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Sephora Unveils Beauty TIP Workshop Concept Store

On Nov. 20, Sephora will unveil a revamped store concept that represents the future of the retailer’s business in North America.

Sephora will unveil a new store concept on Nov. 20 that represents the retailer’s future in North America.

Called the Sephora Beauty TIP Workshop, the store — at a completely revamped 33 Powell Street location in San Francisco — is intended to serve as a prototype for future store design.

The concept in a nutshell? Teach, inspire and play, which led to the TIP acronym used as part of the store’s name, said Calvin McDonald, president and chief executive officer of Sephora Americas, who came up with the plan 11 months ago after opening a store at Robson Center in Vancouver. “That store has a mezzanine area, which allowed us to observe the selling floor,” he said. “I no longer felt that the total continuity of the store and the spirit behind it hung together.”

Powell Street was chosen for the concept’s maiden voyage, McDonald said, because the 8,500-square-foot space was “tired and in need of a makeover,” and the retailer wanted to use its home market as a test of sorts before rolling the concept out further. The next Beauty TIP Workshop will launch at Prudential Center in Boston in February.

“We’re in a learning and transition phase [with this concept], but the intention is that it will expand into the fleet,” McDonald said. “Some of the locations, depending upon the size, will get all parts of this new design; others may just get components of it, but this was designed not as a single store. It was designed as a vision for the majority of our current doors and the new ones we’re bringing.”

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The heart of the new store design, noted McDonald, is The Beauty Workshop, which acts as a central workstation for group beauty classes — in a variety of techniques, including contouring and smoky eyes —and also hosts the store’s shoppable online gallery, The Beauty Board.

The 12 stations at the Workshop each come equipped with products for on-site lessons, an iPad for watching online tutorials, and a USB port and WiFi, so clients can share their new knowledge. Classes will be held both during and after regular store hours.

All of the proprietary Sephora diagnostic technologies — such as the existing Color IQ, Fragrance IQ and Skincare IQ — will anchor each product category area, McDonald said. “We pulled them off the walls, because we want the studios to be the main anchor point within each world,” he said.

In fact, McDonald noted, the Powell store includes a variety of virtual try-on techniques. “Our contouring app, which we launched last year, was just the beginning of the way we’ll leverage technology to enhance education,” he said, noting that the app allows clients to upload a selfie and the app shows exactly where to put each product on her face. “When a client comes in and experiences Teach, Inspire, Play, she’s going to experience it on her own, she’s going to experience it through cast members, and she’s going to experience it through technology. And that’s where we really see our differentiator being and how we’re going to continue to innovate.”

Sephora’s existing Fragrance IQ now includes a first-to-market sensory technology called InstaScent, noted McDonald. Developed in partnership with 5th Screen Digital, and available exclusively at Sephora, InstaScent allows clients to explore 18 scent families. Once the self-guided fragrance assessment is complete, scented air from the selected scent categories is emitted from a nozzle.

“This allows clients to identify which scent best suits their preferences before exploring individual fragrances with our fragrance experts,” he said. “We have a new assortment of niche fragrances [including Atelier and Juliette Has a Gun], which is where we’ll differentiate ourselves in a category that’s pretty much commoditized and heavily weighted on discount. It’s very difficult in fragrance to be first, to be different and to be unique. Niche allows us the ability to play to those three success factors. We’re also adding engraving, and we’ll be able to engrave about 95 percent of our fragrances, which is a great gift opportunity.”

The existing Sephora Beauty Studio has been relocated to the front of the store, where 12 stations — up from six previously — now include Sephora + Pantone Color IQ touch screens capable of recommending lip and concealer shades, as well as foundation matching. “When you walk into Powell now, rather than seeing the Beauty Studio in the center or off to the side, it is dominant at the front of the store, and you get this great activity and natural light,” said McDonald, who noted that clients can walk in to check makeover appointments or book a premium service at one of the Studio seats before they come in, using Sephora’s client reservation system available through, Sephora mobile Web and the Sephora to Go app.

