By and and  on September 19, 2008

Macy’s has stepped into a new beauty world through a 300-square-foot portal in the Herald Square flagship.

That’s the approximate size of Beautiful Planet, a shop-within-a-shop that showcases eight natural and organic brands — most of which are entering Macy’s for the first time. While the size of the shop and the resultant sales volume may not be imposing, this experimental move is a big step for Macy’s in terms of reaching out to an eco-conscious customer.

“This is our first venture in merchandising a singular idea, rather than a vendor statement,” said Christine Johnston, senior vice president of cosmetics and fragrances for Macy’s East. “We believe that this is not a trend, but a lifestyle.” She added, “It’s about giving our customers an alternative. Customers are interested and are wanting to be educated about green products.”

“What it does is it broadens our customer base,” added Rob Smith, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for Macy’s East. “This concept will bring additional customers through the door. All the research we’ve done says this is a growing desire for our customers, and we want to catch it on the upswing. We expect it to be one of our fastest-growing businesses.”

Johnston added that Beautiful Planet could open the door to the creation of other merchandising concepts in the future.

The Herald Square department had a soft unveiling Sept. 12, and the official opening is set for Oct. 6. Johnston said sales have exceeded plan every day. She declined to provide specifics, but industry sources estimate that the 300-square-foot Herald Square shop could generate $1 million to $1.2 million in retail sales in its first year. Similar shops are set to go into operation today in downtown Boston and Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. Units in the Roosevelt Field on Long Island, N.Y., and Philadelphia Center City stores will follow later this month. The Macy’s in the Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, Mich., will get its department on Oct. 23. Pentagon City in Washington; Old Orchard in Skokie, Ill., and Water Tower in Chicago will follow early next year. By year-end 2009, Macy’s expects to expand the concept to Austin, Tex.; Orange County, Calif., and Tampa, Aventura and Orlando, Fla.

Macy’s plans to have 10 Beautiful Planet shops open by the end of this year and another eight open by the end of next year.

The eight brands that make up the first shop are Burt’s Bees, which will offer face and body products ranging from $4 to $25; Care by Stella McCartney, with face products ranging from $35 to $80; Farmaesthetics, with face and body items ranging from $10 to $58; Nvey Eco, an Australian color cosmetics line, priced from $24 to $61; Organic Apoteke from London, with face and body items ranging from $20 to $117; Pangea Organics; Origins Organics (a line that is also merchandised in the Origins store across the aisle), and Terre d’Oc, a French brand utilizing fair trade ingredients.

Among the firsts that this concept represents is the fact that the sales associates have been trained to cross-sell items from any one of the lines instead of working for one particular brand, as is customary in department stores.

The shop is staffed on an assisted self-service plan, and the brands involved in Beautiful Planet have formed a co-op for training and employment of salespeople. “These vendors are very entrepreneurial and work well together,” said Johnston. “While it’s a departure for competing brands to develop a co-op, it works with these brands.”

“Beautiful Planet gives us an incubation station for future efforts,” said Debbie Murtha, senior vice president of cosmetics and fragrances for the Macy’s Merchandising Group.

According to sources in the market, Macy’s reached out beyond the usual channels to recruit salespeople who were conversant in organic products.

Display units are of sustainable materials including bamboo, recycled steel and aluminum and recycled post-industrial eco-resin, and low VOC paint, rescued tree limbs and coconut shell tiles are also used. Near each brand, a shelf talker explains the brand’s mission, its natural and/or organic facets and its pricing. Shelf talkers and consumer handouts are all produced on postconsumer recycled paper, noted Libby Alkalay, associate buyer of organic cosmetics for Macy’s East.

More so than any of Macy’s other cosmetics businesses, Beautiful Planet will be event-driven. “We’ll do events every weekend, ranging from an organic nutritionist speaking to in-store yoga sessions,” said Johnston.

The vendors were apparently not only cooperative but enthusiastic, judging from the comments of some. “It’s going to be a great experience for all,” said Jane Lauder, senior vice president and general manager of its Origins brand, a division of the Estée Lauder Cos. “It’s a great way to test how to reach this customer,” she added, noting that it is a good way of gauging what is important to her. Lauder also speculated that the new organics department might attract some of the sea of customers who shop in the store but don’t buy their beauty products there. Marc Rey, chief executive officer of the New York-based YSL Beauté Inc., which markets the Stella McCartney brand, applauded Macy’s effort, saying it is the first major department store to make this move. While noting that the organics category is still evolving, he said: “At least they are taking a position in a market that doesn’t have a backbone at the moment. This is a big idea — more to differentiate themselves than to generate sales.”

Burt’s Bees is arguably the best-known natural brand to be featured in the new organics set, second only to Origins. Available at retail for more than 10 years, Burt’s Bees has managed to transcend channel classification, with a retail roster that includes Target, Wal-Mart, high-end boutiques and now department stores.

“Natural personal care is outgrowing regular personal care by five times, at nearly 20 percent a year,” said Pete Alberse, senior vice president of customer development. “Macy’s can do what others can’t. The counter will be staffed with an educational beauty adviser who will know all of the benefits of all of the brands and who will not be impugning any of the other brands that are in that category. There will also be a lot of testing product. That is not an option in food, drug and mass outlets. Also, the shop is branded, which automatically communicates natural and organic and earth friendliness,” Alberse said. “[The entire undertaking] is a boon for us that will just build up the category in all channels.”

Pangea Organics will be merchandised in two 4-foot sections, said Joshua Onysko, the firm’s founder and ceo. Pangea, which is sold in 1,800 stores across the country, would not divulge sales expectations, but Onysko said he expects sales of Pangea in Macy’s stores to represent the top 20 percent of the brand’s distribution, in terms of sales.

“They are the first department store chain to globally recognize this category,” he said. “I mean, the category is growing at 22 percent per year.”

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