Q&A: By Terry CEO Marion Assuied on brand values, empowered consumers and clean beauty

The global cosmetic market was valued at $532.43bn in 2017 and is expected to reach $805.61bn by 2023. Within the sector, there’s an increasing shift towards natural makeup, ease of application and higher quality as small disruptive companies gain more traction from online success. As premium beauty continues to expand, more attention is being given to brands that can keep up with consumers who favour ‘smart’ and customisable products.

I caught up with Marion Assuied, Chief Executive of the premium Parisian cosmetics brand, By Terry and the daughter of founder Terry de Gunzburg. We discussed brand values, empowered consumers and clean beauty.

Why did you get into the family business?

I was at university studying law when By Terry was launched. In fact, I used to help unpack boxes during the summer – but actually joining the company was never predestined. Afterall, I was training to become an M&A lawyer and had envisioned myself practicing in a big American law firm. But then I discovered the business side – which, needless to say, I fell in love with.

At the end of my studies, I had two options: pass my degree and start practicing law, which I ultimately concluded was too theoretical for me, or follow my passion for business. I, of course, did the latter. I just couldn’t resist the energy, chaos and passion that comes with running a business.

Photo credit: By Terry

I asked my mother if there were any positions available at By Terry. It so happened that the head of commercial had just left who was running four points of sales in France at the time. Terry’s attitude was “Why not? You should give it a try!” I agreed along with the promise that I would make the business run more efficiently, but having just finished a law degree, I didn’t have a clue of how to operate a business.

Once I got the hang of things, I ended up staying in commercial for 10 years. It was stimulating – learning the basics in such a fast-paced environment. As was managing people – and when you can manage makeup artists, you can manage anyone.

What has been your greatest achievement at By Terry?

After my time working in commercial, I moved to marketing and communications. Even then, after gaining lots of experience, I didn’t think I would eventually be running the company. When our general manager, a veteran of ten years left, the company was at a loss. After attempting to fill the role with candidates that didn’t understand the nuances of the markets or the business itself I, once again, threw my hat into the ring.

The first thing on my agenda was to work out how best to utilise the digital revolution. At the time, By Terry was targeting a mature consumer and was not answering the digital call. Ultimately, my goal was to embrace technology and attract younger generations, without killing the brand and its values. But digitising is no small feat when you’re dealing with cosmetics – especially back then when the technological expertise or platforms weren’t as prolific as today.

The measures I put in place back then are now bearing fruit for the business. With everyone now taking interest in the brand, I feel like I’ve been successful because I decided not to follow the trends of other brands. That’s not what By Terry is about – we don’t follow, we forge our own path. So, I stayed true to the values Terry drilled into me and chose to adapt to the market instead of conforming. That is my greatest achievement. My next step is to continue the globalisation of our brand.

Could you tell us more about what you’ve learnt from your mother? 

She’s big on patience – you have to be if you are starting your own brand. Terry is also incredibly resilient. She’s not one for giving up easily. Not many people believed in her when she launched By Terry, but her passion and determination shone through. She always used to tell me “You only fail when you stop trying”.

Terry de Gunzburg

Will you pass these values on to your daughters?

I already have! But I don’t expect them to join the company or anything – much like Terry didn’t expect that of me. Although, my youngest – who is six – is already fascinated by tutorials and recognises our latest products every time we visit a By Terry store.

What does the next phase look like for By Terry?

Well, we have some important agreements in the works, which revolve mostly around Asia. I can’t go into too much detail, but the market is becoming more and more important to us.

Why has Asia become so important for By Terry and the beauty industry?

First off, the collective wealth of young Asian consumers is continuing to rise. With that wealth comes a new push for consumers to educate themselves in all things beauty. You have to bear in mind that this is a generation that wants all the details. I would go as far as to say that they’re even more informed than their western counterparts – young Asian consumers have fully embraced all that social media and technology have to offer. Their infrastructure is much more advanced than ours in the west. Take payment, for example, Chinese consumers have all but abandoned physical payments cards, opting for contactless transactions instead. You think Google and Apple Pay are big in Europe? They’ve got nothing on the spread of Alipay.

Asian consumers have made their move, now brands are following suit. All aspects of a business have to be digitally enabled to stay competitive over there. The relationship between brands and consumers will result in new ways to shop – those innovations will quickly spread across the globe.

Let’s talk beauty trends, we’ve picked up on the link between beauty and health – what are your views on wellbeing? Does it hold a special place at By Terry?

I’ve never wanted to follow trends, but health and wellbeing are so necessary in moving the industry forward. I’d say that they’re much more than crazes. They are more akin to values and are absolutely a special part of By Terry. As an example, half of the company’s 2020 launch will be clean beauty products, including many of our makeup products. We have a range that is made entirely of rose and hyaluronic acid, which might sound scary but it holds the key to smooth, flawless and hydrated skin. The combination of these two ingredients in our makeup products is entirely unique to By Terry and as a result, sales are flying!

This shift towards clean beauty – using fewer ingredients to produce higher quality products – is becoming more important, as are vegan products. This is the big challenge for premium beauty, and who’s to blame consumers for wanting to know what’s in these products?

Is personalisation a fad or is it the future of cosmetics?

There is definitely a move towards more personalised cosmetics. We’ve launched our own version, Palette Factory, allowing customers to manufacture their own palettes to suit their needs. But more than that – what’s important these days is transparency.

Considering a newfound awareness among consumers, now is the perfect time for By Terry. We have always been big on brand values and adamantly believe that consumers should never have to compromise their health just to look good. What is good for your body is ultimately good for your skin.

Photo credit: By Terry

Quick facts

Born: 1981

Who is your mentor? Definitely Terry. Throughout my life she’s acted as my business partner and continues to inspire me by challenging herself and continuously developing as a result. Not a lot of people can say they have 35 years’ experience in beauty – as a veteran of the industry, who is still very much involved in the company and runs all creation, Terry is able to anticipate trends and continues to advise me to this day.

What excites you about beauty? More than anything, it’s continuing to make By Terry global and huge! When I do so, I will have achieved my own ambitions as well as my mother’s.

Linda.summers@thembsgroup.co.uk | @TheMBSGroup | The MBS Group