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Kohl’s Hosts Beauty Expo to Sharpen Beauty Advisers’ Knowledge

An upgraded beauty department is only the beginning of Kohl's goals to court more beauty consumers and brands.

Kohl’s wants more of the U.S. beauty market.

Not only has the company added brands such as Lorac, The Balm, Pür Cosmetics and Bliss, it is putting resources behind training associates on the front line.

That was evident at last week’s Beauty Expo held at the Gaylord Texan Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Grapevine, Tex., where Kohl’s Beauty Advisers learned how to apply some of the newest products in its expanding beauty portfolio.

This was the fourth annual event, which has ballooned from a gathering of four stores in a conference room at Kohl’s Menomonee Falls, Wis., headquarters with no vendors, to a gathering of 1,200 Kohl’s associates and 30 brands.

The beauty business has been attractive to Kohl’s, which revamped its department over the past few years, scrapping the decade-old mix of exclusive brands created by the BeautyBank division of Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.

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“The enhanced makeup department has gotten customers excited,” said Michelle Gass, chief merchandising officer for Kohl’s. “They are returning to replace makeup and are shopping in other departments building traffic through the store.” It doesn’t hurt, observers noted, that some of the brands attract younger consumers who might not be frequenting Kohl’s.

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Beauty is an element in Kohl’s broader strategic framework called its “greatness agenda.” In its former iteration, beauty was a missing link, Gass said. The new department dovetails with an overall health and wellness positioning the company hopes to achieve especially as it rolls out athletic brand Under Armour next spring.

The addition of recognized brand names in beauty mirror the strategy being implemented across the entire store. Kohl’s efforts are paying off with comparable store sales showing a 2 percent lift in upgraded beauty departments.

That’s just what Jeff Askenas, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of cosmetics, envisioned when he joined Kohl’s four years ago with more than 30 years of experience gleaned at, Ulta Beauty and J.C. Penney. One of his first moves was to add Lorac, which remains the number-one brand. Others followed such as Bliss and Cargo. The square footage of beauty was expanded to house the new lines, plus to add a makeover area. Originally expected to take six years to roll out, the enhanced beauty program was completed in all 1,100-plus stores in three-and-a-half years. The department now stocks more than 40 brands in footprints ranging from 670 square feet to 1,100 square feet. Beauty tools, such as straighteners and curling irons, once housed in the home area were relocated to beauty, which has been a boost to sales, Askenas said. He’s enthused by the availability of more brands to mid-tier beauty purveyors.

With department stores struggling, beauty manufacturers are also seeking distribution from retailers who can incubate lines, industry observers added.

Askenas said color and skin care are the fastest-growing categories. The Kohl’s executives noted an area near the cash wrap called “Gorgeous to Go,” which showcases popular new brands and travel sizes.

During the event, Lorac previewed a holiday line called Rose and Revelry, featuring  on-trend rose gold packaging, Pür showed off its new Love Your Selfie palette and a four in one pressed mineral powder foundation. The Balm garnered applause for  new colors planned for holiday in its trademark retro packaging.