Career paths and growth opportunities abound in the professional salon community, both behind and beyond the chair. Chief Store Operations Officer Kecia Steelman, whose leadership has transformed service business and team culture at the Salon at Ulta Beauty, shares insights in this exclusive Q&A interview for Inside Look.
InsideLook: Tell us about your personal journey.
Kecia Steelman: It feels like I’ve been preparing for my role at Ulta Beauty my entire career. I’ve held a wide range of positions within the retail world—everything from being an hourly associate to now a corporate officer at Ulta Beauty. This gives me a unique perspective on truly understanding our team and the challenges they face. Beauty is such an interesting and dynamic category and I’m loving every minute of it.
InsideLook: Beauty is all about before-and-after. Striking changes you’ve noticed?
Steelman: What we know better than anyone is that our guests want a 360-degree experience. They discover products online, but prioritize experiences and crave a human connection. This has become so much more prevalent with the rise of social media. Our guests see something online and want to try it themselves; but they also like to play and test right in our stores. This rings true when it comes to services. The role of services is huge in this; we help educate and inspire our guests as soon as they sit in our salons.
InsideLook: How has the Salon at Ulta Beauty contributed to Ulta Beauty’s success?
Steelman: We transcend our competition by creating an immersive store experience that brings beauty to life. Our services are an important platform to connect with our guests. It’s part of our overall DNA and how we bring possibilities to life through the power of beauty.
InsideLook: How important is the services business?
Steelman: Our salon guests are highly valuable. More than half of salon guests make a retail purchase the day of their service, salon guests spend three times more than guests who only purchase products, and salon guests shop more than two times as often as non-salon guests. We know there is so much potential in our salon business. Today, only about 5 percent of our more than 30 million loyalty members use our services. We are continuing to make over our services model to elevate the guest experience and support the role of services as a true competitive advantage.
InsideLook: Three words that describe culture at Ulta Beauty?
Steelman: Passionate, empowering, creative.
InsideLook: What should a prospective beauty associate know about careers and culture at Ulta Beauty?
Steelman: The Salon at Ulta Beauty encourages our associates to unleash their artistry and grow their careers. We are always looking for new talent—across hair, skin and brow—to join our team. We’ve got great resources. Our Ulta Beauty Pro Team and internal Ulta Beauty Design Team collaborate and train our stylists to maintain our credibility and relevance. We attract the best in the business, give great training and education, and give them access to coveted industry leaders to help them flourish in their craft.
InsideLook: How does Ulta Beauty maintain a positive, consistent culture across 1,200 locations?
Steelman: It all starts with the store. Our winning culture comes from a place of understanding what our guests and associates want and acting on their feedback. We foster a culture of listening and treat our frontline associates with respect and as true business partners. We want our more than 45,000 associates to know that they’re at the heart of everything we do and that their ideas make us better. I spend a lot of time in our stores listening to feedback and acting on it.
InsideLook: What does “uniting” the professional beauty industry mean to you?
Steelman: We, as beauty professionals, have a common goal: to make our guests see the possibilities of their own beauty each and every day. This mindset is at the core of what we do, and we believe others across our industry feel the same. We all have a responsibility to make all guests feel welcome and beautiful as soon as they walk through our doors.
InsideLook: How do inclusion and diversity factor in?
Steelman: From the start, Ulta Beauty has been a destination that’s inviting and inclusive, and we hold ourselves accountable to ensure we’re a place for all. We focus on offering an inclusive assortment of products across all shade ranges. We’re educating our hair stylists to become texture experts. Our job is to deliver an emotional connection with all our guests and we believe every retailer should be embracing this mindset.
InsideLook: Final thoughts on career opportunities for salon professionals todayd?
Steelman: Ulta Beauty is a great place for a rewarding career in the beauty industry, where you can learn from the very best in the business across hair, skin, brow and makeup, and know right from the start that your opinion is valued as a part of our growing organization.
Check out the Salon at Ulta Beauty near you. Ask the salon manager for more info on local—and free!—Ulta Academy education and events. Apply at careers.ulta.com