A rendering of the H Beauty space, which will open in the U.K. in April, 2020.

LONDON — In a move that signals its ambitions in a wide-open landscape, Harrods will trial a stand-alone retail concept called H Beauty starting in the spring in two locations outside London, Lakeside, Essex and Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.

The Lakeside shopping center store will be the first to open, in April, and will span 23,000 square feet. The focus will be on premium brands, “from Chanel to Huda,” according to Annlise Fard, Harrods’ director of beauty.

There will be premium beauty, cosmetics, skin care, fragrance products and services on offer as well as a coffee-to-cocktail bar at Lakeside and Milton Keynes, which will also open in the spring. Harrods plans to test the market with these stores before committing to further rollout plans in the U.K.

Fard talked about Harrods’ confidence in “the scale and opportunity of the beauty market in the U.K. today. Fundamentally, it’s being underleveraged by others, and there is a significant gap that I am very confident we can step into very successfully. We can deliver something that is unique, exceptional, experience-driven, with customers at heart,” she said in an interview.

“We have brought in all the authority, credibility and our global awareness of what’s hot and what’s happening. We have a very talented team that scours the globe for the best and most fabulous new trends, products and ingredients in beauty,” added Fard who has been overseeing a major overhaul of Harrods’ Knightsbridge beauty halls this year.

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The H Beauty logo. 

 

The move is a smart one for the retailer in a country where beauty is mainly sold through department store counters or online and where there are no large-scale brick-and-mortar beauty retailers such as Sephora, Ulta or Bluemercury.

Of late, Boots has re-thought and upgraded its beauty offer, while SpaceNK has set a new, ambitious plan to grow in the U.K. and internationally after owners Manzanita Capital put the company’s sale on ice.

As reported, Space NK plans to open eight stores a year over the next three years across the U.K. In the U.S., the retailer will open two more freestanding stores with plans to expand concessions in department stores. It will also be looking to add stores in China.

In 2013, Harvey Nichols opened its Beauty Bazaar in Liverpool, which spans 22,000 square feet over three floors. That store also offers treatments, a fragrance library and a Champagne bar, but the concept has never been rolled out to other parts of the U.K.

Fard said the Lakeside store will have “everything for the Essex girl and guy, K-beauty, J-beauty and everything fantastic coming out of Harrods. The offer will really be edited and curated to each specific location, wherever we launch.”

Essex is a commuter county outside London with large pockets of wealth. It’s known for its perma-tanned, flashy residents who like to splash cash on big brands and beauty services, and is the backdrop for the ITV reality show “The Only Way Is Essex.”

Those Essex folks aren’t the only Brits who are spending on beauty.

According to a report released last year called “CEW: Defining the U.K. Beauty Landscape,” consumers here spent 25.1 billion pounds on beauty products and services in 2017, and that figure is set to rise by around 10 percent to 26.9 billion pounds by 2022.

The report said the U.K. is the sixth-largest beauty market in the world, and was worth about 10.2 billion pounds in 2017. Per-capita spend on beauty and personal care was 155 pounds, the fifth highest in the world. Online sales accounted for 10.9 percent of spend in the U.K., with one in three Brits buying beauty and personal care products online in that year.

Fard said the journey through the new H Beauty stores, “won’t be dissimilar to the one you’d have in the Knightsbridge store: Our power players will have stand-alone boutiques, and then we have a fabulous, edited curation of luxury skin-care brands and others that are really being innovative. A whole host of makeup brand players from fashion houses and makeup artists will be there, too, as well as a lot of those fragrance brands you see in Knightsbridge.”

 

The H Beauty carrier bag. 

 

For the store interiors, Harrods has swapped its traditional forest green for blush pink, with the new units aiming to be “younger, fresher and more approachable. It’s a premium position, whereas Knightsbridge is the ultimate luxury,” said Fard.

“My vision is to curate a concept that the client feels has been created around them and their wishes — how they want to look, how they want to dress, how they want to celebrate their own identity. It will deliver all of that.”

This is the right moment to strike with beauty-only stores, Fard said, due to factors such as the decline of U.K. department stores and the digital disruption in the beauty market.

“In beauty, there has been more change in the last five years than in the previous 50 years, and yet I fundamentally believe that retail hasn’t changed that much. That’s the niche that needs to be spoken to. The service proposition, the actual selling ritual — that needs to be ignited again. The client wanting to speak directly with an expert about their individual needs and how we can meet them — I don’t think that exists anymore, but I think Harrods can deliver it.”

Fard called the Lakeside location, “one of the best opportunities that came our way. It’s close enough to Knightsbridge, but far enough away for me to understand the difference between the two stores. Plus, we know there is a girl and a guy in Essex who absolutely soak up beauty at every opportunity, and I really want to offer them something they haven’t seen before. It’s a game-changer, and it’s very exciting.”

She said she wants it to be a social space, too, where customers “can arrange to meet their girlfriends and hang out. You’ll be able to order products on Harrods.com and be able to collect them from the H Beauty locations as well.”

Asked about rollout plans, in the U.K. and internationally, Fard said that any future stores will be led by market reaction and forces. “We really want to understand what the engagement is in these two locations before making any further decisions.”

Over the past months, Harrods has been pumping up its beauty offer in Knightsbridge, re-designing the halls for a new generation of shoppers and putting the emphasis on services, exclusives, J-Beauty and experiential shopping.

Earlier this month, more than 40 brands — across wellness, naturals, J-beauty, medi-cosmetics and technology — opened in the store’s new skin-care destination, the second in a three-phase project that will see the transformation of Harrods’ entire beauty offer.

Over the summer, the Beauty Halls opened with color cosmetics and lifestyle brands, while the final instalment, the downstairs treatment, masterclass rooms and beauty concierge, will be revealed at the end of January.

Fard has been seeking to broaden and upgrade Harrods’ offer and retail experience, and wants to ensure that the retailer remains competitive in a sector of the market that is dominated by Instagram, e-commerce, peer-to-peer recommendations and tutorials and community.

When phases one, two and three are complete, the halls will be 53 percent bigger than the former space and will have taken over the former men’s wear rooms on the ground floor, the current beauty hall and the lower ground floor of Harrods.

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