The COO of Bluemercury on the Washington D.C. neighborhood that gave him a home—and a cosmetics empire
by Atalie Gimmel | April 4, 2017 1:45 pm
Barry Beck is the co-founder and COO of Bluemercury, a self-described “luxury beauty retail chain, e-commerce provider, and cosmetics brand developer.” And while these are all facts, talking to Beck, it’s clear that his company is far more personal than the sterile industry lingo it uses to describe itself may suggest.
Since it debuted in September 1999, Bluemercury has swept nearly half the nation, opening stores in 20 states across the country. But according to Beck, like the best ideas, the industry juggernaut’s origins were nothing more than a simple aha moment he experienced while passing an independent beauty boutique on a stroll of his neighborhood, Washington D.C.’s fashionable Georgetown. “I would say it was like a lightbulb went off in my head—but it was more like fireworks,” Beck says. Kitchenware had its Williams-Sonoma and gadgets their Best Buy and, Beck says, he saw an opportunity to create a like-minded cosmetics emporium.
Despite his lack of any practical industry experience, Beck and his then-fiancée, now-wife Marla Beck purchased the Georgetown shop as co-founders, coined it Bluemercury, and positioned it as a retailer for educated beauty consumers looking for a luxurious—and local—option. Today, the Georgetown shop is adorned with a plaque that commemorates the founding of the company’s inaugural outpost, the first of now more than 120 locations.
Of working alongside his wife, Beck says, “We never go to a meeting of consequence without each other.” Typically, she handles merchandising while he focuses on real estate and store development (unless they choose to swap duties, which Beck says happens regularly). And although some may cringe at the thought of literally marrying business with pleasure, Bluemercury’s success could probably be attributed to it. Whether it’s a face-to-face with executives from Macy’s (Bluemercury’s parent company) or a family commitment (like the parent-teacher conference that Beck mentioned he’d be attending the day following our interview), Mr. and Mrs. Beck navigate their empire and family the same way: together, and often, while on a nightly walk.
“We go for a walk each night, despite the season and where we are. We were just in Africa and we had to have guys with us to protect us from wild animals,” Beck says. “By our calculations, we’ve walked more than halfway around the world together.”
No matter where they are, or where they go, Georgetown, the neighborhood where it all began, is still the family’s home base. Below, Beck shares local favorites that keep him coming back, even as he and his company continue to conquer the world.
Cup of Joe: A double, skim mocha cappuccino from Dog Tag Bakery. It’s delicious and handcrafted and the shop is steps from my office in Georgetown.
Power Lunch: Cafe Milano or The Palm, on 19th Street. Café Milano has a relaxed, chic European feel and a great Branzino, which is deboned right at the table. The Palm is a true power lunch spot where the players go—you’re going to see senators, presidents, and business leaders.
Cocktail Hour: The Rosewood, on 31st Street in Georgetown. Great service, an incredible selection of fine scotches, and a rooftop deck that overlooks Washington and the Potomac River.
Retail Therapy: On my way home from work, I love going to the Neiman Marcus in Chevy Chase and perusing their Brunello Cucinelli and Loro Piana boutiques. There is always something that piques my interest.
Field Trip: I suggest two. The National Art Gallery, where the works by Paul Cezanne, the father of the modern art movement, inspire me to think about creativity and entrepreneurship. Another favorite is Gravelly Point, a park on the Potomac River, right under the runways at the National Airport.
Date Night: A favorite date night for Marla and me is at Raku. We love the spicy tuna rolls, ginger salad, and red curry soup with pho noodles. And wherever we are, we go for a walk together each night at 10 p.m.
Don’t Miss: A favorite iconic destination is the Jefferson Memorial. We’ll go at night, when the moonlight lights up the statue of Thomas Jefferson, a visionary and one of the most brilliant Americans of all time.
Hidden Gem: A must is seeing Pierre Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. It is without question one of the most iconic pieces of modern art in the world, right here in Washington, D.C.
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