California company buys control of KC-based Beauty Brands

Since its founding in Kansas City in 1995, Beauty Brands has grown to 55 locations in 11 states.

But now the chain of salon-spa-retail stores wants to be even bigger, becoming a national retailer like competitors Ulta Beauty and Sephora. To get there, founder Bob Bernstein has sold controlling interest to a California company and two former Ulta executives have been brought in as Beauty Brands ’ new leaders.“The company is really poised for tremendous growth. To do that, we needed a major influx of capital,” said Bernstein, the former CEO of Beauty Brands and the head of Bernstein-Rein Advertising Inc. “We wanted to position it to become a major company across the country.”

Bernstein couldn’t comment on the deal’s details under a confidentiality agreement with the unnamed company, a private equity firm.

Beauty Brands will still be headquartered at 4600 Madison and is expanding its offices there from 16,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet. Bernstein hopes it will grow to become another national company based in Kansas City.

Beauty Brands now has 13 of its 55 locations in the Kansas City area. It has about 2,000 employees, including nearly 100 workers at its main offices and at its 140,000-square-foot distribution center in Lenexa.

Beauty Brands stores were billed as the first to offer time-starved consumers the convenience of a full-service salon, spa and retail store under one roof.

The stores offer a variety of products and national brands at “value prices” — makeup, skin care, bath and body, fragrances, curling irons and flat irons, nail polish and accessories. Brands include Redken, Paul Mitchell, OPI, Hot Tools, Tweezerman and H2O Plus.

Beauty Brands also offers salon and spa services such as haircuts and coloring, manicures and pedicures, massage therapy, hair removal and facials.

The company does it all in stores that are about 6,000 to 8,000 square feet, while a typical Ulta Beauty is about 10,000 square feet, including a salon of about 950 square feet.

As of November 2013, Ulta operated 664 stores in 46 states and the company continues to expand. Other major beauty retailers include Sephora, which operates 330 stores in the U.S. and Canada and more than 380 locations in J.C. Penney department stores.

Bernstein’s son, David Bernstein, has stepped down as president of Beauty Brands and will be replaced by Rich Bos, who spent more than two decades with Ulta. David Bernstein said he would continue to serve as a Beauty Brands consultant as needed.

Lyn Kirby will serve as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Beauty Brands. Kirby, a native of Australia, was vice president of Avon Products before becoming president of the Circle of Beauty, a subsidiary of Sears from March 1998 to December 1999. She then joined Ulta Beauty as president, chief executive officer and director. During her tenure at Ulta, the retailer grew to 389 locations and became a public company. She left Ulta in March 2011 and signed a two year non-compete agreement.

Kirby, who also has made a significant investment in Beauty Brands, said there is room for the business to “evolve” but it is too early to talk about specific goals.

Bob Bernstein is a native of Kansas City and co-founder of Bernstein-Rein Advertising Inc. He serves as its chairman, chief executive officer and president and is credited with creating the Happy Meal for McDonald’s. He also was one of the largest Blockbuster Video franchisees, with 100 stores in 15 states.

Bernstein also has been a real estate developer. Eight years ago, he kicked off the ill-fated West Edge project at 48th Street and Belleview. His development firm later declared bankruptcy, and the complex was demolished, replaced by the Plaza Vista project.