By  on December 15, 2006

LOS ANGELES — CVS's prowess at digesting competitors' stores is being put to the test in Southern California, where the company is wrapping up a revamp of the Sav-on drugstores jettisoned by Albertson's earlier this year.

The revamp marks a return for CVS, the country's largest drugstore retailer by store count, to the region, which is home to about half of the 701 Sav-on and Osco stores it nabbed in January for $2.9 billion in cash. Prior to the acquisition, only 21 CVS stores remained here after the Woonsocket, R.I.-based chain sold off units to Sav-on in the early Nineties.

The integration of Sav-on exposes West Coast drugstore customers to CVS's particular take on beauty departments. The store format being rolled out is the national standard with the latest improvements, including pastel graphics and lower shelving, to help accommodate females who make up a majority of CVS shoppers. Stores have been expanded to fit the typically roomier Sav-on size of 18,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet, compared to CVS's 13,000-square-foot average.

Unlike at Sav-on, where the placement of beauty departments varied widely, beauty is mainly at the front of the store and is one of the first departments a customer sees when stepping through the door, said Ron Day, a former Sav-on executive who is now a CVS area vice president. At Sav-on, he said, "I don't think the beauty experience was emphasized as much. It was more of a traditional drugstore. They had some of the normal makeup lines, but nothing to the depth of some of the proprietary lines or private label we have."

About half of the CVS stores in Southern California feature beauty advisers — there are up to three in a store — who man the beauty departments, conduct minutes-long skin analyses and instruct customers on products that best suit their skin types. Sav-on stores did not have employees devoted to beauty departments.

Barbara Sciurba, a CVS regional category specialist in beauty, is busy hiring 100 beauty advisers for 62 stores in Southern California. She will oversee the advisers as they go through training: four days of classes on lines featured in CVS's Healthy Skincare Centers, up-front displays of skin care-targeted items by Vichy, La Roche-Posay, Eau Thermale Avene and CVS exclusives Lumene and Skin Effects by Dr. Jeffrey Dover. The advisers do not receive commissions based on the sales of specific brands.

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