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WWD Beauty Inc Awards: Target’s Christina Hennington Wins Merchandiser of the Year

Hennington has shaped the mass market retailer's beauty category with a focus on diversity, technology and passionate sales associates.

While Target has always been on the cutting edge of trends, the mass marketer didn’t always have a crystal clear focus on beauty. Enter Christina Hennington, senior vice president, merchandising, of essentials, beauty and wellness. Not content with the status quo, she’s spearheaded seismic changes in how the mass giant approaches beauty.

A 20/20 vision has emerged under Hennington who credits her Scandinavian roots—she grew up in Sweden and Norway—with her drive for excellence. She came to the retail world with an MBA, consulting experience and expertise in supply chain optimization. Harnessing all of that knowledge, she’s transformed beauty into a focal point rather than an afterthought.

“Beauty is an important part of Target’s portfolio as it sits in the sweet spot between style and essentials,” Hennington said. Under her tutelage, the retailer has been first to mass market with key initiatives in areas like diversity. This year, it introduced a wide range of makeup and skin-care brands created by a diverse group of female entrepreneurs for skins of all tones. It was more than lip service, with those lines gaining valuable real estate for eight months versus eight weeks.

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A spiffy new men’s grooming department called Men’s World 2.0 is rolling out at Target, filling another gap, and clean beauty has also been a focus. The retailer has also burnished its in-store image with upgraded lighting and an open shopping concept that replaces the old row after row of pegged products. Hennington dubbed it, “a specialty experience with mass reach.”

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Hennington is focused on the details, too. After noticing many Target beauty employees have a passion for the business and scour social media for information, the Target team decided to shake things up when it came to hiring and training. Employees used to work in several categories, with beauty just another stop in the rotation. “That’s not a winning formula in this industry,” Hennington said. “We knew that if we are going to create a truly elevated experience, we had to think differently about how to leverage our most valuable assets, our people.” Now Target’s 1,800-plus stores have dedicated and trained beauty experts to provide advice.

Technology plays a role in the Target experience, too. The retailer is testing Target Beauty Studio, an augmented reality and 100-point tracking technology to allow guests to virtually try on more than 700 beauty items. Hennington said this is just one example of the effort Target will make to becoming a top beauty destination. “We will continue to break barriers to buying beauty at Target,” she promised.