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- 29 Jul 2010
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Steven Schapera, CEO, BECCA Cosmetics


One CEO’s ambitious strategy to reach a critical mass by selling a niche brand via diversity

Steven Schapera has led an interesting and chequered life before finding himself at the helm of cult cosmetics brand, Becca. The brand is sold in 23 different countries, at over 200 points of sale where it holds its own against giants like L’Oréal, Shiseido and Estée Lauder. The head office is in London although Schapera also travels frequently to the firm’s other offices in San Francisco and Sydney. According to Schapera, luxury cosmetics have held up relatively well during the crisis: “Australia rode the storm extremely well, hardly a dent. Whereas the USA has now emerged and is growing rapidly again, the UK is still suffering and will take some time to correct.” But it is the emerging markets, in places like India and Brazil, which Schapera is most excited about.

Evidently a natural entrepreneur, Schapera began his life in Cape Town. His father was a pioneer in the export of live lobster from South Africa to the USA and Japan, and when his mother entertained at home, she focused on delicious food and wine, so for Schapera his earliest understanding of luxury is inextricably linked to food! After studying mechanical engineering,he studied oenology (winemaking) in California, whilst working at the Lois Martini Winery in Napa Valley. He returned to Australia where he established his own winery, ‘Chittering Estate’ which he subsequently sold in 1995. He then started a multi-faceted agribusiness. In 2000 he sold up again and embarked on a completely different business venture in the world of cosmetics.

Agriculture might seem a world away from luxury cosmetics but Schapera had long been fascinated by branding and jumped at the chance to partner with Australian make-up artist Rebecca Williams: “I loved her concept, loved the fact that she is a perfectionist and loved the fact that I could be surrounded by beautiful women rather than fat men.”

Rebecca covers product development, “She’s a genius at this” says Schapera. “She is not constrained by ‘in the box’ thinking. She just aims for perfection and then gets the chemists to work at it until it’s done.” This means not settling for a single manufacturer but shopping around to find those who can overcome specific technical hurdles. At the moment BECCA manufacture in Germany, Australia, the USA and soon Italy.

 Luxury is not just about the product, it’s the aspiration established before purchase, the pre-sales experience, the sales experience, the enjoyment of the product, and the after-sales experience. 

BECCA’s niche appeal lies in their unparalleled focus on foundation for all skintones. While most of their competitors offer between 7-10 different colour foundations, BECCA offer a range of 34 colours for concealers and 30 for their stick foundations. Although Schapera’s main responsibility is for the business side of things, speaking to him he evidently has a passionate and sophisticated understanding of the product and its meaning within different cultures. Unsurprisingly, Schapera sees Asia as being “definitely where it’s all at, and will be for the foreseeable future.” Indeed recently BECCA have also entered into a joint venture with a substantial Asia-based player to drive a number of other luxury brand concepts (all in the personal care sector).

More generally the dream is to launch a fragrance. Schapera intriguingly tells us that the technology for the BECCA fragrance concept is not yet fully developed but they’re about five years away.

A visit to the flagship store and office in London’s smart South Kensington confirms the positivity that the brand itself projects. This is a ‘can-do’ business which clearly understands the industry at a sophisticated level. “Everyone in the team is motivated by the fact that we are performing in what we refer to as the “Cosmetics Olympics” every day and must make a profit! We are inspired by Rebecca who sees opportunity before it becomes obvious – she just has this intuition – and so we know we are always at the leading edge of our niche.”

Schapera is constantly motivated by Rebecca’s belief that “anything can be done in a luxurious way” and right now it seems imperative to apply that principle to the internet which is particularly challenging for a sensory sector like cosmetics. As Schapera acknowledges, “Luxury is not just about the product, it’s the aspiration established before purchase, the pre-sales experience, the sales experience, the enjoyment of the product, and the after-sales experience. With face-to-face contact that’s more easily managed than in e-commerce. It can be done, but its tougher. Suffice to say, I’m working on it.”