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Aura Science Shifts Into the Next Phase

NEW YORK — Aura Science, the joint venture between The Limited Inc.’s Intimate Beauty Corp. and Shiseido Co. Ltd., is steaming ahead with plans to open 25 stores in the next 12 to 18 months. And the product assortment also is being...

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NEW YORK — Aura Science, the joint venture between The Limited Inc.’s Intimate Beauty Corp. and Shiseido Co. Ltd., is steaming ahead with plans to open 25 stores in the next 12 to 18 months. And the product assortment also is being expanded, with a trio of women’s fragrances and the first antiaging cream to be added to the skin care and color cosmetics brand.

And while the fledgling brand has only been in business for seven months — since opening on April 12 the first of what will soon be nine stores — some important lessons have been learned.

“We’ve learned that we need an ‘A’ location in a mall and not a ‘B’ location because they don’t know who we are — and [these products are] an impulse experience,” said Robin Burns, president and chief executive officer of Aura Science, Victoria’s Secret Beauty and the Intimate Beauty Corp. parent. “Going forward we will only be in ‘A’ locations.”

Not only will the stores be in better spots in the future, she said, but they will be smaller — 1,000 to 1,100 square feet — to enhance productivity. The hardest lesson was learned in the Woodfield Mall in suburban Chicago, where the mall is inviting, but the store is poorly placed. Other stores are located in Columbus, Ohio; Bethesda, Md.; Paramus, N.J., and Arlington, Va.

The Aura Science merchandising ritual begins with a customer filling out a personal questionnaire for skin care on a touch-screen computer. Because most stores have their entrances on a mall, Burns believes that it would be more effective to move the touch-screen computer to the back of the store and color cosmetics merchandising display to the front to draw traffic deeper into the store.

“When they see color cosmetics or fragrance, it drives them over the lease line faster than a technology toy touch screen for skin care,” Burns said. “However, once they’re in the store, the ability to introduce them to skin care and go through the ritual of phasing them and sampling them is very easy to do.”

Lynn Emmolo, executive vice president, general manager of Aura Science noted that “95 percent of our customers registered with our specialists who were in touch with them about four days afterwards to see how they liked the products. We currently have about 20,000 customers in that registry already in the database.”

Although Limited does not break out figures, industry sources indicate that Aura Science expects to do a sales productivity of $700 to $1,000 per square foot, once the average store is two years old.

Dana Telsey, senior marketing director of the retail group Bear Sterns, commented that “the initial results seem promising, based on high traffic levels and new products being introduced. The Limited is a large company and this is a very small piece. Intimate Brands is good at developing new brands and Aura Science does seem like it holds promise.”

Burns added that she would like to cluster stores in a market. “We do like the idea of more than one store in a market because we’re building awareness and you get a bigger return.”

“We wanted to learn about how to get new customers,” she continued. “How do you prospect the customers? Obviously, the first place is in the mall itself so we do a lot of events in center court areas. We give them an invitation to take back to the store to get their sample.”

Burns added that Aura Science can reach beyond a mall’s perimeter with direct mailers that invite neighboring consumers into the store for a free sample. “Once you get these new customers in and you sample them or they purchase something, they immediately go into our database,” she continued, adding that the customer is then indoctrinated into the brand.

Nance Dickinson, vice president and general manager of Aura Science, said the direct-mail campaign has yielded “a very healthy conversion rate to purchase.” A total of “40 percent of the customers who come in thinking they are going to get samples actually walk out buying the Aura 3 System instead,” she said, referring to the trio of basic skin care products. Burns noted that the mix of business across the four phases — which correspond to the four stages of skin condition in a woman’s life span — is roughly 16 percent in Phase One, 22 percent in Phase Two, 47 percent in Phase Three and 14 in Phase Four.

One achievement, Burns said, is that customers seem to been won over by the Aura Science environment. The “warm, personal and visually vibrant ambience seems to be clicking with the customer,” she noted, adding that since there are less than a dozen stores scattered around a handful of markets, brand building is taking place at the grass roots level.

Aura Science, a treatment and color brand, launched its first women’s fragrances in mid-November, called Heart, Awakened; Spirit, Awakened, and Grace, Awakened. They are packaged in sculpted, fluid-shaped bottles. Heart, Awakened, contains notes of clementine, mimosa and vanilla orchid; Spirit, Awakened, combines tulip bulbs, daffodil and vetiver, and Grace, Awakened has white peach blossom, blue iris and spicy myrrh. The scents are available in 1.7-oz. and 1-oz. versions for $30 and $22.50, respectively. Ancillaries will be launched next spring.

On launching three scents at the same time, Burns said “it is about the aura of fragrance and what it does to you. They are very distinctive and very unique — each one of them — and women are not a general group in any way, they are so individual in ethnicity, age, attitude and what appeals to them.” The juices for the fragrances were developed by Givaudan and Firmenich.

Recoup, the antiaging cream, is priced at $50 for a 1.7-oz. jar and will be in stores Monday. The gel cream, which hydrates and cools skin, contains Jayuka extract and caffeine to reduce puffiness, vitamin E to protect skin and prevent it from premature aging and mica and titanium dioxide to minimize imperfections.

The brand also added Protect, a liquid makeup, in October. It comes in 24 shades, retailing for $22 for 1 ounce, and contains SPF 15 and antioxidants to protect skin. Basing estimates on industry source projections, the fragrances, once ancillaries are introduced, could be doing $150,000 in an average store in two years.

With the additional launches, Aura Science is reaching out to different segments of the audience.

“I think the big surprise to us is the average dollar purchase and units per purchase are above plan for us,” said Burns. “I think that [as far as] overall productivity, we continue to be pleased, and we see it growing and spiking as we do our direct-marketing efforts. I think that as we add more product — including Recoup, the fragrances and the foundations — we think that we will continue to accelerate.”

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