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Bobbi Brown Does It Again

The makeup artist-turned-founder wants to fly solo with her second act: clean makeup range, Jones Road. Can she?
Bobbi Brown opens two new Jones Road stores.
Bobbi Brown opens two new Jones Road stores. (Courtesy)

When Bobbi Brown left her namesake brand (and the parent company she sold it to, The Estée Lauder Companies) in 2016, she had no intention of running another multi-million dollar beauty company.

And yet, that’s exactly what she is doing. Jones Road Beauty, the clean beauty brand she launched direct-to-consumer in October 2020 has quickly found a captivated audience among both Gen-Zers and those over 50. On March 15, Jones Road opens its first New York City store, a 750 square foot flagship located in Greenwich Village.

Unlike Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, which captured that cool, undone “no-makeup makeup” vibe for Gen-X and Baby Boomers, Jones Road is a modern, minimally branded line bolstered by TikTok and Instagram savants. The brand can be described as a sort of grown-up Glossier, with an artistry bent.

Brown created one of the most iconic brands in beauty, and enjoyed a significant slice of fame from her eponymous line — her name has been on everything from foundations to eyeshadow pencils for the last three decades, and still is. She was also in millions of American households almost every day for 12 years as a regular beauty contributor on the “Today” show. But the virality she has experienced in the last year with Jones Road is something that is hard for her to comprehend.

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“It’s insane. I literally walk around with no makeup, my sneakers on and people stop me,” said Brown, who is 65. “My recognition since Jones Road has been catapulted. I’m like, ‘How do you even know me?’ and people say ‘We listen to your voice.’”

Social media gave Brown a new platform, a fresh audience followed, and Jones Road has become beauty’s latest darling.

At a time when maintaining a direct connection with consumers is difficult, Brown’s Jones Road is an anomaly. The brand is almost entirely DTC, save for the London department store Liberty, where it launched in October. That’s unusual in a market where new brands angle to launch with a blue chip retailer, like Sephora or Ulta Beauty.

For Brown, maintaining that singular relationship with Jones Road customers for as long as possible is especially important: Jones Road will open its New York City store, followed by a third store in East Hampton on Long Island in May (to date, Jones Road has one location in Montclair, New Jersey, where Brown lives). The brand reached $60 million in revenue in 2022 and with the new locations, Brown expects that figure to double in 2023.

Creating Magic … Twice

Long before Brown was TikTok famous, she was a freelance makeup artist unable to find lipstick that looked like her natural lips. Brown launched Bobbi Brown Cosmetics in 1991; she took the line of lipsticks to Bergorf Goodman. She famously sold a month’s worth of inventory, 100 lipsticks, her first day in store. Four years later, the Estée Lauder Companies acquired the brand.

For much of the 1990s and 2000s, Bobbi Brown the brand was riding high, hitting $1 billion in annual sales. But soon after a wave of influencer and artistry brands came to market around 2015, the line began showing signs of wear. In 2016, Brown left and since at least 2019, the ELC brand has been tweaking its formula to capture younger shoppers.

Sandra Main, global brand president of Bobbi Brown, told BoF in 2019, “The younger millennials and the Gen Zs — they don’t know what Bobbi was about. They don’t know who she is.”

Jones Road seems to be educating them.

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After launching other projects like her wellness and supplement line Evolution_18 with Walmart in 2018 and opening a hotel in Montclair, Brown found herself drawn back to beauty.

Jones Road follows the same “you but better” makeup ethos Brown created in the 1990s, but with updates. Multi-use products like its Miracle Balm, a light-reflecting tinted moisturiser, come in minimal black and white packaging and follows Credo Beauty’s “clean” standard. The name of What The Foundation, a goopy complexion product, is a nod to millennial text messaging.

“Some people like full coverage, some people like matte, some people actually like contour, God forbid. There’s plenty of people that don’t. …Not everyone wants Jones Road, but enough people do,” said Brown of the line.

Grace Atwood, an influencer, who has worked with Jones Road described the items as “idiot-proof.”

“You can not make yourself look bad. I’m not someone who’s going to do a smokey eye or contour,” said Atwood, who sells anywhere from five to 10 Jones Road products a day through affiliate links. “It’s easy to look nice and like yourself in five minutes. My mom friends love them.”

Instant Recognition

The products and branding of Jones Road follows what’s cool in beauty today, but are also suggestive of other colour brands selling the premise of “no makeup makeup,” from Ilia Beauty to Kosas to yes, even Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. But the key difference is Brown herself.

Though plenty of beauty founders have had second acts recently, few have had Brown’s level of success.

“Bobbi has a force of authority that can build a massive brand, even today,” said Reesa Lake, LTK’s vice president, head of creator agency and partnerships.

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Simeon Siegel, retail analyst at BMO Capital Markets, agreed that Brown’s credibility and authority in beauty gives her an advantage.

“Having a brand beforehand and a built-in awareness is simply another version of customer acquisition. She just has better terms,” he said.

Putting Brown front and centre has been Jones Road’s winning strategy, said Jones Road CMO Cody Plofker, who is also Brown’s son.

“You can’t ignore the Bobbi factor,” he said. “When you launch a brand you don’t exactly know what the messaging is going to be … it evolves over time.”

The Clapback Heard ‘Round the World

In May 2022, Brown went head to head with one of beauty’s most important influencers, Meredith Duxbury, who is known for her full coverage beauty routine. After applying two scoops of What The Foundation on her face, Duxbury says she is passing on the new product, complaining about its consistency. Brown took to TikTok in an old guard vs. new guard showdown to share a “new technique” she had supposedly learned online, slopping the product on her face and poking fun at Duxbury’s overuse of the foundation.

Jones Road fans were transfixed. “When I saw that, I was like ‘Bobbi for President,’” said Atwood.

Following Brown’s response, Jones Road saw the single highest daily sales record in its history.

What could have been a detrimental moment for Jones Road ended up in Brown’s favour. She continued to use the Duxbury clapback as a way to educate shoppers about the product. To date, the April 2022 launch is one of Jones Road’s top two bestsellers. Jones Road spends up to 20 percent of its revenue on paid marketing initiatives, with Instagram and Facebook being top drivers.

“Thank you, Meredith, thank you,” said Brown. “That did more to sell What The Foundation than any giant spread in Vogue could have done or even [being on] Oprah.”

Owning the Relationship

Brown’s name recognition has gotten the brand far, but Jones Road is experimenting with stores to boost further awareness.

The Greenwich Village location is clean and minimal. Natural light floods the corner outpost, making it a desirable place for makeup applications and shade matching tutorials. And while Brown won’t be in store daily, her Masterclass will be displayed on a loop.

“There’s not all these other cosmetics companies trying to be fabulous next to each other,” said Brown. “We could just go move in there and be us.”

The East Hampton store, which opens May 15 and is located near Ralph Lauren and Tutto Caffé, will be equally neighbourhood driven. Brown expects to open two stores a year. She has her eyes set on Chicago, where she is from, and Florida next.

Still, running stores is a costly endeavour with not all DTC brands succeeding.

“If Nike opened a second brand online, it would sell in a heartbeat, but that doesn’t mean it could scale,” said Siegel.

Until now, Plofker said that the brand has done little in terms of experiential or out-of-home advertising.

It’s too early to tell if stores will be a success for Jones Road.

“I’m not going to say, ‘I’m never going into these [beauty] stores again,’” she said. “We’re not opening stores for retail numbers. We are opening stores so people that want to go in [to shop] can work with an artist and touch Jones Road.”

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