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Today is January 16, 2021

Sephora and Ability Works: Inspiring a culture of independence

By Elissa Fulton

When stepping into a Sephora store, there is a cachet feeling amid the elite black and white striped walls and exclusive beauty products on the shelves. There is no place like Sephora when it comes to convenience and brand exclusivity.

Sephora is an omni retailer owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, headquartered in Paris, France. Since its global launch in 1998, the corporation operates hundreds of retail locations across the United States. As a global leader in beauty and prestige, merchandise must arrive to its retail locations and to its e-commerce customers through a timely approach. For Mississippian Derek Coulter, director of operations for the southeastern supply chain of Sephora, distribution productivity is his area of expertise.

In 2017, Sephora opened its fourth warehouse — and selected Olive Branch, Miss. as that site. For a shipping location, the proximity of air and ground shipping facilities, the new I-269 corridor, as well as the workforce availability, north Mississippi is a perfect central location to service southeastern customers. Sephora ships approximately one-third of their e-commerce volume for the network from the Mississippi warehouse.

As operations manager, it has been extremely important to Coulter that the culture and environment he strives to create for his employees should match the brand philosophy. Sephora strives for distinction in the beauty market and Coulter brings that excellence into the warehouse.

“I have a saying for our operations groups,” said Coulter. “You are only as good as you were yesterday. In operations that is so true. I believe that motto, and I don’t take anything for granted. What we did in the past doesn’t mean anything. 2019 was a great year for us, but all that matters now is going forward.”

One distinct culture change that Sephora has made in the Olive Branch location is that approximately 30 percent of its associates have a disability that may have prevented them from holding a job in the past. To implement this pilot project for Sephora, Coulter and the leadership team reached out to Jim Flanagan and the Desoto Economic Development Council who got them in touch with the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services (MDRS) and its Community Rehabilitation Partner called Ability Works. The initiative was communicated through the facility recruitment process and has been a group effort of several organizations to launch.

The Olive Branch Sephora warehouse currently employs more than 400 associates with 30 percent of the workforce being hired through the Ability Works program. Though the initiative is exclusive to the Olive Branch location, Coulter feels hopeful that the North American company will adopt its practice companywide because of its success in Mississippi.

Part of this initiative’s success is due to Billie Walker, Ability Works project supervisor at the Sephora Warehouse. Once a person expresses interest in working at Sephora, their counselor refers them to Walker. They then go through a nine-week training program. The first week begins in a classroom and weeks two through nine are on the warehouse floor learning actual job functions of the Sephora employees. Once the trainees complete the program and have been able to meet production in all areas of the job, they become an employee of the Sephora corporation with full benefits.

“The partnership between the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and Sephora has resulted in successful careers for people with disabilities throughout the state of Mississippi,” Walker said. “This project has further demonstrated, if given the opportunity, people with disabilities are a valuable asset to the workplace.”

Sephora has had positive feedback from the family members and friends of their disabled associates, and it has been a true testament to the capability of these workers. The employees have a sense of wellbeing and pride for being able to provide for themselves and manage their day-to-day lives. Coulter hopes to see other companies adopt similar programs.

“Some companies are still nervous to take that leap or try something outside of their comfort zone,” said Coulter. “But if I could impact other CEOs or other Supply Chain VPs, I would. This is an untapped market that has so much potential to positively impact someone’s business in such a major way. Being a part of this and seeing the way that it changes people’s lives who are not only a part of the program, but people that work in the building and the leadership staff is just unbelievable.”

The Ability Works and partnerships like the Sephora project help disabled community members gain freedom many have never experienced before. To contact Ability Works, visit or call 1-800-443-1000 for more information. 

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