By  on February 25, 1994

NEW YORK -- Long known for its array of vitamins and diet supplements, General Nutrition Center stores are now flexing their muscles in skin and hair care.

GNC -- the nation's largest health and nutrition chain -- has watched competitors such as The Body Shop, Estee Lauder's Origins, Beauty Without Cruelty and Blackmores build a substantial beauty following by emphasizing a natural positioning. Mass market retailers such as Pittsburgh-based Thrift Drug and Kmart Corp., Troy, Mich., also have been adding natural lines to their beauty selection.

GNC, which has 1,540 company and franchised units in the U.S., hopes to get more of the customers attracted by vitamins or other health-related merchandise to come into the beauty departments.

Despite the popular image of a well-toned male frequenting GNC, the company said 65 percent of its clientele is female, making the chain well- positioned to expand its beauty business.

"We feel there is a correlation between feeling good and looking good," explained Michael Stoughton, sales manager for cosmetics, health maintenance care and apparel for GNC. "We've put an emphasis on building our beauty line."

Beauty, according to Stoughton, accounts for about 3 percent of store sales. GNC hopes to almost double that with its private label line of beauty items sold under the Natural Solutions logo. GNC units average annual sales of $400,000.

An ongoing repackaging program of Natural Solutions, a line with 35-plus stockkeeping units, began last September. The new design features a more clinical, health-oriented look.

Natural Solutions had been packaged in an array of colors with no coherent theme. Now, Stoughton said, there is a uniform look.

The line consists of hair care, eye care, nail care, teenage skin care and massage items. The assortment is also being fine-tuned to reflect market needs. Among the new items are a hair care system containing a shampoo, a conditioner and a supplement selling for $17.99 and glycerin soaps at $1.99.

Stoughton singled out the Natural Solutions Teen Skin kit as a new sku that is "doing really well."

GNC contracts out the production of its Natural Solutions line, which uses all natural ingredients that are not tested on animals. The firm also intersperses several nationally known brands in its beauty mix, including Blackmores skin care, Mill Creek and Rachel Perry.

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