Mecca founder Jo Horgan says she never anticipated Mecca's widespread success when she started out more than 20 years ago. Photo / Supplied

How Mecca Founder Jo Horgan Continues To Grow Her Beauty Empire

The entrepreneur on how democratising beauty is the secret to her transtasman success

As a twenty-something, Jo Horgan says she always found the experience of trawling the shelves at department store beauty counters “too restricting”.

Browsing offerings from one big-name brand to another, Jo says her lightbulb moment came when she dreamed up an approach to beauty that saw the best in global and emerging brands sit side-by-side, supported with brand-agnostic advice.

“My mission all along was to upend the beauty industry and the beauty culture of the time, because I felt that all the power resided with the brand and the retailers, and not with the customers,” Jo says.

Restoring this balance of power, Jo says, has democratised beauty for her consumers, forging a path for a unique shopper experience in which consumers can take back control.

Like many brand origin stories, Mecca was dreamed up after Jo says she found the department store experience intimidating. Photo / Supplied

“From there, Mecca was born, with the approach to bring innovative brands into a service-driven, luxury boutique environment where [people] could shop in a brand-agnostic way, with very friendly expert advice and we could customise the product offer to suit their specific needs and wants,” Jo says.

The year was 1997, where Jo unveiled her 79sqm flagship store South Yarra, Melbourne, with a curated edit of just seven brands. Now, Mecca boasts products from 150 brands in more than 100 stores in Australasia, including 12 in New Zealand (the newest being the multi-level Sylvia Park store).

Whether one store or one hundred, Jo says what sets Mecca apart is its consumer-centric approach, which remains at the heart of everything Mecca does.

“We strive to make the customer experience extraordinary every single time. I believe nothing beats coming into a Mecca store, having the human connection, and I do think that our hosts make a true connection with the customer through the experience, expert product knowledge and care,” Jo says.

“They are just so enthusiastic about sharing everything they know — it’s like having a best beauty friend.”

Second to this, is Mecca’s commitment to delivering the ultimate edit of the best global beauty brands, ranging from accessible and trending direct-to-consumer brands to niche, heritage cult-classics — a number of which are available solely at Mecca.

Exclusivity is one of the key pillars to Mecca’s success, Jo adds, with many stocked being the first time keen beauty junkies across Australasia have had access to a particular brand.

“When we stock a brand exclusively at Mecca, we manage the entire process locally, including shipping, distribution, education and marketing, making it really easy for everyone,” Jo says.

But with countless beauty brands on offer globally, how to decide which is worthy of a pride-of-place spot on the shelf?

Jo says she has a checklist of sorts when it comes to onboarding exclusive brands. A brand must have “a unique point of view, innovative ingredients, highly efficacious ingredients, and passionate, visionary brand founders who strongly align with the Mecca philosophy.”

“The new Mecca Sylvia Park location offers four incredible dedicated beauty service zones, and Mecca’s first exclusive brow zone in New Zealand,” Jo says. Photo / Supplied

“Charlotte Tilbury, Goop Beauty, Kylie Skin and Cosmetics, Vilhelm Parfumerie and Brigeo are examples of brands that we’ve recently brought on exclusively at Mecca that support this strategy,” she adds.

Before Covid-19 hit, onboarding a brand exclusive would see Jo travel across the globe to meet with brand founders, innovators and other retailers to gain better insight into the brands making an impact with their emerging technologies and ingredients.

“These days, however, it’s a little less glamorous and involves a lot of Zoom calls!” she laughs.

Almost two years since the start of Covid-19 and its residual multiple lockdowns, Jo says the skincare category has skyrocketed.

“As a result of many beauty salons being closed due to restrictions, we found that our customers are changing up their routines and creating new skincare rituals, including using devices to recreate the results of their usual professional facials at home,” she says.

This includes high-performance skincare and devices, such as Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare’s Spectralite Faceware LED Mask and the BeautyBio GloPRO Facial Microneedling Tool — both of which are said to deliver salon-quality results in the comfort of your own home.

“Now that customers have experience the results that skincare devices can deliver, combined with the time and cost-saving over time, we expect this is a trend that will endure,” Jo predicts.

“This concept melds together Mecca’s existing Cosmetica and Maxima concepts into one large-format standalone beauty space,” Jo says. Photo / Supplied

Couple this with the ongoing success of the makeup category, mirrored by the movement towards individuality and self-expression.

“Our customers are such beauty lovers that as we emerge from [lockdown] putting on makeup signals a return to normalcy. Customers are enhancing their artistry skills and experimenting with different techniques and colours,” she says.

This consumer preference is equally as prolific on this side of the ditch, and Jo says New Zealand beauty junkies are known to stockpile their favourite products, like Nars Sheer Glow Foundation or Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream.

“And when it comes to our monthly newness drop on the last Tuesday of every month, we will always see these same customers heading in-store time and time again to check out the latest products in person,” Jo says.

This includes those that live rurally, with Jo adding that many travel long distances to experience the “Mecca magic” of the physical experience in-store.

Like many other industries, local shoppers lean into local brands, Jo says, and remain excited by products made with ingredients that are sourced locally.

Mecca currently stocks two New Zealand beauty brands — Syrene and Sans Ceuticals — with two more on the horizon.

“I’ll be in trouble if I spill too much, but I can share that one of these brands is an incredible skincare brand that put innovation and efficacious ingredients at the forefront of their brand and have experienced great results over the past 12 months,” Jo says.

“The other brand we’re speaking with is in the wellness space. In recent years, we’ve witnessed a blurring of the lines between beauty and wellness and have seen the impact of the rising popularity of self-care and wellness, so we are excited to grow our offering in this space.”

“There is definitely a lot of Kiwi pride, which we love to see!” she says.

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