KING of PRUSSIA, Pa. — With a $2.95 lipstick promotion filling up the front display window, Yves Rocher opened its first U.S. store last week in a 1,200-square-foot corner locale, here at one of the largest shopping centers in the country.

If the experiment goes well, Yves Rocher will likely follow with shops in Houston, New York, the Mall of America in Minneapolis and somewhere on the West Coast, according to Debbie Hicks, vice president for image and brand marketing for Yves Rocher. Executives expect the unit to ring up retail sales of $500,000 by yearend.

Globally, Yves Rocher is a $2 billion company, but the U.S. represents less than 1 percent of its sales. With its focus on all natural and botanical products, Hicks sees a huge opportunity here. The brand’s slogan is “No One Respects the Nature of Women More.”

Yves Rocher has conducted a grassroots campaign to get the word on the brand out to Philadelphia area residents, including tying into the newsletters of French cultural organizations and advertising in mailers targeting natural products users. Last Saturday, a popular disc jockey from the Philadelphia radio station “The Point” did an in-store broadcast from noon to 2 p.m., luring shoppers with free samples and a contest giving winners $75 gift certificates. Prerecorded spots have been playing on the station announcing the opening since April 28.

Yves Rocher, primarily a direct sales outfit, began operating in the U.S. 15 years ago. It maintains a Web site and publishes the Green Book product catalog. Worldwide, it operates some 1,400 stores with 600 in France. There are also 44 in Quebec, where Yves Rocher claims a 10 percent share of the beauty market. Hicks did acknowledge that with the current anti-French sentiment in the U.S., the company has tended to emphasize its botanical heritage rather than its French roots.

Along with the botanical positioning, Yves Rocher has a skin care core, representing 30 percent of its business. Riche Creme, containing 10 botanical oils is its single best-selling item. The store is staffed with estheticians who will take a skin reading to determine the oil and hydration levels and recommend an appropriate product. Full makeovers are also available for free.Targeted mailings sent to lure shoppers to the new store enable women to exchange the card for a free lavender foot cream. An ongoing offer entices women to bring an empty jar of the facial cream brand they are currently using for a free full-size Yves Rocher product.

There is also a loyalty program. For every $4 spent, the shopper will receive one stamp on her card, explained Patria Desbonnes, the store manager. Once the customer reaches a certain level, she can receive a free product. Yves Rocher prices range from $6.50 for a lip pencil to $40 for an antiage serum. The lineup also includes fragrances, bath and body and hair care.

The store, which opened May 8 at 9 a.m., had already rung up some sales by 11 a.m. In keeping with its natural theme, the decor is pale green and whites with wooden fixtures. One shopper, Ann Mazzo of Wyominssing, Pa., said she had never purchased an Yves Rocher product before, but had “heard about the brand in a conversation with friends. And once my daughter sent me a sample,” she added, picking up a body cream and an eye cream.

Hicks said the new King of Prussia store, like its other stores, will change its windows every two weeks, featuring a new promotion. The kickoff here offered lipsticks from its entry-level priced color brand Luminelle at $2.95, down from $7. Its other color ranges are True Colors and Yria, a line targeting older women with products with antiage benefits.

The launch event also featured several products at two-for-one prices. A contingent of Yves Rocher executives from France and Canada traveled to Pennsylvania for the opening, including Maryse Nadeau, manager for store development, who went about freshening the displays.

Hicks said Yves Rocher waited two years to secure a spot in a heavily trafficked area of the mall, it also happens to be within view of a Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s beauty department. The site puts Yves Rocher to the hard test, said Hicks. “If we can compete here, it is a good sign.”

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