Byline: Anita J. Finkelstein

ATLANTA--The Cosmetic Center is marching through Georgia. The company plans to open two stores here this month, following the opening of four others in August and September.
"We're very committed to the market. We think it could grow to a 20-to-25-store division," said Allen D. Nehman, senior vice president of merchandising for the cosmetics, fragrance and skin care retailer, which is headquartered in Savage, Md.
A heavy advertising campaign along with free makeovers, free gift bags and two-for-one coupons kicked off the opening of the Perimeter Square Shopping Center, Northpoint Shopping Center in Alpharetta, Gwinett Market Fair Shopping Center in Duluth and Stone Mountain stores last month.
The two remaining stores will open in Buckhead on Saturday and in Merchant's Walk Shopping Center in Marietta on Oct. 21.
With the final two openings, the company will step up its initial efforts. "We're virtually unknown here so we really have to get the word out," said Nehman.
He said the company chose Atlanta as an expansion site because the demographics of the city are very similar to their target market. "Our customer is a professional, working woman who is looking for a convenient place to shop that serves all her needs," Nehman said.
He added that the company, which operates 68 stores in seven states, also favors locations within 700 miles of its distribution center.
So far, Nehman is pleased with the company's Atlanta effort.
"We had a grand, grand opening," he said of the company's official openings the week of Sept. 11. "A couple of stores outperformed our expectations. "Atlanta has the right demographics for our stores," he added. "We had people waiting in line and we had many events going on during the openings, such as manicures, giveaways and makeovers."
All the stores range in size from 5,000 to 5,500 square feet and carry an average of 25,000 different products.
"Our selling point is the convenience of getting everything you need in one store. It's like going to a candy store," Nehman said.
He declined to give projections. But industry sources indicate that three of the stores--Buckhead, Perimeter and Marietta--are expected to exceed the sales average for Cosmetic Center stores and the other three are expected to meet the average.
According to the company's annual report, the average Cosmetic Center store does $2.5 million.
A walk-through of the Gwinett store turned up offerings from mass market brands like L'Oréal, Revlon, Max Factor and Almay as well as prestige lines such as Estée Lauder, Lancôme, Orlane and Christian Dior.
Hair care lines include typical drugstore labels as well as salon brands like Redken, Paul Mitchell and Nexus.
Nehman said that while the focus on offering savings to the customer is not changing, the business is moving more upscale, toward a department store ambience. "Our presentation is as good as most department stores, and we are providing the same kind of training to our sales associates," he noted.
The new Atlanta stores feature design elements and a refined layout that form a prototype for future stores. While they are clean, organized and well-lighted, they maintain a cozy, specialty store feeling.
The fragrance bar is now located in the middle of the store and is the first thing encountered when a customer walks in. Streamlined, futuristic light fixtures hang from the ceiling around the bar and sleek black bar stools encircle it.
Skin care and bath and body products have been moved to mirrored side walls. Light gray and black signs direct customers.
The new stores also contain full-service hair salons run by the company. "We felt their was a need to add a new dimension to the Cosmetic Center. It was a natural progression for us," he said.
He said currently the store is pushing it's new Biny-Biny line of private-label cosmetics, as well as working on increasing it's selection of men's products. "We're getting more and more male customers; they are becoming less afraid of it being a women's store and are more concerned about their appearance," he said.

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