By  on February 12, 2010

Amid throngs of tourists, flashing billboards and the yellow blur of taxi cabs, an international beauty retail hub is forming in New York’s Times Square.

Located within a four-block radius of where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve are two Sephora stores, the European import Inglot, Bare Escentuals and L’Occitane boutiques and a MAC Cosmetics outpost slated to open in April.

Drugstore chain Walgreens made a splash in late 2008 by opening a New York City flagship at 42nd Street and Broadway, broadcasting its presence there with the district’s largest LED megasign on the building’s facade.

Outside of the beauty arena, other stalwart retailers are moving into the district, as well, including Forever 21 this spring and Disney in the fall.

The retailers have set up shop in Times Square as foot traffic continues to surge. During the summer season, Saturday pedestrian traffic increased 57.7 percent from 1999 to 2008, and is projected to continue to climb, according to the Times Square Alliance 2008 annual report.

The district also offers a gateway to international shoppers, potentially boosting retailers’ brand equity as they expand globally.

MAC Cosmetics’ upcoming boutique located at 1540 Broadway, at 46th Street, will serve as one of the makeup-artist line’s global flagships, said Karen Buglisi, MAC’s senior vice president and general manager, adding the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.-owned brand is sold in 73 countries.

“Times Square will be MAC’s number-one freestanding store in the world, in terms of volume, within 12 months,” said Buglisi. “Times Square is hub for global retail. You have the opportunity to present your brand in front of new customers every day.”

She estimates 500 customers will visit the store each day, which translates to about three to four times the traffic in a typical MAC boutique. To accommodate the rush, the store will be staffed by 60 associates, about four times the amount of MAC’s typical New York City outpost.

The space is currently under construction, but plans call for a subdued, double-height glass facade, said James Gager, senior vice president and creative director of MAC Cosmetics. It’s an intentional bid to foil the pulsing lights of its neighbors. “In a chaotic context like Times Square, it pays to be quiet,” said Gager. Along the building’s exterior, MAC plans to position a vertical blade sign — comprised of exterior-grade LED tiles encased in a black sleeve — that will broadcast colorful imagery.

Inside, the store’s 1,700 square feet of selling space will mirror MAC’s signature high-drama esthetic. “The false perspective of the black entrance leads into the sales area; an elevated podium will be the focal point of the narrow space,” said Gager. “The podium is set up for makeup applications and special events and is surrounded by a see-through LED screen. It’s visual impact will draw people to the rear of the store.”

Stationed near the podium will be interactive touch-screen computers where shoppers can access the brand’s Web site and browse the collections.

Two blocks north, on a slightly less trafficked block, is the newly opened Bare Escentuals outpost located at 1585 Broadway.

“It’s a destination. More people will walk past this store than any other [Bare Escentuals] store in the country,” said Bare Escentuals chief executive officer Leslie Blodgett of the 1,585-square-foot boutique. “We have a lot of customers who don’t live in [Manhattan], and this store is easily accessible to visitors of New York.” Its November opening also comes on the heels of Bare Escentuals’ international expansion. Last fall, the company opened a boutique in the U.K., its first stand-alone store outside the U.S.

The Times Square location intends to amplify iconic elements of a Bare Escentuals’ boutique, said Simon Cowell, senior vice president of marketing. For instance, instead of one chandelier there are four. They are slated to be replaced with pink chandeliers next fall, said boutique manager Kathy Masotto. The line’s informercial and TV appearances starring Blodgett are visible from every angle with a flat-screen TV mounted inside and two projector screens outside, both 5-feet high and 9-feet long.

Masotto said she hopes to dress the store’s windows with more signage to amplify its presence in the district. Next door to Bare Escentuals is Perfumania and across the street is the cosmetics shop Inglot.

Sephora has long had a presence in the district with a store located at 1500 Broadway, well before the area was gussied up with cafe tables and chairs. Last summer, it opened a second location there, at 5 Times Square. Sephora’s signature piano-key design climbs the lighted exterior, and the store’s windows are adjacent to a bustling subway entrance. Inside, the 9,359-square-foot space carries more than 200 brands. The assortment includes a smattering of exclusive lines and products, including By Lauren Luke and the OPI nail polish shade 212-Sephora.

The outpost also incubates new ideas. It is the first place in the U.S. to carry the U.K. cosmetics brand Illamasqua, said Allison Slater, Sephora’s vice president of retail marketing. “Illamasqua is an example of a brand that really stands out,” she said, adding that Sephora plans to roll out the line to more U.S. doors.

Referring to both of Sephora’s Times Square locations, Slater said, “These stores are a great way to grab people who haven’t experienced the brand in a more full way….Truly, Times Square is the epicenter of the country. It’s a destination for people all over the world.”

Sephora’s original location in the district, at 1500 Broadway, is staffed with three times the number of associates as a typical store, said Slater.

Walgreens’ 16,000-square-foot store at 1 Times Square, located on 42nd Street and Broadway, is the main purveyor of mass market beauty in the district. Beauty is housed on the second floor of the three-level store and visitors to the department and welcomed with an upscale L’Oréal Paris boutique, complete with a makeover station and product testers. Beyond the 320-square-foot L’Oréal Paris area are gift sets and naturally positioned brands stocked on low-profile display units. The balance of the space is filled with mass market beauty brands across every category.

At the time of its opening, Walgreens said more than 1.6 million people pass by the store daily. Walgreen’s beauty partners have utilized its 17,000-square-foot electronic billboard — comprised of 12 million LED lights. The billboard recently featured L’Oréal Paris Telescopic Explosion Mascara, which drove beauty shoppers into the store, said Shannon Petree, divisional vice president and general merchandise manager, Walgreens Beauty and Personal Care Division.

“The store is a way for us to introduce our brand to consumers internationally,” she said.

Aside from Puerto Rico, Walgreens does not have any doors outside the U.S., but its Web site does ship to other countries, said Petree. She noted Walgreens is considering outfitting the store with new technology to facilitate the checkout process, given the volume of shoppers that visit the location each day.

Walgreenshas begun to export some findings from the Times Square beauty floor. For instance, Petree said, “Having our big brands as the anchors of the department is something you’ll begin to see throughout the country.” She continued, “[Times Square] will be a testing ground for us and allow us to bring new brands.”

Not all beauty brands are enamoured by the bright lights of the district. The Body Shop shuttered its store there last month. Rent rates are not inexpensive, after all. But to the new denizens of Times Square the payoffs are big and global.

Buglisi of MAC said, “It’s become a beacon to the world.”

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