reach its pledge to stock at least 15% Black-owned brands, adding that Aurora James’ racial justice movement has been a boon to the company because more brands are reaching out to sell through Violet Grey. Violet Grey is also planning to launch its own private label products in a “beauty-adjacent” category, Grey said, though she declined to provide further specifics.

“We’ve been curating products for the last eight years and have learned about a lot of products and categories. When we can’t find best-in-class products, we want to be able to incubate them,” she said.

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