Raising the (beauty) bar.
Imagine waiting in line to speak with a corporate representative at a trade show, and while you’re waiting, someone applies your makeup and another styles your hair to make sure you look your best when you get to the booth. Does that sound like a fantasy? Well, it isn’t. It’s a very real experience that’s brought to trade show and recruitment fair attendees by Lou Rod Cueva of Boston-based MLR Artist Management.
Cueva has curated the best professional hairstylists, makeup artists, manicurists, and men’s groomers to create an interactive, innovative, mobile beauty bar for experiential marketing, advertising, and commercial bookings. The company’s expertise isn’t limited to the trade show floor, though; the pop-up beauty bar makes appearances at company wellness retreats, product launches, parties, grand openings, conferences, fundraisers, and more.
“We’ve brought this into a whole different world, and opportunities can be tailored to any industry. Whether it’s tech, finance, health care, transportation, or retail, we tailor our services to different organizations,” Cueva says. “In the retail space, there are a lot of promotions that go on, and companies are looking for a different way to stand out. We help them do that.”
“We definitely have a presence in the entertainment space,” he continues. “At a lot of these corporate parties, you see the same thing over and over—a photo booth or a magician or something else. We do airbrush applications [featuring] custom stencils with the company logo and brand, and make it unique. Or we can play along with a theme and put the company’s logo in, and then use fantasy colors to do an airbrush application. Companies love that. People love to take photos of that once it’s done.”
No matter the occasion, Cueva’s novel concept benefits attendees as well as clients. While a pop-up beauty bar definitely helps those receiving the service, it is also a boon to the clients who’ve hired Cueva’s team.
“We’ve seen companies struggling to have attendees at trade shows approach their booth. And we’re a solution for them,” he says. “If we offer professional hair, makeup, grooming, and a professional portrait, attendees are more likely to come over to the booth and experience those services. So we’re solving the problem—we’re helping that company recruit people to work for them.”
Cueva, a first-generation Puerto Rican from Warwick, Rhode Island, was introduced to the beauty industry through an externship with Next Model Management in Miami while studying advertising at Johnson & Wales University. There, he served as a personal assistant for Ron Gerard, Next Miami Director, who enlightened him about the pros and cons of the industry.
Cueva was further inspired by Tyra Banks’ hit television show, America’s Next Top Model. “I really loved the competition side of it. And I loved the creativity side of it, and watching the models challenge themselves,” he says. “With all of those things and studying advertising, I thought, ‘This is an industry I want to be in.’”
But after graduating from Johnson & Wales University and hoping for a career in advertising, his employment prospects were virtually nonexistent. Cueva took a job as a flight attendant with JetBlue Airways, where through his travels, he built connections with people in the beauty industry that would later assist in his journey.
Cueva started dating a makeup artist who was working at a counter for NARS Cosmetics and providing freelance makeup artistry on the side, but was struggling to market his services and build a consistent client base. Cueva stepped in to help him find clients and negotiate contracts, which led to him becoming his manager. Although he had minimal experience, Cueva was able to build his partner’s clientele and create a profitable business.
“We were on the consumer side of things at the time, doing weddings and special occasions. It grew, we needed more hairstylists, and we held an open call, and it became a business,” he recalls. “I did all of the legwork to get a certificate from City Hall and register the business. Fast-forward into the future and the present, and we currently represent 30 hair and makeup artists throughout Boston and Los Angeles, and we’ve moved over to the business side of things.”
MLR’s client roster now includes JetBlue, HBO, Hasbro, Reebok, Wayfair, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Safety 1st, W Hotels, Mimecast, and People, Elle, and Self magazines. But as successful as the company has been, Cueva’s gratification comes from paying it forward.
“We do a lot for the communities that we serve. One of my proudest moments was [the] post-hurricane [response] in Puerto Rico. I’m all about action. Watching my family go through such a struggle and feeling hopeless, I sprang into action,” he says. “For two years in a row, I was able to take my team down to the island and provide complimentary haircuts and facials and cosmetic products for people in need. And that has been single-handedly the best moment since I opened the doors to this business in 2010.”