With over 8,200 stores ringing up $5 billion in beauty sales annually, Walgreens is the second largest cosmetics and personal care retailer in America. It sales are driven by a cadre of well-trained beauty experts and an expansive assortment that combines accessible brands with more exclusive offerings, not to mention a location strategy that has made its stores ubiquitous.
But Lauren Brindley, who oversees the division in her role as group vice president and general merchandise manager, Beauty & Personal Care, is far from satisfied. She envisions a beauty department that breaks down the traditional American retail channel barriers. In just eight months, since she was courted from her role as customer proposition director at Boots, she’s mapped out a blueprint for Walgreens future, a vision that will be unveiled this summer in 2,000 of the chain’s top beauty doors.
Brindley comes to U.S. well prepared. A 12-year veteran of Boots, her most recent position at the U.K. retailer challenged her to determine how the company could transform itself for the future while also uncovering avenues to attract more shoppers, more often. She’s no stranger to prestige beauty either, from her almost four years as head of premium beauty and fragrance at Boots.
What surprises you most about U.S. beauty retailing?
The channel strategy is somewhat dated with a market that says, “This retailer is for this role” and “This type retailer is for that role.” That’s not how customers want to shop and I’m surprised drugstores haven’t broken out of that. Customers don’t understand what a channel strategy is. All they want to do is get the brands they want, when they want it, where they want it.
We have accessibility to the best beauty customers in the market—76 percent of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a Walgreens—and we have to really think about how we bring her something she wants, where she wants it.
How are you trying to you evolve the perception—and reality—of American drugstores?
We’ve really been planning the work we are doing as part of our beauty differentiation strategy, which will launch this summer in 2,000 of our best beauty doors, where we are bringing our best brands such as No7 and Soap & Glory. We are also adding a beauty consultant role at select stores, who will receive clinical skin care and makeover training along with technology in the form of tablets to access information and tutorials. She is being trained in a way we have never done before.
We are investing in new fixtures, new lighting and new brands. We are putting in testing for the first time. We are starting to elevate and differentiate that experience in a way you haven’t necessarily seen in the classic drugstore before.
Walgreens has never really talked about beauty in this way. While many beauty brands and retailers focus on making you look beautiful, Walgreens believes in helping you feel beautiful.
Some service and testing areas in U.S. drugstores remained unused today or are used as storage. What’s the solution?
With the growth of online shopping, the role of the store has to be to provide services and help people find the right products. You can’t do that if you don’t have the right people and training. You wouldn’t expect to walk into a pharmacy and not find a pharmacist—the same is true for beauty.
There’s no point in having all the technology if you don’t have someone to use it. That’s why we are investing in training and having consultants who can assist shoppers. We want customers to feel like our beauty consultants are their “trusted best friend.” They’ll be well versed in the latest trends, products and techniques, have a passion for beauty, and provide inspirational knowledge to our customers.
Will prestige beauty in Walgreens resemble Boots?
If we are going to look into entering prestige, we will put it into the doors where we know there is market potential. And we would ensure we would bring that high-touch experience to life. A small percentage of the doors are right. We have found this brings in new customers and doesn’t cannibalize the customers who were coming into the stores before. The marketplaces are very different and we have to tailor what we are doing here so it is right for the market. We want to make a scalable change in our beauty offering first. We want to take customers on this journey with us first. That’s why we have focused on the top beauty doors first.
What categories excite you the most?
Cosmetics is such an exciting area, because of the potential for us in that space. We have a massive opportunity in skin care and helping women find the right regimen. Whether it is someone looking to identify a comprehensive regime for a particular skin type to someone seeking the right moisturizer for everyday skin, we need to do a better job. Our customer is in such a time crunch and looking for quick fixes, and the right regimen can actually simplify her life.
What are the biggest challenges for a retailer of scale?
I recently read the WWD Beauty Inc article about YouTube star Katy DeGroot who explained social media perfectly. If you’re not doing it tomorrow, you’re late. This is a game changer for a retailer of scale. It used to take retailers like Walgreens or Boots six to eight months to launch a new product. In this world, we have to look at different ways to bring a product to market a lot faster or we are going to miss the trend. Sometimes we have to take more educated risks, be a lot more agile. I am pushing my team that we are going to have to think differently. We have to make sure we are providing her with what she wants. Customers are going to want to touch, feel and play in beauty.
What retailers do you admire?
I am incredibly interested in what Nike, Apple and Burberry have done to create a more personalized experience in the store. They offer “retailtainment” with an experience you can’t get from ordering online.
How do you describe your leadership style?
I hope people see me as strategic, visionary and bold.
What do you do when not mapping out a future for Walgreens beauty?
My primary job over everything is being a mummy to my two boys who are three and five. They are amazing, active little boys and I spend every bit of my spare time with them swimming, biking and exploring our new home in Illinois. We hope to do more traveling to make the most of the opportunity.