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Pharmaca’s Prescription to Cure Drugstore Beauty Woes

Pharmaca has long featured clean lines not often found in the mass market. Customers, especially younger shoppers, are responding.

With mass market cosmetics sales stalled, up only 1 percent for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 8, according to Nielsen data, a drugstore chain is bucking that trend. Its unique approach to beauty might be the prescription drug chains need to move the sales needle.

There are no traditional mass brands like Revlon on the shelves at Boulder, Colo.-based Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy. Instead, for 15 years, the company has focused on clean beauty — ahead of the current rush to add less caustic lines. The assortment includes many brands not sold in traditional drug chains such as Jane Iredale, Dr. Hauschka, Sanitas Skincare and Juice Beauty. Mass market clean brands, such as Burt’s Bees, are featured. Those familiar with Pharmaca’s beauty department said sales increases are in the double-digit range.

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The roster keeps growing with Pharmaca on the prowl for new and better for you items, according to Mary Catherine Horgan, category manager for health and beauty. “In the last year or two we’ve brought in some more independent brands like Indie Lee, Vapour Organic Beauty, Sonage, Seed Phytonutrients, Evolvh Hair Care, Inika Organic and Whamisa, a natural line from [South] Korea.”

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The assortment hits a sweet spot with consumers, according to Kline and Co., which reported the natural personal-care market expanded 8 percent in 2017 — three times the growth of the conventional market.

The approach to beauty dovetails with the retailer’s focus on wellness. Harkening back to the days of old-time pharmacy, its pharmacists still compound prescriptions, affording the opportunity to fill specialty needs.

Jeanine Recckio, owner of Mirror Mirror Imagination Group, thinks Pharmaca could help rewrite modern-day drugstore retailing rules. “The Pharmaca’s of the world have something really major that the Sephora’s and Ulta’s don’t have — a superstar pharmacist in a white lab coat. Today’s consumer wants to be inspired by beauty, health, wellness and self care. Pharmaca’s approach is modern and directly on trend.”

Pharmaca pumps out estimated sales in the $150 million range across 27 pharmacies and one Pharmaca Wellness and Natural Beauty store.

The focus on wellness and beauty is bringing in customers that have eluded traditional mass beauty purveyors: younger shoppers. “With our reputation for being an expert in the green beauty space, we’re starting to attract a slightly younger customer than before — young people who are really interested in safe and natural products. We’re noticing that new moms, especially, are more and more interested in natural products as they begin to consider the safety of what they’re putting on themselves and their babies, and we’ve responded by expanding our selection of new mom and baby care,” Horgan said.

Beyond the brands, Pharmaca offers in-store services not endemic to the mass market. “Our unique service model makes it possible to have well-trained aestheticians, makeup artists and beauty specialists in stores to help provide guidance to customers based on their unique skin type and needs. These practitioners also receive ongoing training from our brands about new ingredients and products, so they can better help the customer make the right decision for them,” Horgan said. She plans to up the number of sampling events and mini-makeovers, in tandem with brand partners, in the next year.

“We’re also elevating our semiannual Beauty Bag gift with purchase — it’s a sleek cosmetic bag filled with 10 to 12 deluxe samples or full-size products, usually worth more than $150, that’s free with a minimum beauty purchase,” she said. There is also a laser focus on building beauty and e-commerce. “We’ve been able to launch an even greater number of brands online — it’s a good way to test to see which brands might be a good fit for stores.”

Online entry worked for Inika Organic. “We jointly decided to make Inika Organic available on and a few flagship stores,” said Regis Haberkorn, president of sales and marketing for Inika Organic USA. “In only three months, the results are so great that two additional stores will be opened with Inika Organic in the next few weeks so we can have a bigger consumer base and can continue to build a solid long-term partnership.”

E-commerce, in fact, is a big push for Pharmaca overall with the company reporting double-digit growth in 2018. International shipping has been added along with a vendor-driven sampling program for health and beauty products.

Pharmaca publishes which of its brands are Certified Organic, Ecocert or Nature Certified, EWG Verified, Non-GMO, Leaping Bunny Cruelty-Free and certified Vegan and PETA Cruelty-Free and Vegan.

Added that transparency is paramount. “Our customers are educated, empowered and passionate about finding natural products that actually work. They do a lot of research to identify the ingredients they don’t want in their skin care and cosmetics and look to us to offer a carefully curated collection that they know they can trust,” Horgan said. 

Last year, Pharmaca ventured into Chicago, with a store in the Lincoln Park neighborhood — its first outside of its operating territory in the five Western states. “In Chicago we’ve found that the community has responded really positively to our unique selection of natural health and beauty products, and they love the practitioner service model that offers them expert guidance every time they walk in the store. We are already looking to expand in the Chicago area because of the good response we’ve received,” Horgan said. Pharmaca also acquired a pharmacy in Beverly Hills last year.

Along with traditional print advertising, direct mail campaigns and e-mail marketing, Pharmaca upped its social media presence, working with natural beauty bloggers. The chain also advertises on radio, through billboards and bus graphics.