Beauty & Balance

Angel Merino on Stepping Out From Behind the Beauty Counter and Into Sephora

Selling is inherent for Angel Merino, also known to fans as MacDaddyy. The makeup artist and Artist Couture chief executive officer has come a long way from his days working at the MAC Cosmetics counter at MainPlace Mall, now finding himself sitting opposite executives from Sephora as he looks to scale his makeup line.Merino’s line Artist Couture rolled out to Sephora stores in the U.S., Canada and online in February with plans for exclusive holiday sets for the beauty retailer and a longer-term goal of getting his own gondola in store. Artist Couture is also sold in Planet Beauty, Naimie’s Beauty Center, Ricky’s and online retailer Beauty Bay in addition to its own online shop. Merino’s got a contract with NYX Cosmetics for the beauty brand’s makeup masterclasses, with his team also in the finishing stages of a deal with Nars. Along the way, he’s steadily amassed an Instagram following of 1.3 million people.“I like to think of myself as Jeremy Scott,” Merino said in the conference room of the downtown Los Angeles high-rise where he works and resides. “Jeremy Scott is his own brand but he also designs for Moschino. He still curates. That’s what I want for myself within this industry — to have my own brand but still be able to partner and work with these really great endorsements.”How Merino got his start is interesting, but it began with a love for makeup starting around the age of 14 when he began experimenting with products on himself. He often tagged along with his mother to the Lancôme counter at Macy’s or when she went to get her hair or makeup done, and he was hooked.Merino got a job as a dance instructor when he was 17 and began coaching while also taking it upon himself to start doing the team’s makeup for competitions.“I was 17 and I wasn’t good at all, but at competitions the whole purpose of everyone’s look is to be as uniform as possible,” Merino said. “So even though I wasn’t good, at least everyone looked equally as bad. So it worked.” Angel MerinoThat later evolved into a job at a department store makeup counter for about three years before moving on to MAC. It was good timing just as social media came on the scene and Merino would snap photos of himself with new product or did before-after posts of clients.“It just blew up and this was back, back, back in the beginning of Instagram,” he said. “I had no clue what it was going to do and what it would enable. All I knew was that I had thousands and thousands and thousands of people that I didn’t know following me on Instagram and loving my makeup looks.”The celebrity followers came later, which led to freelance work with the likes of Ariana Grande, members of Fifth Harmony, Eva Longoria, Christina Milian, Chanel Iman and Mel B, among others. There was so much work Merino ultimately quit his job at the counter Dec. 31, 2013, and in the fall of 2014 launched his own brand and e-commerce site. To fund his new endeavor, he used money generated from a tour earlier in the year where he traveled to 10 cities and offered makeup seminars at $250 a ticket.“I took everything I made and I invested it into starting the brand,” Merino said. “And I’ll never forget I placed my first product order and we started off with 1,000 units of six different shades. I paid for it a couple weeks later. I go to pick it up and they say ‘Oh, this is the remaining balance.’ I was like, ‘Wait, I thought I had paid for this,’ and she said ‘Oh, no, no, no sweetie that was the purchase order 50 percent deposit.’ I had no more money and I was freaking out. What am I going to do and who the hell is going to give me this money? And then I tapped into my retail sales days when I worked at Nordstrom.”He decided to do a pre-sale. He set up a generic Shopify site using a free template and told his followers he was doing a pre-sale. Nearly every stockkeeping unit sold out. Merino got the money to pay off the balance and turned enough of a profit to reorder.“I just kept building and building and everything thus far has just been myself, no investors,” he said. “It’s been a little risky, but I feel like if you’re going to take a risk the best person to take a risk on is yourself.”Artist Couture today has a team of seven in the office and another six in the company’s Burbank fulfillment center. The company’s customer base is between the ages of 24 and 35, predominantly Latin and African-American. Merino said he still occasionally picks up freelance work, mostly for red carpets or friends. Products from the Artist Couture line.The art of selling is something that’s been ingrained in Merino since he was a child. His father owned his own trucking business, which was picked up by his mother when his parents separated. When Merino was around the age of eight, he would resell sodas and candy bars — with a markup — to his peers in the apartment complex he lived in, giving some of the money to his mom.“I’m going to teach my children to do that because I want them to grow up having that mentality of working for things,” he said.In the span of time Merino has been in the business, he’s seen the rapid evolution of the beauty industry and managed to make the changing tides work for him, pivoting his own brand as more and more heritage companies tap the influencer world to remain relevant.“It’s been mindblowing how much social media has really catapulted so many businesses, and I feel like everyone was so afraid to be entrepreneurs back in the day. It wasn’t such a common thing,” he said. “I remember when I first began to work at beauty counters in department stores and it was always about the client coming in and us telling them what they needed. They would come to us because they trusted us and they wanted the guidance. When I left my last job behind the counter, customers were coming with exactly what they wanted. They didn’t care about our opinions. They had the screenshots of someone on YouTube wearing a lipstick and said, ‘This is what I need.’ The way they were shopping was so different. It was a lot more specific.”Building a sense of community has also become more important in recent years and it’s now the currency on which companies trade, Merino pointed out.Artist Couture calls its squad GlowGetters and Merino is constantly sharing aspects of his life, such as his focus on losing 60 pounds last year to prepare for the brand’s Sephora launch, and in building the business — both the highs and lows — for the sake of transparency. He’s also constantly tapping his follower base for their opinions on upcoming product. How to maintain those close ties as Merino seeks to grow is something he thinks will continue to be aided by social media.“It is all full-circle with social media because I do share so much of my day-to-day,” he said. “People feel a connection because they feel like they’re part of the process. I think that’s how that story stays authentic. I think the general theme of building and progressing applies to different areas of my life and that’s how people get that brand purpose.”

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