Niche Retailers: Finding the Magic Formula

With the recession severely curtailing the innovation pipeline, indie retailers are looking within for a leading edge.

Finding the Magic Formula
Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 02/13/2009

When niche brands are hard-hit by a recession, what is a niche retailer to do? “There is very little margin for error in this economy,” says Robin Coe-Hutshing, founder and creative director of Studio at Fred Segal in Santa Monica, Calif. That means many indie retailers are looking within for innovation, revving up in-store events and displays to offer consumers a sense of newness and present their brands in the most enticing light.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“There are ways to take everyday [beauty] products and present them in a new way,” says Claudia Lucas, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty for Henri Bendel, citing showcasing oldie-but-goodies in fashion displays as one example. Lucas notes that clients are bored with the now ubiquitous sale sign, which gives her an opportunity to attract them with innovative displays. She hopes an April exhibit on the history of fragrance will pique interest in the category.

Space NK founder Nicky Kinnaird is doubling her in-store efforts and hosting educational events to create a “compelling customer experience,” she says, while Bluemercury is keeping its spa menu fresh with seasonal offerings created around new product launches.

“It’s fun for our clients,” explains founder and ceo Marla Malcolm Beck. “They want something new.”

Stocking mainstream items is usually a no-no for cutting-edge indies, but Beck and Coe-Hutshing are bending the rules this spring with an eye toward the bottom line. Coe-Hutshing is carrying more of her best-selling products by weeding out the very niche and applying a laser focus on inventory levels. “They were window dressing,” she admits. “If someone wants to buy a product, we damn sure won’t be out of it.” She also plans on stocking some big-brand items, including Lancôme’s Juicy Tubes, in U*tique, a beauty vending machine launching in February. “There are hero products in those brands that will really sell like hotcakes in our store,” she says. Bluemercury and Studio also are traveling a nostalgic route and hosting upscale Tupperware-style beauty parties at private residences. Aiming to please, Coe-Hutshing jokes: “We’re on wheels if we need to be.”