By  on October 20, 2011

NEW YORK — The industry may be focusing on the Look Boutique at Walgreens or wondering what CVS’ next upscale move could be, but that doesn’t mean smaller, regional players aren’t boosting beauty prototypes.

Examples of how other drugstore operators are putting a new focus on beauty are on display at chains ranging from Bartell Drug on the west coast to Lewis Drug in Sioux Falls, S.D. Even chic independents are revamping to stay competitive in a world where everyone is battling for the same customer.

“You can’t afford to stay the same,” said Allan Mottus, industry consultant who said shoppers don’t distinguish from one type of store to another.

Bartell Drug, based in Seattle, is combining its local knowledge with input from major beauty firms such as L’Oréal, Revlon, Colgate and Procter & Gamble to put a new spin on cosmetics and health and beauty aids.

The 58-store Bartell’s, which calls itself the nation’s oldest drug chain, has weathered industry consolidation by operating well-stocked stores that reflect the needs of shoppers in its region.

Its latest store prototype, called the Next Generation, was developed in conjunction with the Hartman Group, a consumer consulting firm, which helped interpret what shoppers want from a drugstore. The debut of the updated motif was unveiled recently in a remodeled Bartell unit in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood.

The layout of the new store shuffles the traditional design with specialty boutiques under one roof including an Urban Market with locally produced products; a Wellness Courtyard with vitamins and supplements, and a Sweets & Snacks area.

Instead of just stocking a beauty department that looks like any other chain, Bartell merged the best of national brands with upstart brands. The department even has a new name, the Fresh Beauty Stage. According to Bartell executives, Fresh Beauty sports an expanded skin care department with an accent on natural and organic products. Bartell is the only drugstore in the area to stock both LaRoche-Posay and Vichy skin products.

Unlike traditional metal gondolas, beauty products are highlighted with elegant wood fixtures and set off by a wood floor. To tie into the local market, Bartell has dedicated space to unique as well as local independent brands. The company said the success is being closely monitored to determine future expansion and rollout.

These upscale and natural lines afford Bartell an avenue to stand out from the competition. “Bartell’s engages its customers at the neighborhood level and offers a variety of locally produced products that national chains can’t match,” said Mark Jacobson, creative director at InVerse, the Hartman Group’s retail division. “This concept is a result of our close collaboration with Bartell’s and reflects their core values, including a dedication to customer service while offering a large selection of products.”

Bartell’s chairman and chief executive officer George Bartell said the new floor plan is designed to enhance the shopping experience and serve the clientele.

Lewis Drug also recently upped its game in beauty with a new department offset by wood floors and a new positioning. Already, according to company officials, there is a sales payoff from upgrading beauty lines.

And in upscale Ridgewood, N.J., a long-standing popular independent store called Town and Country is finding that having brands not stocked by chains isn’t enough as more and more premium lines open up distribution. Town & Country, which has long stocked Estée Lauder brands Clinique and Bumble and bumble, now is adding Smashbox and has recently added Frédéric Fekkai and several upscale baby brands. To celebrate the store’s new ownership, which changed hands in February, there will be a grand reopening Nov. 5 with several beauty celebrities, such as Ramy performing brow shapings and Paula Dorf making a personal appearance. 

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