RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — CVS Pharmacy Inc. is attracting attention and brands with its upscale Beauty 360 concept. The point will be driven home Monday with the opening of the retailer’s newest showcase here.

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The timing of the drugstore’s pitch to high-end beauty brands comes at a fortuitous time, as luxury lines grumble about destocking and declining traffic at department stores.

Unfortunate coincidence or not, CVS has attracted more brands to the mix, including Vincent Longo, Cargo and Lola in cosmetics; Mario Badescu, Bioelements and H20 Plus in skin care, and, in fragrance, Prada, Carolina Herrera, Gucci and Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers. Excluding fragrance, the concept now includes about 40 brands.

“For years, we’ve been knocking on doors, now our door has the knocking sound,” said Mike Bloom, senior vice president of merchandising. “When we built this [concept] the economy wasn’t where it is today. We built this [concept] because of the convenience model. It’s really about convenience and exposure….More customers shop in CVS than in Ulta or Sephora, because of our pharmacy.”

As for when Beauty 360 expects to add a tier-one prestige brand to the fold, Bloom said: “The conversations today are better and more robust” than in November when the first unit opened. He added that the tone has shifted away from “Should we do this?” to questions about terms, services and locations.

Many of the new brands mentioned above will make their debuts at Beauty 360’s latest outpost, slated to open Monday with much fanfare. The store is located here on bustling Main Street, a stone’s throw from a park and antique shops. The retailer cleared out 3,000 square feet of space in an existing CVS store to create room for Beauty 360, which is connected to the drugstore via two breezeways. By month’s end, Beauty 360 also plans to roll out spa services, as each unit is outfitted with a treatment room. The retailer will offer a free 30-minute facial to its ExtraCare loyalty-card holders who spend $250 at Beauty 360, through its Beautiful You Rewards program.

New to this store is a 6-foot hair care section stocked with products from Philip B, Mario Badescu and Neil George. “Hair care was the number-one requested item from our customers,” said Mary Lou Gardner, senior category manager for CVS Pharmacy, project lead for Beauty 360. Also added is a 9-foot men’s grooming assortment that includes Jack Black, Anthony Logics and Zirh, the latter of which was already part of the mix. The additions maintain Beauty 360’s existing category ratio of 40 percent cosmetics and 40 percent skin care, with fragrance, bath and body making up the remainder, said Gardner.

This store is CVS’ third Beauty 360 location — following ones in Washington and Mission Viejo, Calif. The retailer plans to end the year with 30 outposts, down from its original projection of 50, as it works to convert the acquired Longs Drug Stores into CVS doors. That said, many of the 30 Beauty 360 stores will be located in California, where Longs was based.

Standing in front of the gondola of Cargo cosmetics, Gardner said, “This is what we are striving for. To tell our brands’ stories in a unique way.”

Makeup artist Vincent Longo, whose namesake cosmetics line is sold at Space NK in Bloomingdale’s and Barneys New York, drew a parallel between Beauty 360 and Sephora’s entry into the U.S., when it had to work overtime to convince prestige brands to come on board. As a European, he said he’s quite used to the hybrid merchandising concept. “In Europe, you have a [retail] environment where there is a combination of a mass market department and a prestige department,” said Longo. During Monday’s opening event, Longo plans to do makeup applications for press and for customers. Actress and Ahava spokesperson Kristin Davis also will be on hand, mingling with shoppers.

Simon Abadi, vice president of Mario Badescu, said he and his team were impressed with the level of training Beauty 360 associates receive. “We felt comfortable with the management team of Beauty 360 and the concept they put before us,” he said. “Our line is very vast and requires a lot of education to sell it properly.” Mario Badescu products also are sold at Nordstrom, Henri Bendel, Bluemercury and in Harvey Nichols stores abroad.

Bloom said that, rather than roll out all brands to all Beauty 360 doors, CVS will opt to tailor its merchandise mix into clusters of stores. The aim, he said, is to build a base of 50 stores next year, which he anticipates may prompt some of prestige’s most venerable players to partner with Beauty 360.

“There were a lot of fence sitters who were waiting to see if we could pull this off,” said Bloom. “With every store, we prove that we are serious.”