Byline: Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall

CHICAGO--Nordstrom is giving impetus to a novel approach to selling beauty--giving advice without a vendor's pitch.
Traditionally, the color cosmetics and treatment counters of department and specialty stores have been staffed with beauty consultants tied to a particular vendor. Although some stores offer incentives to sell other products, consultants tend to be trained only by the beauty company they represent.
But now the Seattle-based chain is introducing in-store beauty directors, one in each unit, who are trained makeup artists and skin care specialists and who are well versed in all the store's brands.
Nordstrom introduced the approach in its Washington, D.C., store in April and has subsequently rolled it out to 16 stores, including the chain's newest unit in Old Orchard Shopping Center in suburban Chicago.
That store even has a private consultation room in the cosmetics department.
"We wanted to create a point of difference and raise the level of service," said Nicholas Gavrelis, regional beauty director of Nordstrom's capital region in Washington.
"Today's woman is into mixing and matching," he continued. "Some customers are concerned that line-affiliated consultants might not have that integrity."
A similar concept was initiated in March at Bloomingdale's 59th Street flagship store in New York. Although the store did not disclose results, sources say the approach has generated sales increases of 20 percent above plan.
Jane Scott, vice president of cosmetics and fragrances at Bloomingdale's, described the program as "extremely successful."
As well as offering advice on skin care and makeup, the Nordstrom beauty directors will do makeovers and help with gift and corporate needs. They are trained to help women with special needs, such as chemotherapy patients. The service is free to customers, and there is no obligation to buy, Gavrelis said.
The chain's goal is to have beauty directors in all 55 Nordstrom main-line stores within the next year and a half, Gavrelis said.
He declined to discuss projected revenues from the new service, but said results so far were "exciting" and sales were growing every month.
"Every line is benefiting," Gavrelis said, adding that the beauty directors also help train line representatives.
The Bloomingdale's service, called Bloomingdale's Beauty at Your Service, is offered at a separate counter and includes private consultations, a speed shopping service that takes customers' fax or phone orders, a concierge to arrange spa appointments and a newsletter.
"As a consumer, I see the merits of expertise in line assignment, but I happen to wear more than one brand," said Scott. "As a time saver, I prefer to have one person do everything." Bloomingdale's has no specific plans to introduce the service in other stores yet, but Scott said, "If it continues to be as successful as it appears to be, it will be rolled out."

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