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FOREO North America GM talks rapid growth, Black Friday mishap

Beki Hoxha never expected to sell beauty products.

Yet the former investment banker helped open the North American headquarters of Swedish beauty tech firm FOREO in 2014 and helped grow sales to $90 million last year.

Hoxha, 32, just finished his first year as general manager of North America, where he oversees about 100 employees across two warehouses near McCarran International Airport and a retail network of nearly 2,900 stores such as Sephora, Ulta Beauty and Nordstrom.

The beauty brand is known for its brightly-colored silicon facial cleansing devices used by the likes of Chrissy Teigen, Venus Williams, Victoria Beckham, and Kim Kardashian West.

Hoxha sat down with the Review-Journal to discuss FOREO’s rapid growth and how it lost over $10 million in one hour on Black Friday.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did FOREO grow from having zero retail presence in the U.S. to now being carried in nearly 2,900 stores across North America?

We actually launched in January 2015 in Sephora, Ulta and Neiman Marcus but from March 2014 to that period we didn’t have any full-force distribution. I had to Google the position of the people that I had to reach out to because I didn’t know. Coming from the banking industry, that’s the last thing I would know. So, I cold called…I’d send a sample. The products spoke for itself. I was flying red-eye to New York every night (meeting retailers) and coming back here to pack (online) orders for customers—literally packing, printing labels, everything.

Do you feel building the company’s operations from the ground up was a good strategy for FOREO?

We didn’t start the company, but it felt like it just because we were doing it all from scratch. Big companies usually utilize all of these large agencies to try and figure all of this out. We didn’t. I think it was an amazing way to do it. I don’t think I would change it. I look back to six years ago to where I am now and it’s been such a growing experience. I was employee number three — one was my friend (former General Manager Davor Soldo), number two was his wife. I was staying at his place at a three-bedroom house with a big garage in an apartment complex and it all got started there. The first initial boxes from our manufacturing centers in China were coming there. We had like 16-wheelers trying to go into the apartment complex back then (and) pallets sitting in the garage. It was kind of crazy.

Black Friday was quite a challenging day for the company last year. What happened?

It was not a glitch in the system. Somebody was typing. People think there is always some “thing” but there’s always a guy typing the price and instead of typing $279 he typed $9.99. So for an hour and 20 minutes the entire UFO range (smart facial mask device) was selling for $9 and all of a sudden the website is crashing. We’re getting emails from global like, ‘Guy’s what’s going on?’ By the time we fixed the website, we had sold like 20 units per second. In terms of loss financially, it was pretty substantial. You’re talking about a $279 product in retail. These products are not cheap as cosmetics to make because they’re a device. We’re more towards electronic manufacturing costs versus cosmetics. People were going crazy on social media. We had to make a decision on what to do. We (thought) let’s get some new fans and consumers so we told everyone who bought it they would receive their product. That was the biggest investment of the year without actually meaning it, but it was good.

How does FOREO plan to stay ahead of the competition this year and beyond?

We’re in about 2,859 stores between Sephora, Ulta, Saks, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom—you name it we’re in all the major stores. I think for us it’s a matter of consolidating a bit more. Retail is a lot more about experience and we’re trying to think of the store of the future. How can we create something that’s more educational? This new generation wants that communication that human aspect. I think that’s going to be a lot more important.

Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.

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