By  on March 13, 2009

There is always a line outside of Grimaldi’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn, rain or shine. And regardless of the hour, the queue of patrons waiting to buy a cupcake at the famed West Village Magnolia Bakery snakes around the block. Those long, well-formed lines may be the best billboards in town, piquing the interest of passersby. The beauty industry, for its part, has found a similar vehicle to prompt desire. It’s called the waiting list.

To drum up buzz for the introduction of Tria, the $995 at-home laser hair removal device, Studio at Fred Segal relied on glossy product visuals and the recommendations of its staff. The Santa Monica-based store also created a waiting list prior to the launch, selling nine units before the product even hit shelves. “I thought Tria was going to require tons of education and cajoling” to sell, says Robin Coe-Hutshing, chief executive officer of Studio. “But instead the reaction was, ‘Laser hair removal? Here’s my name, here’s my credit card.’” Every month the store also has a waiting list for Crème de La Mer, regardless of how much stock it orders. “It never fails to sell out, and if people see the stock getting low, they’ll buy multiple jars,” says Coe-Hutshing.

At press time, Kiehl’s was lying in wait for shoppers to rush the doors for Marvelous Mineral Mascara, its fi rst foray into mascara. Kiehl’s staff had been whispering to their clients about the product for months ahead of its arrival on March 1st. On that day, Kiehl’s president, Chris Salgardo, personally drove the fi rst 1,000 tubes from the manufacturing facility in New Jersey to the fl agship store in Manhattan. “It’s a new frontier for us,” says Salgardo. As soon as the 1,000 units blow out the door, he anticipates a waiting list will form. “The commitment level is low because at $16.50 the price is affordable,” he says. Kiehl’s has experienced such demand before. In 2003, when it unveiled its first antiaging cream, Abyssine Cream, 3,000 units sold within five days and a mega waiting list of 10,000 names formed for the $38 cream. “There was such a flurry,” recalls Salgardo. “At that price, people were willing to put down their names and credit cards.”

Lancôme is currently building an online waiting list for Génifique Youth Activating Concentrate, which will be available at the end of March for $78 for a 1-oz. bottle. Bloggers’ interest in the concentrate, which claims to help skin cells return to the protein levels of significantly younger skin, has heightened the need for such an organized presale, says Cheryl Vitali, senior vice president of marketing. Lancôme created a dedicated presale site once before, for its vibrating mascara, Oscillation. The waiting list began three months prior to the official launch in November, and at one point topped 32,000 names. “Blogs act as a referral before you can buy the product, and people want to make sure they’re getting it first,” says Vitali.

The very notion that shoppers are incited to act, and act quickly, to buy anything at all these days is enough to restore one’s faith in the lure of retail. But there is a catch, says Coe-Hutshing. “It’s a double-edged sword to have a waiting list, because you don’t want to disappoint a customer. If we have a waiting list we make sure she’s not leaving empty-handed, even if we have to fill a sample jar ourselves.”

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