Angela Allan
Technology Journalist

Angela Allan is a music and lifestyle journalist with a special interest in technology and startup culture. Angela writes for Rolling Stone and the Star Weekly

Angela Allan
Technology Journalist

Angela Allan is a music and lifestyle journalist with a special interest in technology and startup culture. Angela writes for Rolling Stone and the Star Weekly

It’s been nearly 20 years since inception, and Mecca is still the “peacock” of the beauty field. We catch up with Jo Horgan to learn her secrets.

When Melbourne-based entrepreneur Jo Horgan launched Mecca Cosmetica in the mid-nineties, pharmacies and department stores were the main stockists of make-up and other beauty brands. In this, Horgan saw an opportunity for a specialist in the boutique beauty market that wasn't readily available in Australia. And so, Mecca was born.                                    

“I was inspired by the way the niche beauty scene in the US and Europe was really gaining traction and I knew that women in Australia, starting with me and my mother, had an appetite for expert brands and were buying their products when they travelled internationally,” she says.

“So there was definitely a market but no local supply as such.”

Horgan’s vision was to bring a “new dimension of personalised and expert service, never before seen in beauty”. She identified a gap in the market for a place that would bring all the range of boutique beauty brands, like NARS, YSL, Bobbi Brown and Stila, into one single store, and shopping in the store would mimic a fashion retail experience. It was tactile and staffed by specialists, and something she could enjoy with her mum and her girlfriends.

“I wanted buying cosmetics to feel informative, fun, and customised in the same way, and I wanted it to feel manageable and boutique. I also wanted to offer Australian women brand-neutral service in a beautiful, intimate environment.” 

Jo Horgan, Founder of Mecca Cosmetica

Building a foundation

In 2001, Mecca launched its own e-commerce store and was adopted wholeheartedly by shoppers.

“Back in 1996, I had toyed with launching an online cosmetics concept as I found the web so liberating, but the technology wasn’t there,” explains Horgan.

“So once I had started Mecca I always had a burning desire to offer our customers the choice of purchasing online.”

During the 2009 global financial crisis however, products on the site succumbed to price fluctuations as the Australian dollar soared against the greenback. Customers were emailing saying, “We love Mecca and want to stay with you,” so Horgan went into action: she revamped her business plan.

“We weathered that time by keeping our standards high: investing even more on service, staffing, education - even though we already led the industry on investment in these areas - and adding further value through events, make-up applications, and sampling.”

The bare essentials

Staff is also crucial to the Mecca experience. Like any retail experience, Horgan knew the value exceptional staff would bring to the beauty landscape, and her stance has never waivered. 

“We spend three per cent of our turnover on education, which is a significant investment in training for any industry. Our customer has never been more educated about beauty, so it’s vital our staff are ahead of the curve.”

What’s next?

Mecca Brands has just ended a year of growth in 2014 with the continued expansion of Mecca Maxima stores leading into this year. Their flagship in Melbourne’s Toorak Road has new signature concepts, including a dedicated fragrance concierge and a NARS boutique. This year, there will be a roll out of the Mecca Trove concept store.

“Mecca Trove is our commitment to offering smaller, niche brands to the true beauty aficionado looking for the next big thing in beauty. We have some exciting new brand launches this year also but my lips are sealed on who they are!” says Horgan.

Jo's top tips to stand out from the crowd
  1. Fill a need. “We wanted a space where customers could be in control of their own shopping experience and hosted by highly trained, knowledgeable experts who would recommend products across a range of different brands to meet their needs.”
  2. Look outside your industry for inspiration. “We found multi-branded fashion boutiques prided themselves on accessing the most exciting, exclusive labels, and then they would bring their unique point of view to the experience through styling; mixing the product up and customising it.”
  3. Think about your customers and their needs in detail. “I also think that, for us, being brand neutral and appreciating that a woman’s makeup bag isn’t made up of products from one brand is what makes the Mecca experience unique.”

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