ULTA CMO Michelle Crossan-Matos on Helping Consumers Find Joy in Beauty and Community

Amanda Kahn
Amanda Kahn
Apr 2, 2024

I cannot drive past an ULTA Beauty store without stopping in “just to look.” Even as a proud member of the retailer's loyalty program (which drives 96% of its sales), I still couldn’t put my finger on what it is that makes ULTA Beauty so unique. Until this episode. 

In Episode 123 of Earned, Conor sits down with Michelle Crossan-Matos, ULTA Beauty's Chief Marketing Officer. Keep on reading to learn how the bright orange beauty haven (which pulled in a whopping $476M EMV in 2023) catches—and keeps—its community's attention. 

We kick off the episode by diving into what Michelle calls a “fabulous year of results and people.” While Michelle only joined the ULTA Beauty team one year ago, we learn that she’s had over a decade’s worth of experience in the beauty industry. We hear why Michelle believes ULTA has “a responsibility to change consumer’s lives,” before learning how the retailer is shaping beauty as a force for good, for all. Beyond her role as Chief Marketing Officer, Michelle shares that her other job—being a mother of two—is what gives her a bigger sense of purpose, before reflecting on the importance of finding happiness and joy in life—which also happens to be ULTA Beauty’s inherent mission. Switching gears, we discover that not only is ULTA the largest beauty chain in all 50 states with over 1,400 doors, it also boasts the largest loyalty program— with over 42 MILLION members in the U.S. alone. We unpack the challenges of being a multi-brand retailer with over 600 brands, and Michelle shares the advice she gives to brands hoping to earn a spot in ULTA’s doors. To close the show, Michelle talks about her own publishing journey before ending on the concept of energy—which clearly isn’t lacking from anyone in this episode! 

We’ve included a couple of highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, or tune into the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen!

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The following interview has been lightly edited for concision. 

“We call them guests, not shoppers or consumers”: How ULTA Beauty Fosters a "Tight-Knit" Community of 42 Million Members

Conor Begley: One of the things I've observed about the beauty industry is this sense of community that exists both at the executive level, but even all the way down to the consumer level. There's these very large communities that exist and they’re very, very passionate. I'm curious for ULTA Beauty, what are some of the ways that you engage with those communities to bring joy into their lives? 

Michelle Crossan-Matos: For any listeners who don't know ULTA Beauty, they probably don't know we’re the largest beauty chain. They don't know that we're in 50 States and we've got over 1,400 doors. So with that comes one of the biggest loyalty programs in the country. So we have over 42 million loyalty members that are active. That's in [the U.S.] alone. I know many other brands would love to have that globally. Community really starts with your shoppers that are guests. We call them "guests," not "shoppers" or "consumers." Our guests are interacting with us every day. We rebranded our loyalty program this year and we spruced it up. We immersed a little bit more love in there. We gave them beauty birthday gifts that they could select from a number of choices. These sorts of things may sound small-scale, may sound tactical, but they're not when you have 42 million members. You have to find ways to bring joy and this was a way for us to bring joy. We're very active in our loyalty program. We're developing campaigns for our members. We give our members VIP access to certain steals.

“We're able to help our brand partners think differently and really develop their brands”: ULTA’s Michelle Crossan-Matos on the Rewards & Challenges of Being a Multi-Brand Retailer

Conor Begley: What is different about the challenges of being a multi-brand retailer that has 600 different brands? They all want to get more shelf space, more airtime, and more coverage. What are the challenges in managing that part of the business?

Michelle Crossan-Matos: We've got a North Star. We know what we want to do for the next 3-5 years. As a publicly listed company, we have responsibilities and judiciary. We also have the ability to toggle between day-to-day business and long-term business. If you've grown up in marketing and you've had global, regional, local experience, small brands and big brands, you will thrive in that type of environment because that requires a different discipline of toggling.

If I get a sales report at one point in the day and it's not doing well, or it is doing great, I go into action. I'm thinking about, "how do I amplify that or how do I mitigate that?" It's a very dynamic environment which is very exciting. When you're a retailer with 600 brands, you're the ultimate brand builder. Most people will work on two or three brands. When I was at P&G, I worked on 17 brands at one time. That was hard because you're just focusing on the P&L of those brands. Here, we're very lucky. We have brand partners that have a vision for what their brands stand for. They know what their unique value proposition is. Our job is to really help amplify their storytelling and showcase it to the guest.

That excites me because with all of the experiences we've had over the years, all the experiences we see in the market today, we create the best practices. We're able to really help our brand partners think differently and really start developing their brands, from the assortments they should have, to their launch plans, to their price points, to their communications.

Keep up with new episodes of Earned by following the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, or by subscribing to our YouTube channel. To catch up on our previous episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Revolve, K18, Instagram, and Roblox, visit our Earned Podcast page.