“One of the key areas that we really wanted to enhance is our focus on services,” he said. “At Powell, we’re able to have both the Beauty Workshop and the Beauty Studio. In other stores, where there isn’t space for a Beauty Workshop, we can still run additional classes in the Beauty Studio by maximizing seat capacity. The efforts behind Teach, Inspire, Play will be consistent; we might just tweak some of the assets that we have to deploy.”

At Powell, the Beauty Studio will offer the “to-go” quickie tutorials, while the Beauty Workshop will offer in-depth classes.

Sephora has also taken the Studio concept into skin care. “We now have the four-seat Skincare Studio, which includes a sink so that we can provide elevated services in skin care, which we know is a great opportunity to drive education,” McDonald said. A touch-screen tool accesses Sephora’s proprietary Skincare IQ tool, designed to help clients determine the best products for their individual skin concerns.

Sephora will also unveil larger, multibranded, interactive areas, including the new Hair Play Station and new Trend Tables in each category area.

“Hair is emerging for us as a nice fourth world, and we have a lot of initiatives planned for 2016,” he said. “At Powell, we want to merchandise it as a world and bring the play element into it with testing tools like hair-dryers and curling irons. In the future, would we see a hair studio? Potentially one day. But in the meantime, we’re doing eventing with partners like Bumble and bumble, Living Proof and Drybar to create the awareness and the excitement within the stores.”

Overall, the store features enhanced and more unified digital signage throughout, a larger cash wrap and additional mobile point of sale stations.

“We wanted to make sure that the Sephora voice was more consistent throughout the store, and we also wanted to make sure that brands had the opportunity to really express themselves,” McDonald said. “On the walls, we’ve eliminated the linear headers that traditionally featured Sephora branding, and are instead allowing our brands to use this real estate to express their positioning with their own imagery. We will bookend it within the Sephora brand DNA to maintain the Sephora retail identity. The endcaps have been improved; the overall look and feel is elevated. We pushed a lot of that client communication off the height, and on to the floor, where she sees it. So there’s a real shift in how the client communication will convey.”

The gondolas are also sporting a refreshed look. “They’re lighter, so they’re a little more minimalist, and we’ve added better light — lighting was one of the key things we focused on from a design standpoint,” McDonald said. “We updated our overall lighting, so there will be natural light throughout the store. Also, the sight lines have all been designed so that the Studios clearly are the anchors of the worlds, around an elevated and trained cast.”

The back of the cashwrap has a 15-foot lightbox that expresses Sephora’s point of view, he said. “Right now, it has our ‘Oh What Fun’ holiday messaging, but it will be used to convey our point of view on trends going forward. It’s going to be linked to much more disruptive, curated trend merchandising throughout the store and linked with a strong connection to the services in the Studios. We’re really going to amplify and rethink how we can distort these trends and how we bring them to life and connect them throughout the entire store.

New to market and hard-to-find brands entering available at Powell will include Algenist, Atelier Cologne, Bite Beauty, Bumble and bumble, Burberry Beauty, Cane+Austin, Chosungah22, Drunk Elephant, Drybar, Formula X, Fresh, Josie Maran, Kat Von D Beauty, Make Up For Ever, Maison Margiela Replica, Ole Henriksen, Surratt Beauty, Tom Ford Private Blend Collection and Too Cool for School.

Sephora also increased the number of cast members on the floor, McDonald said. “One, we wanted to ensure the studios had an elevated level of cast, so Powell’s going to open with three senior artists in the Beauty Studios. In the Skincare Studio, we brought in and trained skin-care experts, many who are aestheticians. And the Beauty Workshop in the center was a whole new level of training, as well as roles on the cast team.”

Even the retailer’s new beauty box service, Play by Sephora, will be influenced by the new store concept. “What I love about Play by Sephora is that the customer can play at home — but there’s an invitation in every box for customers to come into the Beauty Studio and have a teachable moment with our cast, whether it be a mini-makeover or exploring the products she already has.

“We are committed to growing prestige, and we’re committed to growing prestige by creating demand by building categories and building brands,” McDonald continued. “We don’t do it through promotion, and we look for ways, across all our worlds, to teach and build.”