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Bliss Debuts In France

<?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = CS /><CS:BOLD>PARIS -- Bliss is making Continental inroads. Its first department-store outpost bowed last week in Galeries Lafayette's flagship here. <BR><BR>The 120-square-foot retail space is the latest addition to...

PARIS — Bliss is making Continental inroads. Its first department-store outpost bowed last week in Galeries Lafayette’s flagship here.

The 120-square-foot retail space is the latest addition to BlissWorld LLC, the beauty empire founded by Marcia Kilgore in July 1996 that was acquired by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton in March 1999. It is also the only place in France where Bliss products are currently sold.

The outpost, nestled among Decleor, Clinique and Orlane on Galeries Lafayette’s ground floor, features a double-sided merchandising unit with testers and opaque drawers of 53 references. It’s illuminated with pastel-colored lighting and features space for on-the-spot treatments. “I’ve never had a ‘corner’ before,” beamed Kilgore, using the French expression for store counters.

But in this day and age, she knows diversification is key. With the recession on in the U.S., where department stores have been particularly hard-hit, she said: “I am very glad to have other baskets for my eggs.”

Other “baskets” to have proven sturdy post-Sept. 11 include Bliss’s three spas — one in London, which opened last November, and two in New York. These together ring up about 35 percent of the company’s sales. There’s also the BlissOut beauty catalog, whose volume also contributes some 35 percent to the total, and in-store distribution — at such retailers as Saks Fifth Avenue, Sephora and Bergdorf Goodman plus some Nordstrom doors — which makes up the rest.

While the company did not speak numbers, industry sources estimate Bliss generates yearly sales of about $40 million. But to grow that volume, the company is looking to branch out.

In-store retailing is particularly alluring, since it affords a brand broader reach than the spa market, explained Kilgore. This is because “the average person can’t go to the spa at all times; they can’t afford it.” So further outposts in department stores are in the offing. One, in a major London department store, for instance, is likely to open sometime this year.

Bliss is also considering introducing a QuickBliss store, where clients can get speedy manicures and pedicures. “We have something like that on the upper floor of our London spa,” said Kilgore, who’s scouting for spaces in New York and Los Angeles.

Kilgore, who wears many hats in her rapidly growing company of 325 staffers, is also seconding as a beauty editor these days. Starting in March, she will add a BlissOut Beauty Report to the company’s catalog. There will be one for fall-winter and another for spring-summer. Kilgore explained that at a company like Bliss, where bestsellers are primarily staples, catalogs must be livened up with such reports.

In reflecting on all that’s happened since the LVMH takeover, Kilgore said: “Three years ago we were 25 percent of what we are now. What keeps us going? Nothing is ever good enough.”