Holly Siegel catches up with Sephora’s longest-serving employee.
Pauline Roothman, currently Human Resources Advisor, has been with Sephora US since opening day. The Sephora Glossy caught up with her to hear what’s changed—and what’s remained the same.
When did you start at Sephora?
September of 1997, before we ever opened a store. So I’m the longest-serving Sephora employee in the US. It’s amazing to see where we came from and where we are now, and what confidence we have as an organization.
What is it that’s kept you here all this time?
The people, for sure. I was employee number two; the first CEO, who left in 2000, was employee number one. What’s great is the type of people we had in the beginning has remained the same: people who really care, who are committed, who work hard, who believe in what we are doing. At the beginning, we were all doing ten jobs—even today, we’ve been able to keep that culture and spirit alive. When people ask me where I work—it doesn’t matter male, female, young, old—they say, “Oh my God, that’s my favorite place!” And they immediately ask you, “What’s your favorite skincare product? What foundation do you like the best?”
Have we always been wearing code [Sephora’s dress code: black, white, red, gray, and the Sephora + Pantone Color of the Year]?
Yes. My wardrobe is 99% black. I don’t own any pants that aren’t black! I might have a pair of jeans….
People take the dress code very seriously!
At the head office in France, the employees used to park their cars by color, too. So the parking lot of Sephora office in France had sections for all the white cars, the red cars, the grey cars, the black cars—and if you had a different color you parked it around the back. Talk about branding to the nth degree!
What else has changed?
In store, the cast used to wear one black glove to show the product. We inherited it from France, where we do a huge fragrance business. It’s the same effect as putting jewelry on a black velvet background—it makes the bottle look gorgeous. Then at some point, with our business more heavily in makeup, the gloves started getting filthy, so we phased it out. France doesn’t do it anymore either. I still have one.
You must have a lot of stories!
When we first opened in Soho, we were scrambling to have enough merchandise. Not everything had come in and the opening party was that night. We had a whole side of [an in-store fixture] that was empty. Glass jars with gel candles were really trendy at that point, and this woman made them in her garage. Before the party, people were going to her house and bringing them back still warm and putting them right on the shelves!
Hopefully, we’ve gotten more efficient…
In those days, we had price tiles: little blocks in big boxes with dollar signs, numbers, periods. And we didn’t have scan guns. The reports with the prices would be in binders as high as this room, and you’d have to look up the SKU numbers, what it cost, and find the little square tiles. Everyone was doing it, because we didn’t have enough people. I remember sitting in the back of the store in Skincare at 1:30 am, with a ruler because my eyes had stopped working, looking up the price of each product with a colleague, who would look for all the little tiles!
What is it like to see the Soho store now?
What do you love about Sephora in 2013?
One thing that’s improved over time is the fun element. In the beginning, it was fun because it was like a candy store and there was no hard sell, but now the store is a lot more interesting. It’s lighter, there are more activities, there’s more going on—and the brands have improved their products too. Beauty used to be more serious. We were concerned about having the serious brands. The truth is a lot of the more whimsical brands have a great core product. The brands have come along with us and said, “Oh ok, you can have fun and do it with quality!”