Not everyone can say they’ve posed with a pop star and partied with an icon, but for Monica Arnaudo, it’s all in a day’s work. The beauty industry veteran helps Ulta Beauty secure partnerships with brand founders, celebrities, influencers, and others with a lens to deliver what her shopper is seeking. She recently celebrated the launch of Fenty Beauty with Rihanna at a Los Angeles Ulta Beauty.
Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer, Killawatt Freestyle Highlighter, and the rest of the new billionaire’s products are now available on Ulta Beauty’s website and at each of the leading retailer’s 1,300 locations nationwide.
It’s a coup for Arnaudo, who has come a long way from her early days in Northern California. That’s where her loving parents taught her the value of a dollar and the importance of perseverance. Each week, Arnaudo worked hard to complete her chores to earn an allowance. When she was just sixteen years old, the budding entrepreneur purchased a JAFRA direct-sales kit and launched her cosmetics career.
Once the young Arnaudo had convinced her friends’ moms to host parties, she loaded her supplies into the family sedan to demonstrate and sell royal jelly and anti-aging skin care products. Then she scored a job at Longs Drugs, where she found a mentor and started creating product displays and learning the retail side of the business.
As Arnaudo interacted with customers and sales reps, she gained a better understanding of ordering and merchandising, along with how products create experiences and enrich lives. “Beauty delivers joy and confidence, and that means a lot to me. I love serving people, and when you take care of the customer first, everything else falls into place,” she says. Although Arnaudo learned this lesson at a young age, it remains her guiding principle to this day.
After spending more than a decade in retail at Nordstrom, Arnaudo left retail and shifted to the brand side of the business when she took a role as a key account manager at Chanel. Over the next decade and in similar roles at Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, and Sephora, she serviced the retailers where she once worked. “I’ve been able to work on both sides of the industry, which means I understand all aspects of this business,” Arnaudo explains. “I rely on this foundation in all I do.”
Because Arnaudo started her career at such an early age, she didn’t get the chance to finish college or explore other interests. So at thirty-eight, the rising star left the industry to earn her bachelor’s degree and pursue a teaching credential. She ultimately returned to her first love, but says the detour was well worth it. “It’s never too late to take risks and try something new. Don’t ignore the desires and passions that linger in your mind,” she says.
In 2017, Ulta Beauty recruited Arnaudo to lead an important part of the business. Although most of her experience had been in high-end prestige brands, as senior vice president of merchandising, and now, chief merchandising officer, she oversees an assortment unlike any other that brings together mass and prestige products to meet all guest needs.
Arnaudo has spent the last five years putting her stamp on the business, and she’s done so by following the north star of service that’s guided her entire career. “My job is to know our customers well so we can always engage and delight them with a curated assortment of brands and products that will truly resonate,” she says.
Ulta Beauty carries over six hundred brands. That means Arnaudo and her team must cultivate strong relationships with brand partners, responding to changing expectations and helping them to engage guests authentically.
“We are extremely proud of our collaborative partnership with Monica and the Ulta Beauty,” said Leslie Marino, president of L’Oréal USA Professional Products. “Together, we continue building a healthy business of serving our loyal customers, insuring we add value to their lives through innovative products, services and experiences. Lead by Monica’s renown industry expertise and unwavering leadership, Ulta Beauty is a model of success.”
In recent years, Ulta Beauty has emphasized its focus on three key areas—BIPOC brands, Conscious Beauty, and wellness. Furthermore, Ulta Beauty is doubling its 2021 commitment of $25 million to $50 million in 2022. The funds are set to amplify brands with founders and owners who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), but Arnaudo says the investment is more than money. Ulta Beauty’s emerging brand team is dedicated to mentoring BIPOC owners and helping them to grow.
“We’re not just bringing BIPOC brands into stores. We’re creating an entire ecosystem so they can really thrive in our environment,” Arnaudo says, adding that the retailer plans to introduce a third-party accelerator to take these efforts to the next level. Notably, Ulta Beauty also joined the 15 Percent Pledge and more than doubled the number of Black-owned brands in its assortment in the last year.
Conscious Beauty is the company’s platform to guide consumers to clean ingredients, sustainable packaging, cruelty-free and vegan products, and those making a positive impact. Ulta Beauty merchants have sourced products and introduced featured brands like DevaCurl and the Ordinary within this platform to offer greater ingredient transparency and ease of choice.
Lastly, as COVID-19 and other factors compel people around the world to prioritize self-care, Arnaudo and her teams are bringing in more products that address the mind, body, and soul. In the last quarter of 2021, the company launched the Wellness Shop to sell these products online and in 450 of its retail locations. Arnaudo plans to add more stores later this year.
It’s just one of many major projects in the works. Ulta Beauty is also refining its omnichannel experience and adding hundreds of in-store locations through its partnership with Target.
As Arnaudo moves these key initiatives forward, she’s doing all she can to challenge, empower, and support her team. And as always, no matter whether they’re working on challenges, strategies, or projects, she leads them back to the customer-first mindset.
The approach has never led Arnaudo astray. After more than forty years, she remains passionate about the work she does every day. “I’ve stayed in this industry because I get to do what I love. I get to bring joy to people’s lives,” she says. “And that’s beautiful.”