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From Department Store Phenom to Spa Professional

By: Cathy Christensen
Posted: November 29, 2010, from the December 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Charlene Keefe picture

Charlene Keefe

Unlike many spa professionals who find their love of skin care through experiences in school or at home, Charlene Keefe, owner of Skin By Char in Huntington Beach, California, discovered her passion through her work in department stores. Twenty years ago, Keefe began her skin care career as a promotional model for the prestige line Clinique in the Orange County, California, area. “My job was to introduce gift-with-purchase promotions around the store and help customers,” explains Keefe, who found that she had a knack for helping people. She wasn’t the only one who noticed this talent. “I got recruited by a store manager who wanted me to work behind the counter, so I decided to do it and began selling cosmetics. I found out I was good at listening to people and giving them what they wanted. If they were having an issue with their skin, I would address that issue,” she says.

It was during this time that Keefe honed skills that proved critical to her future skin care success; details such as follow-up and nurturing loyal clients. “I kept building relationships with customers, and I was really good at follow-up. It wasn’t about sales; it was about listening to the customers and introducing them to other things,” states Keefe, who soon became a top producer for Clinique.

It was during this time in her life she decided to put her career on the back burner while she started a family. After taking several years off, she decided she wanted to work at a store that was known for customer service. Immediately, she thought of Nordstrom. “I went to Nordstrom because I knew it had a reputation of doing anything for its customers. You can even introduce those customers to a different makeup line than the one you’re representing if it suits their needs,” says Keefe. Because of this open-door policy, Keefe also was able to enhance her knowledge of skin and skin care products by attending education offered by all of the lines carried at Nordstrom. “I would go to those classes and learn about other lines in order to become more well-rounded. I thought that was the best way to do it,” explains Keefe.

As her client list continued to grow, she met someone who planted a seed that would soon flourish. While in the store for a program, eyebrow legend Anastasia Soare spent time with Keefe showing her some eyebrow tricks. Soare was so impressed with Keefe, she offered her a job that Keefe ultimately declined, and also told Keefe she would do well if she had her own business. This suggestion would soon become a reality.

Not long after this conversation, Keefe suffered a back injury that left her unable to work for a period of time. Although she couldn’t go back to work at the Clinique counter, Keefe didn’t want to stop helping people and realized that her interest extended beyond cosmetics; it involved skin care more than anything else. “You have to know your product, what you can and can’t mix with it, your client’s skin type, her history ... it’s the pieces you’re given and you put together like a puzzle. Clients need to know how, when and why to use a product; otherwise, they can ruin their skin. That’s why I went to esthetic school; I wanted to learn all the fundamentals of esthetics,” she explains.