By  on October 19, 2007

LONDON — Boots the Chemists is polishing up its beauty offer.

The Nottingham, England-based health and beauty retailer this month inaugurated Boots Premium Beauty Concept, an assisted self-service format that includes prestige and niche brands and services. It also unveiled U.R. Beautiful, an in-store spa and salon concession conceived and operated by Urban Retreat.

A test store in Kingston, outside of London, simultaneously testing both initiatives, was unveiled Oct. 3. A Boots door in Oxford introduced Premium Beauty Concept this week, and two more are slated to take on the concept soon. If successful, U.R. Beautiful and Premium Beauty concepts could be introduced in other Boots doors U.K.-wide. "It's a very exciting project for us," said Ian Filby, Boots' U.K. trading director, of Premium Beauty. The concept is located on the store's first floor, which is almost entirely devoted to beauty, since pharmacy, photography and health care products and services were moved to the second story.

"It gives us more opportunities to express beauty as a broader concept," said Filby. One flight up, beauty buffs can find U.R. Beautiful, a 5,000-square-foot space including a hair salon, treatment rooms and a selling area. It is a take on the Urban Retreat concept, a salon and spa, which has locations in Harrods and Heathrow Airport in London and Harvey Nichols department store in Manchester. With wooden floors, glass shelving and khaki-hued walls, U.R. Beautiful has a distinctly different visual identity from Boots and offers myriad beauty services — from manicures to microdermabrasion.

"With U.R. Beautiful, we want to bring [Urban Retreat] to a local level," said George Hammer, Urban Retreat's chairman. Creating a shopping environment where there is something for everyone was key, said Filby.

"We can make the aspirational attainable for all British women," he said. The store's ground floor, which has a space dedicated to premium beauty counters, features an assisted self-service area now boasting new niche and premium brands, including Caudalie, Burt's Bees, Bliss, Cake, MOP, This Works and Ole Henriksen, in addition to its mass market offer. Lighting and signage were tweaked to make product segments, such as hair care and skin care, easier to locate. Merchandising units were arranged to group products into categories broadly based on price.Adding niche and premium brands is meant to build on the breadth of Boots' product range, which is perceived as one of the chain's core strengths, according to Filby, who said the company has earmarked up to 40 multifloor stores that could get the Premium Beauty concept.

Many of the niche and prestige brands introduced in-store are also sold on Beauty Boutique, introduced in September as an offshoot of the Web site.

In the beauty hall, Boots assistants are on hand to offer complimentary services, such as quick hairstyling sessions and skin analysis. For more in-depth beauty services, customers are advised to visit U.R. Beautiful, which is separated from the store's Boots-branded areas with glass partitions. To the left of the entrance is a hair salon with eight styling stations. Service prices start at 15 pounds, or $30.65 at current exchange, for a 15-minute dry-styling session and run to 450 pounds, or $919.50, for a Yuko hair-straightening treatment.

U.R. Beautiful's four manicure and four pedicure stations are in a semiprivate area toward the back of the space, next to a Shavata Brow Studio. The store's central area is devoted to selling brands including Elemis, Darphin, Guinot, Guam and Bumble and bumble. In addition, Urban Retreat's private label lines, which are created with British beauty experts, including perfumer Roja Dove and facialist Anastasia Achilleos, are also on offer. The 61-unit line bowed in September.

Treatment rooms offer a range of services from Thalgo, Guinot and Temple Spa facials to Botox injections, colonic hydrotherapy and microdermabrasion.

"Most women in the U.K. have never had a facial," said Hammer, adding he believes the fact these services are on offer within the confines of Boots (a household name in the U.K.) will encourage people to try them. A 45-minute Guinot Beaute Neuve facial goes for 49 pounds, or $100, while a 60-minute line filler treatment is priced at 300 pounds, or $613. Body treatments and men's services are also available.

Boots has dipped its toe into the services arena in the past, with Wellbeing centers and Pure Beauty stores. However, the concepts were stopped in 2003, when the company centered its focus on its core business. Hammer noted Boots is U.R. Beautiful's landlord and the beauty firms' relationship is similar to that of a coffee concession within a bookstore.The first U.R. Beautiful space will be used to test the concept for at least six months. If successful, it could be rolled out to between 50 and 100 doors in the U.K., though not necessarily always within Boots stores.

"My five-year plan is to have U.R. Beautifuls within easy traveling distance [of everyone in the U.K.]," Hammer said.

Per location, the U.R. Beautiful concept is expected to generate sales of 1 million pounds to 2 million pounds, or $2.04 million to $4.09 million, according to industry sources.

While he is analyzing U.R. Beautiful's potential, Hammer also plans to expand the Urban Retreat concept. He's in negotiations to increase its space in Harrods to include a rooftop spa and hopes to extend the franchise to more travel-retail doors. Hammer is also putting the finishing touches on a new spa concept with a well-being and health focus in London's Mayfair neighborhood; it could be open in two years.

In the meantime, he'll be watching his Boots experiment with an eagle eye. "There's a saying, 'Go shooting where the ducks are flying,'" Hammer said, nodding toward the bustling Boots pharmacy floor. "If you want beauty customers, they're all there flying. You've just got to have the right ammunition."

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