Lisa Smola-Hollo – Ulta Beauty
Light drastically influences the way people perceive their surroundings. Imagine a haunted house without flickering and broken lights or a Broadway play without a spotlight shining down on the performers.
Since 2013, Lisa Smola-Hollo has been bringing a similar mindset to Ulta Beauty, where she has been the director of construction and remodels for one of the nation’s largest beauty specialty retailers. In the past few years particularly, she’s been standing firmly at the intersection of aesthetics and environmental and sustainability initiatives. She’s meeting all three points with new LED lights, which she and the design team decided to use in new and existing Ulta Beauty stores.
According to her, these new lights are in accordance with the company’s environmental, social and governance model. The lights are brighter and use less electricity while also lowering output generated from older technology in each store. This decreased output means less heat generation from the lights, leading to a reduction in the need for continuous air conditioning to maintain a comfortable temperature.
The LED lights are also brighter than traditional halogen ones with a 15-watt LED bulb emitting similar lumens per watt to an 85-watt halogen. In conjunction with her and the design team’s emphasis on installing mostly white fixtures, this new lighting “illuminates all of our colorful products, making them pop more,” she says.
“It’s saving the environment and cutting down on costs—but, even more than that, it’s produced a noticeable improvement in every store, old and new,” Smola-Hollo says. “Everything is so much better and brighter, enhancing the experience for our store associates and our guests.”
Tending the Beauty Bar
LED lights aren’t the only bright idea Smola-Hollo and her team are bringing to life. In 2022, she and her team—which doubled to 10 project managers at the start of 2023—worked with her cross functional design team to develop the idea of the Beauty Bar.
The Beauty Bar is a hub at the center of the store, different from the salon located in the back of the store. The Beauty Bar allows guests to peruse new products and receive recommendations from associates. She says having it at the center of the store creates a focal point, so guests can freely navigate around the store to their specific area of interest.
“This new design concept has been exciting because it engages our guests, allowing them to explore hundreds of product offerings organized by category—and gives our experts a chance provide a ‘wow’ service experience in the center of our store,” Smola-Hollo says.
When visiting new store sites, she likes speaking with associates and guests about the new store design and experience. She tells Blueprint the feedback has been positive; both love the colorful displays, the clean look of the fixtures and the brightness of the store.
“With feedback from our guests, and the design team’s creative vision, my team and I are bringing it to life in the field,” she says.
The Beauty Bars are part of the new experiential store concept the design team developed with Smola-Hollo’s team and their input and expertise, especially of what is feasible and will work in the field. Partnering with architects, vendors and contractors, she and her team have been implementing this new design since mid-2022. It’s being used in every new store being built while existing stores are being retrofitted to match.
Smola-Hollo and her team plan to retrofit more than 20 Ulta Beauty stores per year over the next few years. Additionally, they’re building and opening approximately 50 new stores each year.
Redefining beauty to grow from adversity
Smola-Hollo has been building and growing relationships internally across the company and externally with architects, vendors and contractors. She believes these are critical to her team and the company’s success.
In fact, in late 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was causing supply chain delays and a labor shortage, Ulta Beauty was opening a new store in New York City’s Herald Square. The weather was awful, sometimes causing the city to shut down, labor was a challenge, and having an inspection conducted involved jumping through legal and bureaucratic hoops. Adding to the situation, to open the store, Smola-Hollo needed a particular piece shipped in from a different country.
She soon learned the piece had arrived in the U.S. but was sitting at a distribution hub behind over 600 other packages needing to be sorted and delivered. Leveraging a connection, she was able to have a friend expedite the package; her contractor then agreed to go pick it up and ensured it was installed. The piece was ready in time for the scheduled inspection and the store opened on time.
“All odds were against us, but because of teamwork and strong relationships, we were successful,” Smola-Hollo recalls.
Of course, she’s never shied away from a challenge. In 2011, after over a decade and a half working at Borders—she joined the company right after obtaining her MBA from Franklin University in 1997—she was one of the last two people to walk out the door after the company permanently closed. That experience and expertise has been a boon to her at Ulta Beauty.
“I love all of it, every part of what I do, whether we are building from the ground up or taking an old existing building and watching it become an Ulta Beauty,” Smola-Hollo says. “We’re striving to open more stores every year to bring the best guest experiences and beauty to everyone.”
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