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Saks Invests in Beauty Floor of the Future

The retailer's new beauty department will feature a slew of new brands and services.

Saks Fifth Avenue is calling its soon-to-open second floor beauty initiative at the New York flagship Beauty 2.0 — but this is much more than a reboot.

The retailer will unveil the upgrade on May 10, and the newness extends far beyond moving the beauty department from the ground floor up one level and adding an escalator to reach it. Measuring 30,578 square feet — about 40 percent larger than the current ground-level selling space — the department will feature an on-demand beauty concierge, 15 spa rooms (some offering complementary brand services, others paid treatments), an apothecary and an array of exclusives including both brands and services.

These include a new Alessandro Michele-designed Gucci beauty space, an EB Florals flower shop featuring custom bouquets designed by Eric Buterbaugh to complement his scents and FaceGym’s first U.S. outpost.

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For Saks, the move represents a reset on its entire approach to the category, emphasizing experience as much as impulse and touch as much as transaction.

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“Our focus is on the new luxury, and luxury right now is about being bold, stepping out, de-departmentalizing the department store,” said Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. “It is not transactional. Today you need to create environment, experience, relationships and an emotional connectivity with the consumer.

“The most intimate part of the shopping experience is beauty. It is where we touch the customer, when we can build the relationship between the customer and Saks,” he finished, adding, “This is not just a fresher version of what we’ve done — it’s something no one has done before.”

Saks doesn’t break out departmental sales, but industry sources estimate the new floor’s first-year sales could reach $90 million, an increase of about 15 percent, noting that sales losses incurred by the move upstairs will likely be offset by gains from the numerous paid services the store is adding to the department.

Metrick declined to comment on the figures, and when asked about the risks involved in moving the department, his reply was swift. “In my opinion there are no risks. We are putting vertical transportation to the second floor about 15 feet from the entrance. It will take four more seconds to get to the beauty floor,” he said, referring to a new escalator that will be built near the Fifth Avenue doors.

“We’re not going to lose the impulse — we’re going to drive the newness,” he added.

While some global retailers combine different elements of the Saks plan — Selfridges in London, for example, has a bustling service area and cross-channel approach to brands, while Liberty of London has an outpost of the fashionable florist Wild at Heart at its Great Marlborough Street entrance — the totality of the environment Saks is creating takes beauty retailing to a new level, and not just by moving it up a floor.

“They are taking a broader view of beauty and coming at it from the shopper’s perspective,” said Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer of WSL Strategic Retail. “It’s creating a whole beauty world, which is interesting and differentiating from the others that are on Fifth Avenue.”

To that end, Saks worked with the design firm Gensler to create a floor that feels open, airy and light. The windows on the 49th and 50th Street sides of the store have been uncovered so that the space has abundant natural light, and no fixture is more than 5 feet, 2 inches in height, meaning customers will be able to have an uninterrupted sightline across the entire department. An 850-square-foot event space occupies the center, where a steady schedule of master classes, personal appearances, wellness seminars and special brand activations such as fragrance personalization for Mother’s Day will provide ongoing animation.

“This is about experience in the context of beauty. We think there is a huge opportunity to give the customer a more intimate experience,” said Tracy Margolies, chief merchant of Saks. “A few years ago I was on the main floor having my makeup done, and I felt like I was getting my makeup done in the middle of a leather goods shop. I wanted to be in and out as fast as possible. We want to create a place where people want to spend time and go from having a skin treatment done to her lashes to her nails and feel beautiful.”

“We felt if we built it, they will come,” added Kate Oldham, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty, jewelry and home. “We started with a blank piece of paper and asked ourselves, ‘What do we want the future of beauty to become?’ We felt there wasn’t enough. We did this with our eighth-floor shoe department [10222] and we knew we could do it here.”

Saks’ Marc Metrick, Tracy Margolies and Kate Oldham drove the development of the floor.
Kate Oldham, Marc Metrick and Tracy Margolies drove the development of the floor. George Chinsee/WWD

At launch there will be about 100 brands, 35 of which are new. The apothecary is front and center and the treatment cabines line the walls; 13 customized cosmetics brand boutiques border the perimeter with a lineup that includes a mix of traditional luxury and edgier players like Tom Ford, Dior, Chanel, La Mer, Gucci, Givenchy, Kiehl’s and Aesop. Saks will look to cement its strong fragrance business with specialized boutiques for 22 niche brands, including Floraiku, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Bond No. 9 and Ex Nihilo. The remainder of the beauty brands will have locations with Saks fixtures and vendor customized tester units, and there will also be a general fragrance area.

“They are going for brands, services and an entire environment that will differentiate them,” said Nicholas Munafo, president of LVMH Fragrance Brands and Givenchy Beauty, North America. “It’s an interactive beauty space where you can continually reinvent and highlight new and core products.”

From the open plan play areas to the technology-enabled bells and whistles, the space was designed with Millennials in mind. “Younger consumers are interested in what a brand has to say about its story and authenticity,” said Kendal Ascher, vice president and general manager of La Mer, North America. “The design of the floor is going to be more effective for young consumers — it will feel more like boutique shopping versus a sea of bays. We still have our own niche, but there is an openness to the floor.”

Saks is also placing a premium on exclusivity, whether in product, environment or services. Chanel, Dior and La Mer have all created exclusive treatments, which will be free of charge, while Guerlain will have a fragrance fountain and personalization workshop. Givenchy will be customizing its leather lipstick cases on-site and Eric Buterbaugh has created Future Bloom, a scent to sell only at Saks which blends freesia and rosemary. Coordinating bouquets will be for sale, too. “The idea of being able to gift the fragrance and bouquet is quite special,” said the brand’s cofounder and ceo Fabrice Croise. “Saks is merging service and product in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

Wellness is a key component, too, and Saks executives are looking at it as the fourth pillar of beauty. To that end the store has curated a broad array of services, including slimming massages from Martine de Richevillle; CoolSculpting and laser hair removal from Skinney MedSpa; organic manicures by Sundays; brows by Blink Brow Bar, and treatments from London’s FaceGym, whose approach to facial massage has been likened to SoulCycle for the face.

For Inge Theron, founder and creative director of FaceGym, which has an outpost at Selfridges and a freestanding store in London’s Chelsea, services such as the above are the only thing not cannibalizing online. She said the company will launch at Saks with three or four of its bestselling 30-minute services, noting that prices have not yet been set for the U.S. but will be comparable to London’s pricing of 45 pounds.

“We want people to come in a couple of times a week — just like they do a fitness class,” Theron said.

Although opening day is still a few months away, Saks is starting to spread the word, particularly about those services. On Thursday, it hosted an influencer event to preview some of the exclusives to the social set. At launch there will be a complete takeover of the flagship’s windows with digital screens featuring rotating video content.

The marketing plan may be digitally focused, but in an age of ever-increasing e-commerce penetration and limited attention spans, the philosophy behind the strategy is to emphasize the personal. Saks’ shopper base includes both locals and a broad array of tourists — China, Canada and Mexico comprise the top three countries of its international customer base — and the idea is to create a true destination where customers from around the world will want to linger.

“We want people to come and stay the day,” Oldham said. “We’re not just focused on the transactional. We know that there is a huge opportunity to give her a different experience.”