This story first appeared in the November 7, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — While Bare Escentuals is often associated with infomercials, specialty stores and QVC, the company also has an expanding network of boutique stores such as the one here in the Bridgewater Commons Mall.

People’s faces just light up when they walk in and can find all of our products here where they can experiment with them,” said Ashley Trinh, an associate [or beauty ambassador, as the company terms them] at the store, which opened in September.

There are 81 Bare Escentuals boutiques in the United States stretching from Massachusetts to Hawaii (many of which have only opened within the past year), with plans calling for 91 by the end of the year. The store here is the second in New Jersey and is part of an upgrade plan to attract high-level tenants to the center of the mall, which is anchored by Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and Macy’s.

Over the past few years, the decor of the boutiques has changed from a white, country-chic look to a warm and inviting bedroom-feeling decked out with chandeliers and crimson walls. There are ample stools for consultation and low-hanging lights to accentuate the colors. The merchandise mix includes BareMinerals SPF foundation and a full array of eye colors, blushes and lip colors. Skin care also gets top billing with RareMineral presented in a special skin care area.

During a recent analyst call, company chief executive officer Leslie Blodgett talked about the importance of newness — and this store positions new items right at the front door. According to store officials, a new hydrating mist sold out within days. Under the What’s New area is also a collection called Buxom Babes as well as the big holiday kit this year, bare Crystals.

The Get Started Kit is a big seller, said associate Erica Mertz. “That’s what most people come in looking for,” she said. Although Blodgett in the analyst call said the company is eyeing any change in kit sales because of the economy and the higher price points of the sets, that hasn’t been the case at the new boutique. The kits also open up the opportunity for greater trial and conversion to clients, Blodgett explained. Sampling efforts are also more important than ever for the brand, she said.

The store features several tables where products are out in the open for testing, as well as a bar lined with chairs for consultation. Trinh said customers can’t help but sit down and start “playing” and asking for advice. In a sense, the stores bring to life the consultation company Blodgett details in her appearances on bus tours and her stints on QVC. The popularity of the brand can directly be traced to Blodgett and her in-the-trenches tactics. She recently returned from bus tours where she gets to know her clientele and find out what new products they desire. The company plans to add online and social networking marketing to further the brand’s penetration.

Blodgett sees the opportunity to translate that loyalty into brick-and-mortar stores. Although productivity is down in boutiques, she feels efforts under way will fortify results. The existence of the boutiques separates Bare Escentuals from other mineral lines and analysts said it can serve as a growth avenue should other marketing tools such as infomercials loose impact.

Bare Escentuals indeed has fervent consumers — more than 8.5 million strong with 90 percent of those pledging to stay loyal to the brand, said Blodgett and Myles McCormick, chief operating and chief financial officer, during the recent call. “Now, however, the opportunity exists to convert the high brand awareness created by the infomercial into trial within our dramatically expanded brick-and-mortar footprint,” said Blodgett, referring to retail partners and the firm’s own stores.

The Bridgewater store competes with a nearby Sephora, which also offers Bare Escentuals, as well as one other beauty store, Essentials. In a nearby lifestyle shopping center, called The Village, is Bluemercury. One consumer passing by the store on a recent morning said she’d rather shop the boutique than Sephora. “I bought this brand on television and I want to come into the boutique to get firsthand advice on using it,” said Kayt Klinck, an 18-year-old college student who was going to the store for the first time.

• • •

The Maesa Group announced the launch of Maesa Home, the company’s fragrance division, which was created via the acquisition of Latitudes International, a home fragrance design and manufacturing company in Los Angeles.

“This is not simply a name change,” said Maesa Group ceo, Gregory Mager. “This is the launch of a new division that benefits from the additional expertise and experience of Maesa’s global operations in every facet of beauty manufacturing.”

Maesa Group purchased Latitudes International in 2007, as part of a long-term strategy to expand the company’s presence in the U.S. market. Latitudes founder and president Jill Belasco will assume the role of ceo of Maesa Home. “We’ve had the past few months to integrate our teams, share technologies and leverage the strengths and experience of key management,” said Belasco. “Now, we can launch Maesa Home as a major force in the home fragrance category.”

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