Wal-Mart is increasing its focus on beauty trends.

There is a seismic space shuffle occurring in the mass market.

To clear footage for rapidly growing lines such as NYX Professional Makeup, E.l.f. Cosmetics, Milani, Burt’s Bees and Yes To — among other labels — many chains are trimming nationally known brands. At the same time, retailers are extending their private-label beauty businesses and ramping up K-beauty assortments to meet consumer demand.

NYC New York Color, Almay, Sally Hansen and Cover Girl are all seeing their shelf space shrink, according to retailers and visits to stores. In many cases, the cuts correlate with declining sales. For example, Coty Inc. (which owns NYC, Sally Hansen and Cover Girl) had a 13 percent decline in sales for the four-week period ended Oct. 7, as reported by Nielsen. Revlon, the parent of Almay, saw a 2.5 percent drop. Compounding the issue, industry experts expect the cuts to be even more palpable when new planograms are set up early next year.

Retailers are quick to add they won’t walk away from the nameplates that built their businesses — some brands are vanishing, while others have reduced in-store footage with a full array online. For their part, the legacy brands are fighting back with freshened campaigns and on-trend products. In the past few months, Almay, Cover Girl and Sally Hansen were among those powering up efforts with launches and striking social media campaigns. Those efforts behind Cover Girl and Sally Hansen are generating a positive buzz, according to Shannon Curtin, senior vice president, Coty Consumer Beauty North America.

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Retailers said they are listening to what consumers are telling them they want to see in stores, especially as mass tussles to lure shoppers back from specialty doors.

“It is all about balance,” said Christina Hennington, senior vice president of Beauty and Essentials at Target Corp. “It is about understanding our guests’ expectations.” Rather than chase everything, Target takes a cue from social media, but also looks for gaps in its assortment — be it a trend or a price range.

The pace is changing so fast in beauty that mass chains are veering away from static fixtures to add more flexible displays that can import newness faster than waiting for annual planogram resets. Visits to new formats illustrate the new mass beauty reality — one where edgier products are the focal point.

The newly minted Target in Manhattan’s Herald Square puts NYX Professional Makeup, which the company verified has done well, front and center in one of the largest presentations of the brand outside of its vertical stores. Shea Moisture, Target’s exclusive Glow Studio created by the duo behind Glow Recipe and a large range of E.l.f. Cosmetics, are also featured. There’s also a big naturals push and quick pick-up sample sizes. The traditional brands such as Maybelline, L’Oréal, Cover Girl and Sally Hansen round out the rear wall and side of the department.

CVS’ flagship in Times Square has a massive K-beauty shop-in-shop stocked with 500 South Korean beauty products and an “incubator” wall in the beauty department with emerging brands such as Wunder2 and Tigi Cosmetics. Indie brands accounted for 100 percent of CVS’ beauty growth over the past few years. Maly Bernstein, vice president of beauty and personal care at CVS, said the chain is treating beauty like fast fashion. “When there is something new and hot, we can cut it in right away,” she said.

Walgreens Boots Alliance is reconfiguring 3,000 doors with its homegrown brands, No. 7 and Soap & Glory, grabbing the prime position. Some Walgreens also cleared space for its own Sleek Makeup brand, a new line called CYO and its proprietary YourGoodSkin, which reportedly sells five serums every minute. In November, walgreens.com will add another U.S. exclusive called IsaDora, the number-one brand in Sweden, which actually was carried years ago by the U.S. drug chain.

An endcap of masks at Wal-Mart.  George Chinsee

Walmart is aggressively going after new brands, items and categories to distinguish its beauty presentation. By the end of the year, the retailer will have added 700 items to its assortment. There’s a focus on being first-to-market and leading off aisles with naturals, hot items like facial masks and building out shade ranges in brands such as Milani. Wal-Mart voiced confidence in natural cosmetics with the addition of 130 items from Found, a better-for-you makeup and skin-care brand.

The rearranging of shelves at the nation’s mass doors is not without red flags, industry experts cautioned. For one, the rush to expand NYX could put a squeeze on L’Oréal and Maybelline’s real estate. There’s also the fear shoppers will just look for the “flavor of the month,” and move on — leaving mass merchants with costly inventory. Drugstores in particular skew to an older audience that might not be as inclined to buy edgier brands.

But the malaise in mass beauty could be an even bigger issue, suggested industry expert Allan Mottus. “The mass makeup business has a shrinking legacy as most brands have lost physical presence in drug chains and mass merchandisers.…Most will continue to lose space and will gain a smaller presence in discount apparel, bath and other locations,” he predicted.

A former chain executive pinned the blame for the sluggish market on a sameness in what big brands are doing for next year and the reduction of national advertising in favor of social media. The industry still casts a wary eye on “how many hits equate to sales.”

The pillar brands of mass beauty retailing are gearing up for battle. Some admit the ankle-biter brands have been a wakeup call.

“The competition only forces us to be better,” said Bill George, president and chief operating officer of Markwins Beauty Brands, who said his company is gearing up innovation, especially new items behind Physicians Formula.

Revlon’s chief executive officer Fabian Garcia is trying to regain space for Almay with an arsenal of new items and a quartet of influencers. Cover Girl has an updated logo, tag line, more than 100 fresh products and a supercharged advertising campaign with Katy Perry. That’s backed up with five nontraditional Cover Girls who wield considerable social media prowess. Sally Hansen, meanwhile, revealed its “Shetopia” campaign.

“The trends taking shape today are fundamentally changing how consumers shop brands in the marketplace,” said Curtin,who has the unique viewpoint of having been both on the buyer and supplier side. “Grounded in reality, we are fully aware of the market challenges. However, I am fully optimistic about the growth possibilities in our future as we have increased the depth and pace of innovation to meet consumer interests and demands.”

For more from WWD:

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