When it comes to beauty, Marshall Field’s is determined to become the most complete retailer in the Midwest.

Beauty brands from the high end to the more moderately priced perch side-by-side in Field’s 62 stores. And while the Midwestern chain celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, a constant infusion of new brands and products keep the venerable chain’s beauty department from showing its age. Field’s has long been known for its strength in large-volume beauty brands —?including Estée Lauder, Lancôme and Clinique — but the retailer has also experimented lately with adding younger upstarts such as Stila, Bobbi Brown, BeneFit and Philosophy to the mix.

Field’s is also continuing to experiment with formats — such as an apothecary that was installed in its State Street flagship in Chicago in September, a nail bar that will open this November at State Street, and a men’s salon slated for the Nicollet Mall store in Minneapolis in November. The chain’s Web site also recently began linking to Reflect.com, the custom beauty site. Sources say an eyebrow-shaping bar at State Street is next among the plans.

Beauty is said to represent about 13 percent of overall sales volume per store, depending on store assortment, balanced equally between fragrance, color cosmetics and skin care. While Dave Steiner, divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics and fragrances for Marshall Field’s, wouldn’t offer dollar figures, he noted that beauty remains a key category for the retailer. “Our beauty business continues to grow even faster than our overall business, and we’re going to continue to launch new initiatives to make sure that this growth continues,” he said. “Beauty is a perfect example of Field’s strategic vision — as a retailer, we want to develop the expected and unexpected in a fun environment.”

Field’s gave consumers a preview of its future vision for beauty in September 2002, when it unveiled a multimillion-dollar makeover of its State Street’s beauty department —?a door that sources estimate generates upwards of $200 million in total retail sales annually. The beauty department there had last been updated in the mid-Eighties, and the new vision took about two years to realize, from first plans to finished floor. It also was said to have represented a $15 million investment on the part of Field’s parent company, the Minneapolis-based Target Corp.In addition to slimming down cases and increasing aisle space between displays to 11 feet from 5 to 6 feet, the revamp moved much of the consultation areas for the brands behind the cases and unified the appearance of the cases themselves.

The physical landscape wasn’t the only thing that changed —the update also brought a number of new players to Field’s, including Stila, Bobbi Brown, Tony & Tina, Nars, Juvena, Joey New York and Versace, all of which appeared first at State Street and then entered other Field’s doors. Since the remodel, Steiner has continued to introduce new brands, including YSL and Smashbox, and plans even more.

“A number of our newest brands — including Stila, Nars, YSL, Smashbox and BeneFit —?have really hit the ground running,” said Steiner. “As well, MAC and Bobbi Brown are also very strategic and rolling out to new doors, and our core lines have had wonderful successes. The formula seems to be working.”

Also at State Street, the retailer previewed another strategy: opening additional store-in-store boutiques, which it did for Qiora and Chanel; before the revamp, Field’s already had a strong store-in-store business with Origins. As well, assisted self-service stations were added to the traditional counter areas of the big three — Estée Lauder, Lancôme and Clinique.

The renovation expanded State Street’s beauty department by about 20 percent, to more than 27,300 square feet from about 23,000 square feet; State Street’s overall selling space is comprised of approximately 1 million square feet. The goal was to grow State Street’s beauty business by 20 percent or more.

At the time that the State Street floor was overhauled, Paul Calderon, director of store planning for Field’s, said that the goal was to “improve shopability and productivity” and noted that elements of the State Street redesign would likely be rolled out to additional Field’s doors, specifically the combinations of assisted sell and caseline sales setups that it has for Lancôme, Lauder and Clinique, and the colorways of the department. “It will vary from location to location, but we will incorporate successful elements into our other stores,” he said at the time.In the year that has followed, growth for beauty has continued to be a priority chainwide, with the State Street model being rolled out, with modifications, to other stores in the chain. In many stores, that has taken the form of significant square footage additions for the category. One of the most recent updates was an overhaul of the chain’s Ann Arbor, Mich. beauty department, which is said to have doubled the floor space for the category.

“Overall, cosmetics is positioned as an icon business,” said Steiner. “As we move through our remodeling process, we will continue to look at the assortments and sizes of the departments and make case-by-case decisions in each market. For instance, Ann Arbor has proven to be such a responsive market that its beauty assortment is now comparable to State Street’s.”

