Free People is introducing beauty with a healthy twist.
Following the lead of fellow Urban Outfitters Inc.’s chains, Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, the 122-unit apparel retailer will add the beauty and wellness category online Monday before rolling it into select stores in the fall. Instead of replicating those concepts’ cool niche or retro chic takes on beauty, Jessica Richards, senior beauty merchant and founder of Shen Beauty, tailored Free People’s assortment for active young professional women who care about what they put in and on their bodies.
“Urban and Anthropologie have done incredibly well with beauty. Everyone is launching beauty, but I don’t think anyone has done it with a natural, organic and wellness focus. Not that everything will be natural and organic, but it will be heavily that way, and nothing will be tested on animals,” she said. “Free People has the opportunity to do beauty very differently with the wellness aspect.”
Richards worked closely with Free People chief merchandising officer Sheila Harrington to develop Free People’s beauty selection of more than 600 stockkeeping units spanning skin care, hair care, nail, makeup and wellness. The selection will feature 20 to 30 brands at the outset including RMS, Love & Sage, Dr. Alkaitis, Fountain, Pai Skincare, The Beauty Chef, Sun Potion, Maya Chia and Nicole Granato, and a price range running from $6 to $150.
The beauty selection is scheduled to make its brick-and-mortar debut in October at a Free People store in Pennsylvania’s King of Prussia Mall and subsequently deepen its penetration across the store network. At roughly 300 square feet, the in-store beauty sections won’t occupy a lot of Free People’s average 1,800 square feet of selling space, but will be prominently at the center.
“The design is literally like a room. It’s not a typical shelf with some beauty products thrown on the wall. It’s near where you check out, but it’s very separate. It’s almost like a shop-in-shop,” explained Richards, noting a staff person inside Free People’s stores will be dedicated to beauty. “You cannot sell people beauty without a person who knows what they are talking about. That was part of me coming on board here. If we are going to do it, we are going to do it right.”
Although beauty concepts have toyed with wellness products, Richards believes no retailer until Free People has delved into wellness on a large scale. She pointed to muscle rubs, body detox soaps and ingestible beauty offerings as emblematic of the wellness approach to beauty at Free People. Discussing inside-out beauty, Richards said, “I don’t think it’s a fad or a trend. It goes hand-in-hand with eating healthier and working out. It’s here to stay, and the customer wants to understand it.”
Richards wasn’t under pressure to keep Free People’s beauty merchandise cheap, but she didn’t want to bring in outrageous price tags either. “I am selling bath salts from Shiva Rose that are $66, and that’s pretty high, but I have trinkets that are $10 and a cleanser that is $30. I haven’t brought in any cleansers that are $100. I feel that that’s a high price point for this customer, but there isn’t a hard stop,” she said. “The Free People customer is 27. She’s out of college. She’s in her first or second job. She has money to spend, and she’s willing to take a risk.”
Richards is exploring possible collaborations to produce beauty items unique to Free People and said she could envision Free People branded beauty products down the line. “It would be really creating our own formulations under the Free People brand. I’m not going to go to some lab and say do six lipsticks in the same formula everybody else has,” she asserted.
At Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, analysts have estimated beauty can generate as much as 5 percent of revenues. If that estimate tracks at Free People, beauty sales could amount to $4 million quarterly based on the retailer’s most recent financial performance. While not huge, the category could be a nice jolt to Free People, which saw its comparable-store sales dip 2 percent for the first quarter ended April 30.
Free People will get a sense of whether the beauty category will be a hit in its stores from its website, a crucial component of its beauty business and messaging. On top of selling products, the retailer will provide editorial beauty content on its blog BLDG25, and house product reviews, images and other user-generated materials on its online social platform FP Me.
Richards emphasized the power of beauty content can’t be underestimated. “There was a heart sponge on the site. They did a blog post about it, and it blew out with numbers they didn’t even imagine,” she said. “People are super inquisitive and knowledgeable. They want to know about the products, understand the founder of the brand, why they are doing what they do, and what sets them apart. At Free People, it is about breaking down information about the products and what they stand for.”