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Adding Up Beauty: Ricky’s Flirts With Outer NYC Markets

Ricky's - the New York City retailer with a crass sense of humor and irreverent style - is growing up.

Ricky’s — the New York City retailer with a crass sense of humor and irreverent style — is growing up.

That’s not to suggest Ricky’s is doing away with the array of adult toys — partially shrouded behind a beaded curtain — or the rainbow of colorful wigs lined up behind the cash register. No, that quirky, smirk-inducing merchandise is staying, but Ricky’s is steadily working to reinforce its primary role as a purveyor of beauty supplies, heavily frequented by hairstylists and makeup junkies.

The retailer is focused on refining its beauty mix — for instance, it recently added Frédéric Fekkai hair care — and is methodically opening more doors in the New York metro area.

The aim is to follow upper-middle-class New Yorkers — pushed to the boroughs by Manhattan’s rising cost of living — to new markets, said Todd Kenig, who co-owns the business with his brother Ricky. The brothers’ father owned Love’s, a discount beauty store chain that he ran in the Seventies and Eighties.

Ricky’s has stores in East Hampton, N.Y., and Brooklyn and is scouting out real estate in nearby Hoboken and Jersey City, N.J.

The chain — which has one store outside New York state in Miami’s South Beach — aims to have 22 doors by March, and has a long-term growth target of 50 to 100 stores, said Todd Kenig. He added that a strategic buyer — not that the company is actively looking for one, he clarified — could potentially power Ricky’s into a 1,000- to 2,000-store national chain.

Last year Ricky’s revenue reached $40 million, an increase of about 24 percent over 2006, according to the company.

The Kenig brothers — along with fellow owner Dominick Costello, who serves as president — have inched toward a more traditional corporate structure in recent years. In February 2006 the company established a company headquarters, complete with a human resources department and a creative team. Prior to that, the Kenigs and Costello each had offices in three separate Ricky’s stores. Ricky Kenig — the creative force in the trio — still works out of Ricky’s SoHo store.

“I try to stay out of the loop. It’s too stressful,” said Ricky Kenig, adding his proximity to the store serves as the inspiration for the chain’s private products, Ricky’s Care. The private label line, which accounts for about 5 percent of the mix, was reintroduced in November. Its products — ranging from blond bobby pins to a mini flat iron for touch-ups — spill across a 188-page catalogue. Ricky Kenig, still brimming with ideas, said the effort will likely extend to color cosmetics. The store’s current house cosmetics line is called Mattese. “Private label is one of the bigger growth areas for us,” he said. “It hurts us to sell products that we can make better.”

Last year, the chain opened a salon — called Shears, Hustle and Blow — in three Ricky’s doors. The concept, which requires about 300 to 500 square feet of space, provides a testing ground for private label products and lends credibility to the aisles of hair-related merchandise, said the management team. Todd Kenig said regardless of how many cuts the salon does, its presence guarantees a knowledgeable stylist in the store to recommend products. As for whether Ricky’s will continue to make room for salons in its doors, Costello said, “Every [potential new] store we look at, we are going to see if we can possibly squeeze a salon in there. It’s a concept we like, but it’s not our main priority.”

Ricky’s newest store, which opened last month at 373 Third Avenue, features a display of Frédéric Fekkai hair care product just beyond a row of brightly patterned rain boots and makeup cases. The Frédéric Fekkai assortment marks the beginning of Ricky’s professional hair care section, stocked with Phyto, PureOlogy, Bumble and bumble and Philip B. Above the bottles of premium-priced shampoos are top-of-the-line hair dryers, flat irons and curling irons. An aisle over is an assortment of natural hair care lines, including Dessert Essence, Nature’s Gate, Alba and L’Oréal Nature’s Therapy.

Beauty devotees have lauded Ricky’s for stocking limited distribution lines, like Kérastase shampoo and L’Oréal Paris Elnett hair spray. The Ricky’s team said it buys 70 percent of its goods directly from vendors. For items the store can’t get, it gets creative. In the case of Elnett hair spray, Ricky Kenig noticed the product was available at drugstores in Japan, Hong Kong and the U.K. So he enlisted the help of friends abroad. In exchange for T-shirts and jeans from the U.S., several of his friends bought Elnett off shelves there and shipped them to the U.S. The trading went on for a few years.

Ricky’s is bent on being known as a “beauty first” retailer, but its charm stems from the eclectic assortment. Items — such as neon nail polish and T-shirts with cheeky sayings — have also helped Ricky’s survive competition from the regional drugstore chain Duane Reade, Sephora and Bath & Body Works, pointed out Ricky Kenig. “Since we opened our doors in 1989, nobody has come close to copying us,” he declared.

Its smattering of off-the-wall items also gave Ricky’s the chutzpah to dabble in other categories, including adult merchandise and seasonal Halloween items, both of which the retailer began to add in 1997. Ricky’s in-and-out costume business has exploded, as over the years the company has transformed its stores into New Yorkers’ unofficial Halloween headquarters. Each fall, Ricky’s stores are packed with Halloween costumes and novelties. The retailer also opens temporary costume shops in Florida and on Long Island, said Todd Kenig, who oversees the Halloween business. The effort started in 2002 with two temporary shops, and next year it is projected to grow to 20 units. Todd Kenig estimates Halloween sales now account for 20 to 25 percent of Ricky’s total revenue. Ricky’s sells costumes year-round at its TriBeCa store, where beauty products occupy the 5,000 square feet at street level and Halloween merchandise fills the 7,000-square-foot bottom floor. Soon, the store plans to add costume rentals.

Reflecting on the Ricky’s culture, Costello said, “It’s very hard to do what we do. We are flexible and change things at a moment’s notice. We are not afraid to take chances,” he said, “Other companies wouldn’t dare to do what we do.”

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