KENDALL PARK, N.J. — The electric bills must be soaring at CVS.

As the nation’s largest drug chain (in store count) continues to redefine its store ambience, it is illuminating fixtures not only in beauty, but throughout the store, in hopes of creating a more inviting shopping experience. The new format is called the “Life” store, and it also features wider aisles and a lower profile for gondolas.

A store opened here in April illustrates how far CVS has come in beauty. Many CVS stores have installed service counters, beauty advisers and upscale brands like Vichy. However, not all stores warrant the enlarged departments, and CVS is proving it wants to set these stores apart from the competition, too. For example, the store here doesn’t have service. However, the fixtures all have a space for literature from vendors. The Lumene display features tissues for sampling and a receptacle to toss the used tissues into — a touch unheard of in drugstores even a year ago.

The department is well organized and easy to shop. Upon entering the store, located in a strip center and featuring a drive-through pharmacy, shoppers immediately see a floor stand of the hot-as-a-pistol Jergens Natural Glow. CVS received a shipment of the daily moisturizer that adds a golden hue to skin (and is being sold on eBay for twice the regular retail price) on Monday and had already sold most pieces at $6.99. “We had people lined up to buy it. It is the hottest thing since Cabbage Patch Dolls,” said a cashier.

To the immediate right of the entrance is a locked fragrance cabinet with designer scents such as J’Adore priced at $39.99 for the 1-oz. spray. There are also minis merchandised in clamshells. With Father’s Day approaching, CVS advertised men’s scents such as Curve for Men and Tommy Boy at $10 off. With the CVS ExtraCare loyalty card, shoppers can save $5 off the $21.49 retail price of Spirit Antonio Banderas.

Beyond that display is the cosmetics wall featuring Maybelline, Revlon, Cover Girl, Max Factor and Almay. Then there’s Physicians Formula, which serves as a segue into facial skin care. This area also features illuminated fixtures touting Olay, L’Oreal and an exclusive launch from CVS called Preventin. This skin care collection is modeled after Stri-Vectin, but sold at a fraction of the cost. CVS also carries Milani and NYC on displays across from the peg wall. Body care is nearby and includes Burt’s Bees, as well as the traditional names such as Olay and Neutrogena.

This story first appeared in the June 17, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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An ingenious endcap ties together several brands of bronzers including Sally Hansen’s Airbrush Sun and Physicians Formula’s bronzers. Merchandising by type of product — in this case bronzers — offers shoppers a choice of items in one place.

Other categories are also well thought out, such as hair, which again has a lit department for premium brands such as Cristophe, which is only available at CVS and Cristophe salons.

Several shoppers were taking advantage of a free gift offer from CVS’ exclusive Lumene. Shoppers could receive a free Lumene eye cream with the purchase of a full-size Lumene Facial Moisturizer or a free Lumene blush with purchase of any Lumene Face Makeup. Having an exclusive line such as Lumene offers CVS the opportunity to stage department store-style giveaways.

Another example of a clean and well organized department is nail care. While many chains haphazardly merchandise this category, CVS has organized it clearly by type of product.

Beauty isn’t the only area where CVS is trying to be a cut above competitors. The chain is among the first to offer a disposable video camera that can transfer images to a DVD.

CVS is undergoing a growth spurt in New Jersey with another store set to open within weeks about 15 miles away, which will be the first in the area to sport a dermatological center. CVS has been at the forefront of drug chains using loyalty cards; membership just surpassed the 50 million mark. The company plans to do more marketing to consumers who buy certain categories. For example, skin care customers will get special news and deals about new skin care products.

CVS is successfully integrating the Eckerd stores it purchased last year, while still opening new stores that were planned before the acquisition. The company said growth will come from both existing and new markets in the future. The chain ended its fiscal year on Jan. 1 with sales of $30.59 billion, up 15 percent over the year before. Its average stores pump out sales of almost $7 million, roughly 10 percent of which come from beauty.

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