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Ulta Beauty Unveils New Store Format

Coming off of a strong sales year, the retailer has introduced a merchandising layout designed to make it easier for shoppers to navigate the store.

How do you cap off a stellar year? With a makeover, of course.

Ulta Beauty, whose sales increased 21 percent in the first quarter of the year and almost 17 percent in the second, has unveiled a new store design which significantly shakes up its traditional approach to merchandising.

Rather than segmenting brands by price and channel, i.e., prestige, mass and professional, Ulta’s new design presents brands in a category by category approach with a format that enables the retailer to more distinctly put forth its own point of view.

“We always want to reimagine and rethink and, most importantly, look at what our guests are sharing with us,” said Monica Arnaudo, chief merchandising officer, of the impetus behind the new store design. “We want to help our guests better navigate our stores and inspire them along the way. We wanted to bring like categories together — what we call intuitive adjacencies — and create aspiration for our guests when they walk in the door.”

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Cue the New is the first area guests see upon entry. Richard Cadan Photography

The new format is noticeable at the entry, where Ulta is taking a more thematic and less promotional or brand-centric approach to merchandising. “We have elevated and updated the esthetic. What stories do we want to tell? What are the themes we want to talk about?” Arnaudo said. “We are embracing what the brands are bringing us, but sharing it from an Ulta perspective. It is more thematic and easier for guests to navigate, and more inspiring.”

As before, the store is divided into two sides, but rather than be divided into prestige and mass sides, as is currently the case, each side of the store will now house different categories.

The first area guests will encounter is called Cue the New, with three dedicated gondalas where brands that are launching will be featured. The gondola design is flexible and can accommodate a number of different configurations. “So if we have three big brands launching, it might be three. If there are five, we can accommodate that — it could be three makeup and two fragrance brands, for example,” Arnaudo said.

Directly behind Cue the New will be skin care, located on the left side in most stores. Prestige skin care will be furthest to the front, flowing into masstige and derm brands directly behind it, followed by mass skin care. The overall amount of space being dedicated to skin care has been increased, too, Arnaudo said.

Bath and body care follows skin care, where the Wellness Wall can also be found. From there, the mix goes to hair tools, hair accessories and hair care.

On the other side of the store, the right side in most locations, will live makeup. As with skin care, the brands will flow from prestige to masstige to mass, with Ulta’s own brand on a gondola that is a “segue from prestige to mass,” Arnaudo said.

Ulta’s executives have also rethought the center of the store, the “heartbeat,” as Arnaudo called it. Here, there will be elevated gondolas for Clinique, Estée Lauder and Lancôme, enabling each to merchandise makeup and skin care together.

Behind those lie MAC and Benefit, the so-called service brands, where shoppers can engage in makeovers and brow services, which leads into a new area: The Beauty Bar.

“Here, we’ll have the ability to do events — they could be branded events or category events. There will be a lot of activations,” Arnaudo said.

The Beauty Bar leads into Impulse, for travel- and trial-sized products, which then goes into the check-out area, which is located in the back of the store. Other highlighted sections include Conscious Beauty, for clean brands, as well as a new “hero” wall for skin care, where the top-selling or most-loved products from multiple brands will be highlighted.

Services will take place at the Beauty Bar. Richard Cadan Photography

Ulta’s salon, which has been updated with more aspirational visuals, a seating area and highlighted menu, will be behind check-out.

Throughout, Ulta has modernized visuals and graphics, and  added high level navigation so that shoppers can more easily find what they’re looking for. “The consistent feedback we got from guests was that they wanted improved navigation,” Arnaudo said. “We want our guests to be able to spend time playing and discovering, not trying to find where something is. They want it to be easy and intuitive.”

Ulta will open or remodel about 44 stores with the new look this year, including in Jacksonville, Florida; Fairfax, Virginia, and Austin, Texas. New stores, of which 50 are projected to open next year, as well as those slated for remodels, will all have the updated layout.

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Arnaudo said thus far brand reaction has been positive. “They love the cohesiveness we’re bringing. They understand that we sell many brands across price points, and that we need to help guests navigate,” she said. “At the same time, we’re really respectful of our prestige and mass brands and how we flow it. It’s not a mashup. It’s not a mix-up. It’s very thoughtful in the flow.”