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BLC Elbows Way Into Specialty Beauty Fray

While much of specialty beauty growth is dominated by chain operations like Sephora there are still thriving independents looking for a wedge of the sales.

Inside Beauty Land Couture.

PRINCETON, N.J. — While much of specialty beauty business growth is dominated by chain operations such as Sephora and Ulta — and now entries from CVS Pharmacy and Shoppers Drug Mart — there are still healthy and thriving independents looking for a wedge of the sales.

One example is BLC (Beauty Land Couture), a beauty emporium operated by an independent operator with a big business ambition. Creator Nina Kaplan hopes to stamp out her BLC concept to four or five more locations by 2012. BLC opened five months ago in a 5,000-square-foot site in a village-style shopping center called the Princeton Forrestal Village, located a few miles outside of downtown Princeton.

“So much of what’s out there in beauty lacks originality,” said Kaplan during a tour of the store decorated in hot pink fixtures, pink chandeliers, a stamped concrete floor and pink and black painted walls. “We’re trying to make it about fun.”

Fun is what groups have in a separate party room where BLC offers events ranging from a Princess Party priced at $16.95 each for girls ages four to eight, up to a girls’ night out package at $22.95 per guest. Parties include goodie bags, nail applications and makeovers.

Kaplan, who has a background in retailing, personally tries every product she stocks at BLC, which ranges from skin care and cosmetics to fragrance and accessories. She’s not afraid to stock entry-level priced cosmetics lines such as NYX in the same store as more upscale Too Faced and Bare Escentuals. Prices range from items for a $1 for a glitter nail file up to $200 for skin care.

Service levels are high — the perfect match of suggesting products without invading a shoppers’ space. One shopper eyeing Doll Face products was approached in a friendly manner and taught about the line.

Her top-selling category is cosmetics, but skin care, fragrances and accessories are close behind. There’s ample room to experiment with the cosmetics items and the expertise of sales staff help sell lines such as Dermablend. “We had a woman come in who really needed to cover some acne and we showed her how wonderful it worked,” Kaplan noted.

Fragrance is treated as fashion at BLC. The retailer can get in and out based on the popularity of new scents, which are presented in the center of the stores. Already the Harajuku Lovers fragrances are brisk movers as well as Marc Jacobs’ Daisy, Vera Wang’s Princess and Ed Hardy. Pricing is full suggested retail.

Skin care is one area where Kaplan hopes to find more options to offer, including organic choices. In addition to Doll Face, skin care includes Dr. Hauschka, Freeze 24-7 and Mamma Mio. Skin care is one classification where Kaplan hopes to uncover more brand options. There is a small hair care area, including styling tools, featuring brands such as Rusk and a new line she’s adding called Enjoy. Hair is another category Kaplan plans to extend.

Accessories range from Betsey Johnson leggings to colorful plastic bracelets. “Accessories are a big category,” said Kaplan.

While admitting the current economy isn’t always pretty for the beauty business, Kaplan said that once people come to the store, they become loyal fans. She is assembling a list of shoppers already 2,000 strong. BLC has its own online magazine highlighting celebrity and product trends called Shimmer. The store has been promoted via local magazines and radio and will stage an event at the end of November promoting pet awareness with donations from purchases going to the ASPCA. Pooches are invited to the store that night. She also benefits from a hotel in the center, which brings foreign tourists to her door.