By  on December 29, 2000

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Universal fixturing is paying off for Eckerd Corporation.

The chain is reporting higher beauty sales in a store that has been set up with internally created displays for pegged cosmetics in comparison to its other local stores, according to Kathy Steirly, vice president of beauty merchandising. The store also sports Eckerd's exclusive Mira cosmetics line and a fresh approach to hair care merchandising.

"We like the concept of universal fixturing," said Steirly during a tour of the store, which is a model for the universal fixtures the chain will begin rolling out in January. Eckerd joins Wal-Mart and Target Stores as retailers opting to create their own displays rather than depend on those produced by leading manufacturers.

What makes the fixturing attractive, Steirly said, is that areas can be reset easily, parts can be obtained without a wait and the shopping environment is enhanced.

Steirly admitted that some vendors have been disappointed with their presentation, but that most are working on partnerships with the chain to make both parties happy. L'Oreal, for example, had already added signage and color chips to its footage to make its colors easier to spot. Manufacturers traditionally spend millions on displays designed to lock retailers into a certain number of stockkeeping units. The generic fixturing, developed in conjunction with Advertising Display Co. of Lyndhurst, N.J., shifts control from supplier to retailer. However, Steirly is encouraging manufacturers to introduce ideas to incorporate their own graphics into the fixture.

Eckerd has gone with universal signage and graphics across the top of the fixture -- giving beauty a unified look versus a mixture of suppliers' graphics. The display is topped off with half-moon silver blocks bearing the brand name that is housed in each area. Some manufacturer footage has been snipped, including space from Revlon and Procter & Gamble's Olay, to allow for the new look. The additional space has yielded a home for Mira, more footage for Physicians Formula and room for plastic, movable displays to showcase hot new products. Steirly said the modules could be easily moved throughout the entire department to feature new lines. The entire fixture is illuminated -- a major feat for a mass market store.The store also showcases Eckerd's proprietary line called Mira, which is now in about 670 stores on wall displays and in all other stores in promotional displays. Mira is merchandised in a 3-foot display on a peg wall. There is literature available introducing shoppers to the line, which is produced by Mana Products of Long Island City, N.Y.

The new Mira line is off to a promising start, Steirly noted. Among the best-selling stockkeeping units is a green lip gloss that was almost completely sold through on a visit.

The front of the cosmetics department is reserved for promotional items and youth brands. Eckerd is doing well with Caboodles and youth-oriented products such as Fing'rs Teddy Bear nail color. There is also a teen area created by Sassy Doo with funky picture frames and other teen items. Comfy, Eckerd's house bath line, is merchandised on an end-of-aisle display. Steirly said that items targeted at children have been the best in the line and that it will become more of a children's line in the future.

Fragrances are also housed near the front of the department. According to Steirly, Coty's Adidas has been a huge hit for the chain. She's also noticed a nice comeback for the Dana Brands.

Christmas, however, was somewhat sluggish for drugstores overall. "There are all kinds of reasons such as there were more weekends prior to Christmas than in the last few weeks," she said on the Tuesday before what she hoped would be a big Christmas rush.

In hair care, Eckerd is participating in a test with Procter & Gamble to revamp the way shampoos, conditioners and stylers are merchandised. While most chains adopted a philosophy of putting all shampoos, conditioners and stylers together in the Eighties, P&G now is encouraging merchandising by brand.

The strategy works especially well for P&G's Physique, which now has appliances such as blow dryers in the lineup. Hair care aisles have been positioned diagonal to the front of the store to create more end-of-aisle displays in this new layout. "We're trying to treat hair care more like beauty," said Steirly. She believes the new design is boosting sales of specialty treatment items. The theory was shown in practice on a recent shopping trip when a customer added a Sheer Blonde conditioner purchase to a shampoo. Steirly added that the department is further segmented by "good, better and best," brands.The chain is also seizing opportunities at the point-of-sale to provide hair care tips and information about products sold. "We're trying to give shoppers as much of an education as we can about styling products," said Steirly.

The store is part of what Eckerd calls its Phase Two units. The chain is putting a bigger emphasis on health and beauty aids, including cosmetics, under the tutelage of its new chief executive officer Wayne Harris. Harris is charged with getting Eckerd, a division of J.C. Penney Co., back on track. "Eckerd went through an acquisition period," explained Steirly. "Now, it is all about putting the attention back on the stores."

My Emotions, a new chain of stores aimed at young shoppers, is off to a brisk start, according to president Thomas Souza. Souza said he's planning to open two more stores in the next few months, bringing the store count to four. The stores feature exclusive brands, name labels, music and other items for teenage customers and are currently in Miami and Sawgrass Mills in Florida. "The shoppers are coming in and saying that Claire's used to be their favorite store, then Bath & Body and now this," said Souza, a former executive with Claire's.

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