The recently opened Merz Apothecary boutique at State Street is another example of building beauty in a nontraditional way, noted Steiner. The Merz name in Chicago can be traced back to 1875, when Merz opened his Apothecary on Chicago’s North Side. The State Street version, which opened last month, consists of 2,200 square feet on the first floor, between the beauty and the women’s accessories departments. Its assortment is similar to Merz’s freestanding store in Chicago’s Lincoln Square area. More than 400 bath, body and beauty products —?as well as a full line of vitamins, herbs, supplements and homeopathic remedies —?are offered at State Street, including Santa Maria Novella, the Florentine personal care line; Dr. Hauschka face and body products; L’Aromarine, a line of Parisian fragrances and body products; I Coloniali, an Italian personal care line; Caswell-Massey personal care items, and Badedas, the original pine/horse chestnut German foam bath on which Vitabath was based.

“Our primary objective is to improve the guest experience through heightened service and differentiated products,” said Steiner. “Initiatives like this one allow us to do so.”

In addition to its commitment to newness, Field’s gets high marks from vendors on a number of fronts, including launch initiatives, following through to build businesses after launch and customer service.

“Marshall Field’s launches particularly well,” said Jack Wiswall, president of L’Oréal USA’s Designer Fragrances Division. “They know how to cover all of the bases — from windows to interior displays — and they have a great group that knows how to execute their ideas. For instance, when they launched Sensi recently, they brilliantly executed it and told the world that it was at Field’s.”Not only is Field’s skilled at launches, it’s also strong in continuing to nurture the business, said Wiswall. “They know how to do an ongoing business. They anniversary launches very well, and I can’t say that about everybody — they are skilled at keeping the focus on brands. They do that well with fragrances in broad distribution, and with exclusives they go well beyond that. They really know how to partner with a vendor to develop business.”

Wiswall noted that the chain dominates the Minneapolis and Detroit markets, and he’s bullish on the Chicago market as well. “The redo of State Street is great, and now they’re working on Water Tower Place,” he said. “They have brought a quality showplace to the forefront in all of their markets. All of their stores are very updated — and they spend the money to keep them that way. The aisles are wide, and the merchandise is presented in a very upscale way. They’re definitely a shopper’s store. On a vendor side, they are very open to ideas and they follow through on them. They pride themselves on deeply developing relationships, and they live the partnership.”

Laura Lee Miller, president of Unilever Prestige, added that the chain has been “a key retail partner” in developing the Vera Wang fragrance business. “Through a collaborative effort between the Vera Wang brand and Marshall Field’s, we have conducted two record-breaking personal appearances with Vera Wang at State Street,” said Miller. “Vera still holds the sales record for the largest fragrance personal appearance in their history.”

But one concern is the chain’s stocking levels. “They reorder constantly, but they let the stock get extremely low,” said one vendor. “That means that sometimes they run out of items. I’m not sure if the buying and planning teams aren’t communicating effectively, but I’d like to see that improved.”

Janet Cook, president of Estée Lauder North America, said Field’s is “an excellent partner,” adding the Lauder brand’s business continues to grow in the chain. Cook noted Lauder’s business is “pretty evenly balanced” between skin care, color cosmetics and fragrances in the Field’s chain, with skin care leading by a small percentage.“Field’s will take on challenges if you ask them to, and they will come in and make proposals to us about what they would like to do with launches — they’ll theme it and do an entire presentation, which many others don’t do,” said Cook. “For instance, when we launched our Pure Color Vinyl lip glosses, they came up with a promotion that put consultants in red vinyl dresses holding trays and talking to consumers about Pure Color. They’re very creative and willing to do something unique, and they come to the table in an innovative way — that’s why you see so many people launch with them. They are very proactive in positioning themselves to be the launch store for new items. They’re very open to listening, and they support the beauty advisers very strongly.”

Also, said Cook, “When they’re talking to you, they challenge you back, which is a great place to be — it’s fun to have someone as excited and passionate about your business as you are.”

On the consumer side, said Cook, the chain is “very committed to service. They walk the talk on giving great service — if a beauty adviser doesn’t have a certain item in her door, she’ll call other doors to get it for the customer. It’s not about making the sale in that door, it’s about satisfying the customer. It’s one of the hardest things to do in a large department store, and they do it very well.”

“I’m very big on customer service, and in that arena Field’s is one of the best,” said Dalia Chammas, senior vice president and general manager of Lancôme USA. “They call customers guests, and have deep service-oriented roots — they take a lot of pride in that.”

Chammas noted that Lancôme’s business at Field’s is strongest in fragrance and color cosmetics. “When they do a launch, they do a great job both visually and from an execution point of view,” said Chammas. “They continually find ways to make the business strong. At a time when business overall is challenging, they’ve found a way to bring back the excitement at counter. They’re a great business model.”

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