Blogmas Day 19: Working at Ulta--The Truth

Hey, guys! Coming at you live from my couch, where I am reclining and eating leftover tortilla soup before making an appearance at a friend's get-together. You know you're back home in the suburbs when you go to a friend's get-together that's only being hosted because their parents aren't home, and in order to go you have to leave word with your mom. I guess I'm making up for all those lost years in high school that I spent not going to parties; at least at this age I can be honest about my whereabouts instead of pretending to sleep over at a friend's. So, there, mom: if you happen to be reading this, all those times I said I was going to have a High School Musical marathon, that's really what I was doing.

I won't be staying for too long, because I have an early shift at Ulta in the morning. By early I mean 7 am, because stores are staying open exceptionally long in order to accommodate those last-minute gift shoppers. If you can't tell, I'm not stoked about the whole ordeal. But the truth is I do really love working at Ulta, for the most part, and as I've officially given notice that I'm leaving the company effective in January, I only have a few shifts left. Of course it is a retail job, and no situation is perfect, so it hasn't necessarily been the most fun I've ever had every minute I've been there, but I've had a really positive experience overall. In my eighteen-month tenure with the company, many girls have told me how jealous they are of my job. I've also heard every question under the sun about the company, its policies, and what it's like to be apart of it. Which is why today I'm answering your questions about working at Ulta.

Working at Ulta--The Truth

"Do you have to wear a certain amount of makeup when you work?"
I've fielded this question a million times. A follow-up, or a question I get just as often is, "Do you have to be good at makeup to work at Ulta?" The answer to both is yes and no. Having a basic understanding of and appreciation for cosmetics is definitely an asset that Ulta looks for in its employees, but what's more important is your experience in customer service. You can learn about brands and technique at any time, but if you don't have the chops to offer a good guest experience, that's not so easily taught. As for having to wear a certain amount of makeup--or makeup at all--once you're apart of the Ulta team, that's also a yes and no. In our official dress code, it states our makeup must be "clean and smudge-free" and "reflect seasonal trends." That's pretty subjective. That's also why you'll see Ulta employees ranging in the degree of their beat* without a whole lot of staff uniformity. Of course those of us who have jobs with the company generally tend to like applying and wearing makeup, so it's not a huge burden to paint ourselves up every time we go to work. That said, if it's an off day or you're running late or you just don't want to, you don't have to pull out all the stops for every single shift.

"Will this product ever go on sale? Will you ever start selling a brand I love?"
I don't know! We know just about as much as the average consumer; often we're told about new product launches and promotions 3-10 days before those announcements go live. For example, when the news that Ulta would be carrying a select number of Nars products dropped, associates were given about one weeks' notice with very strict instructions not to blab. Someone did, and let's just say they've parted ways with the company. As for sales and coupons, for prestige items--your Urban Decay, Bare Minerals, and anything on that side of the store--odds are good the price listed is the best deal you'll get. Ulta works with these brands to sell their product, with the prices set by the brands themselves. It's not Ulta's decision to make the Naked palettes $54, that's Urban Decay's call. 95% the time, you won't see that price reduced, unless you've received a membership perk (we'll talk more about that in a minute) or the product just isn't selling like the brand thought it would. But again, we as employees can't forsee those changes. And just as a little add-on I thought I'd like to mention that those $3.50 off coupons you receive in the mail have a lot of fine print and a lot of exclusions, which is due to those contracts Ulta has with its affiliate brands. I know it sucks that you can't use it toward everything in the store, but I'm not the one who makes those rules.

"What does my Ulta card do?"
Great question! If you're shopping at Ulta semi-regularly (as in spending on average $35 per month with the brand) it's in your best interest to have one. Why? It's completely free and gives you money off of your transactions. From a marketing and customer retention standpoint, yes of course the goal of giving you a loyalty card is to rope you into coming back, but you know you'll be shopping here again anyway, so you might as well get some money off for it. And for those of you who claim "I don't wear makeup," we sell things you do use. Shampoo. Razors. Gifts for your niece. Plus, the money off you receive can be applied to any product in the store, unlike those universal $3.50 coupons. You can also hoard those points and save a greater dollar amount on a single purchase; a few weeks ago I saved eighty bucks. That was a lot of my Christmas shopping done totally for free. Plus, you'll get a nice birthday gift, right now it's a free Urban Decay eye shadow. Plus, the cashier who's trying to sign you up is probably being tracked by her manager to see how many memberships she can close before her shift is over. It's free. It doesn't hurt you. Help a sister out; sign up.

"Can you do my makeup?"
No, not your whole face. I'd love to; trust me, I think it'd be fun, but we just don't have the time to devote to making over every guest. We'll spend as much time as we can with you while you have questions about product; we'll show you our favorites and items we think will best suit your needs. We'll of course do a color match to make sure you're getting the right foundation or give you a disposable wand so you can try on a lip color to see if you like it. If you want a more involved experience, though, that is a paid service offered through the salon.

"Do you work on commission?"
No. We personally don't make any cut of what we sell, but Ulta as a company does encourage the bulk of our net sales come from prestige brands. So yeah to be honest, we'll push you to buy the higher-end brands, but give us a realistic price range and we'll hook you up with some L'Oreal or NYX. Either way, that doesn't affect our take-home pay.

"Do you get a lot of free stuff?"
This is a good question to end on, because it's what most people want to know. This is another "yes and no" type of question. Personally, as a beauty advisor, I don't get a ton of freebies, but about once per quarter I'll get to take home some gratis, which is the fancy way of saying "free stuff." That's the company's way of letting us try items we can then recommend to guests. Because our 25% discount on product only goes so far; we can't buy up the whole store. That said, the amount of gratis an employee receives depends on their title. Prestige beauty advisors (the girls who stay in the high-end side or represent a certain brand) attend frequent trainings to best demonstrate and sell products. These trainings often, if not always, dish out a good amount of gratis. Management also attends these trainings, as well as regional and national conferences. From what I've heard and seen first-hand, this gratis is out of control. It's also just part of being a full-time Ulta employee.

And that's it, guys! If after reading this you have any other questions, go ahead and leave a comment or tweet me @laurenmsauer. I could talk about this stuff for days if you'd let me, but for now I gotta go.

See you tomorrow,

*makeup-code for amount/severity of makeup


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