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Ulta Beauty’s Dave Kimbell Talks First Manhattan Store

Industry sources say the retailer will definitely expand its presence throughout the borough.

Ulta Beauty has officially landed in New York.

The Illinois-based beauty retailer marked the grand opening of its first Manhattan location with a press event on Tuesday, where store executives walked editors through the sprawling 12,000-square-foot space. The store — located on the Upper East Side between Third Avenue and Lexington at 188 East 86th Street — holds 20,000 products from 500 brands, plus a 10-chair salon in the back. The retailer operates stores in the Tristate area, Queens and Brooklyn, but this is the first location in Manhattan.

This is just the beginning of Ulta’s Manhattan expansion, industry sources say. One source with direct knowledge of Ulta’s real estate strategy said the retailer has been scouting for more locations throughout the borough, with specific interest in Herald Square and the 34th Street retail corridor. Ulta could not be reached for comment.

Chief merchandising and marketing officer Dave Kimbell told WWD in an exclusive interview that the first Manhattan location was designed to introduce the city customer to the traditional Ulta experience — the majority of Ulta’s nearly 1,075 stores are located in or around suburban strip malls. “This store is very much like our [other] stores. We really wanted to make sure we had a single-story store — most of our stores are. This is bright, white, airy and gives a sense of openness and fun,” Kimbell said of the Manhattan space, which officially opened for business on Oct. 27. “We’ve been pleased to hear the reaction in particular from those who haven’t been in an Ulta store before — that sense of excitement and fun and bright, playful environment is something so far that guests have been very positive about.”

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Kimbell asserted that Ulta’s main proposition — its unique merchandising strategy that merges mass with class — will appeal to the Manhattan customer base, rather than any one area or category within the store.

“The Ulta Beauty strategy is the idea of all things beauty in one place — the breadth of the assortment is across price points and categories — and we wanted that very well-represented from the moment you walk in the door. This store does that very well and brings it to life.”

He noted the key difference between the Manhattan store and a typical Ulta Beauty location is the salon area is larger than average, as the retailer expects high traffic in Manhattan. In addition to haircuts, color, blowouts and styling services, Skin Laundry laser and Dermalogica facials are also on offer. Kimbell noted the salon is already seeing “great engagement.”

Though the Manhattan location replicates the traditional Ulta experience found in the suburbs, it will also serve as a testing ground for key Ulta initiatives. Tara Simon, senior vice president of merchandising for prestige beauty, noting the five-fixture MAC Cosmetics section of the store, said the brand will expand its presence to 100 stores by the end of 2017. Simon also noted the store is not lacking for best-selling or exclusive items, ticking off Tarte’s Shape Tape concealer as a bestseller and Clinique Fit, the brand’s ath-leisure-inspired line that is exclusive to Ulta, as examples.

Not specific to the Manhattan store, but new to Ulta, is Monica Arnaudo, senior vice president of merchandising. Arnaudo joined the retailer in October — she was previously senior vice president of sales at Clarisonic, and before that senior vice president of U.S. sales at Bare Escentuals.

Arnaudo pointed out several testing stations built into the NYX fixture in the mass makeup section of the store. “The customer saw the ability to test in prestige, and she wanted that [in mass], so we made sure to offer lots of opportunity for testing, which is new [in this section],” she said, ticking off Morphe’s Jaclyn Hill palette as one item at the Manhattan location that is already doing well. Arnaudo also expects Makeup Revolution, another new-to-Ulta niche brand in the mass sector, to be another high performer.

Morphe and Makeup Revolution are new-to-Ulta brands — Arnaudo expects more niche and emerging brands to populate Ulta shelves next year. “We are constantly evaluating our assortment and looking at what we’re getting requests for. I can’t say who, but we’re working on bringing a few other [mass] brands into the assortment next year. We’re seeing a lot of the midtier brands entering the space, and these fun younger brands coming in.”

For more from Beauty on WWD, see:

Ulta Beauty Opens Manhattan Store

Ulta Beauty and Allure to Bring ‘Best of Beauty’ to Stores

Ulta Beauty CEO Says Strong Pipeline in Place for Second Half