By  on March 25, 2005

NEW YORK — Now a trip to the shopping mall can give you younger-looking skin.

That’s thanks to expansion of laser skin clinics in major shopping centers. The first and largest is Henderson, Nev.-based Nuvo International, which currently operates 43 centers in California, Nevada and Washington.

Clients appear to like microdermabrasion at the mall — Nuvo’s sales exceeded $24 million last year, triple that of 2003.

“Women can pop in during a visit to the mall and get a facial or Botox treatment,” explained Candace Corlett, principal partner in WSL Strategic Retail in New York. She believes operators such as Nuvo are siphoning shoppers from traditional skin care retailers.

With consolidation in retailing resulting in fewer tenants, beauty service operators such as Nuvo give shopping centers the face-lift they need. “When we first suggested the idea of opening in shopping centers, we were laughed at by developers,” recalled Susan Gelnette, whose husband was one of the original three founders of Nuvo.

After one center opened in a mall to impressive results, shopping center managers took note. “Consumers love the mall approach because they can go shopping for jeans and talk to an aesthetician. They don’t have to go through a family physician,” Gelnette added. “Everyone thought Lens Crafters was crazy at first, too.”

Nuvo started rolling out its concept to major shopping centers two years ago. Today, stores range from 1,200 square feet to 3,000 square feet and offer everything from hair removal to collagen treatments. Mall experts familiar with the concept estimate the sites produce sales of $800  to $1,000 a square foot. However, equipment and staffing is pricy — lasers cost as much as $500,000 and nurses and other specialists can command $40 to $50 an hour. Nuvo centers are staffed by aestheticians outside of California and by registered nurses in California as required by law.

Consumers are lured not only by convenience, but also value. The costs of procedures are significantly lower than those offered by dermatologists. For example, a series of 10 Foto-Facials range from about $1,250 to $1,700. A typical derm visit is $350 to $600 for one treatment. A procedure typically lasts 30 minutes to an hour. A plus for the mall is that shoppers return for multiple visits.The popularity of reality shows such as “Extreme Makeover” has fueled the growth of services at Nuvo. “And technology has made it easier and less painful, making the timing right,” said Gelnette, who hopes to see new procedures added in the years to come such as cellulite reduction. Recently, Nuvo began using its laser technology to treat acne. With services for all ages, it is no surprise clients  range from 20 to 50 years old. Nuvo has flourished without advertising. Patients simply see the centers while strolling the mall.

Not surprisingly, high-end malls produce the best sales, although there are locations in lower-end centers. Nuvo likes to be positioned near a major anchor and in the center court rather than off on side corridors. “We do well near a Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom because that’s our customer,” she said. Men are becoming more important clients, as well. “Men especially like hair removal,” she said. “But it is only a matter of education and we see an increase in microdermabrasion among men.”

Beyond the services offered, Nuvo has a retail component. Lines carried include the Nuvo Signature Series and products from DermaQuest. Prices range from $30 to $50 and Gelnette said aestheticians recommend products to use at home. “We like to show people how they can get a series and then keep it up with the home products,” Gelnette explained.  “We’re looking to add a good men’s line.” Retail sales produce about 15 percent of total volume.

Nuvo hopes to head east in the next few years, zeroing in on markets including Chicago, Denver and New York. The goal is to eventually have as many as 400 units nationwide.

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