By  on April 8, 1994

NEW YORK -- Nature's Elements, a chain of 26 freestanding bath and body shops, is taking the unusual step of opening small boutiques within Duane Reade drugstores in Manhattan.

The first will be opened in two weeks at 115 West 42 St., with at least eight more slated for the rest of the year, according to Jan Stuart, president and founder of the Edgewater, N.J.-based company.

"These stores have a lot of traffic," Stuart said. "It should help to get our name out there."

"This complements some other things we're trying to do with cosmetics," said Bruce Weitz, Duane Reade's chairman. "We've been adding a broader assortment of lines and working on a better presentation.

"Bath and body is hot right now," he added. "This will set us apart from the competition."

The Nature's Elements sections in the Duane Reade units will cover a minimum of 200 square feet, according to Stuart, who noted that about 300 of the company's more than 700 stockkeeping units will be sold there.

Neither he nor Weitz would discuss sales projections, but industry sources estimate the company could have sales of between $60,000 and $80,000 annually in the Duane Reade units.

In addition to the wholesaling venture, Nature's Elements opened its first freestanding unit in Manhattan late last month. The remaining 25 stores are spread throughout the Northeast.

Another store will open in Manhattan in six weeks, according to Stuart, who said he "would like to open more this year."

The new unit, on Madison Avenue near East 56th Street, has 700 square feet of selling space. Products are divided into 12 categories: Body & Bath, Skincare, Haircare, Men's Club (men's skin care), the Fragrance Bar, Suncare, Mommy & Me (children's products), Aromatherapy, Custom Blending (the adding of scents to customers' specifications), Cosmetics, Accessories and Gift Baskets.

Most prices are kept under $10, Stuart said, noting that moisturizers, some of the most popular items, are normally $6.90 for two ounces.

Based on the company's stock prospectus, the Madison Avenue store could have a volume in excess of $350,000 this year."Our hook is customer service and value," Stuart said, estimating that Nature's Elements pricing is on average 15 percent below The Body Shop's. "We want to be The Gap of personal care products. We're aiming to cover a full lifestyle, within an easy selling environment."

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