Byline: Faye Brookman / Laura Klepacki

NEW YORK — Frequently criticized as unimaginative and confusing to shop, mass cosmetics departments take a lot of heat.
“A walk through any drugstore especially shows that there is a need for better merchandising,” observed Allan Mottus, an industry consultant.
The phenomenal success of Bath & Body Works, with its wooden fixtures and ubiquitous testers, combined with the introduction of Sephora, with its open-sell format and futuristic feel, has pushed traditional mass industry to take a second look at its own merchandising model.
And in recent months, there have been many initiatives from both retailers and manufacturers to improve the department’s image.
“We can’t downplay what Sephora is doing, and although we can’t re-create that environment, we can learn from it,” said Tom Ryan, chairman of CVS Stores.
Along with the increased competition for beauty sales with specialty stores, the emergence of e-commerce sites has also moved mass retailers to make their stores more enticing.
CVS has been among the drugstore chains seeking survival through improvements in beauty. New store formats feature a self-service display of Ultima II at the store entrance. There’s also a new fixture for fragrances, and the chain has reworked its pegged wall to accommodate both Neutrogena and Oil of Olay.
CVS is using signage to help introduce shoppers to new lines in its stores, including signs telling shoppers they can get a refund on items they don’t like once they get them home. Company executives promise a new and even more exciting department is in the works.
Like CVS, numerous others have begun to make over their departments. And the Oil of Olay and Neutrogena introductions, along with the rollout of Maybelline’s new fixture, have helped many chains freshen up.
Perhaps one of the most vivid examples of what a mass retailer can do in beauty is found in the newest look from Shoppers Drug Mart. In a store introduced into an affluent market in Canada, the chain has removed its service counter and adopted an open-sell format, much like Sephora. Now its consultants roam through the area, which features elegant fixtures reminiscent of department stores. Shoppers Drug Mart sells upscale brands, such as Biotherm and its own private label, called Quo. The upscale beauty format is one of five new looks for the chain. The store design is determined based on local store demographics.
Phar-Mor has made beauty more prominent. The chain launched a new prototype department this year that places cosmetics in the front of the store. Black signage is used to set the department apart.
Over the past three years, Rite Aid Corp. has worked hard to polish up its cosmetics department. In its new prototype, Rite Aid has created new overhead graphics that help direct shoppers to cosmetics. A remodeled store in Amsterdam, N.Y., shows how that chain has added more end caps to pack in more merchandise. Each beauty display has a special area on the end for promotions — – thus doubling the number of end caps from older stores. The store also has the new Maybelline fixture, which buyer Judy Wray said neatly organizes Maybelline’s products.
Walgreens, one of the most highly regarded mass beauty retailers, has even started tinkering slightly with its department. Although Walgreens stores still have counters with cosmeticians, the chain is starting to add more youth lines, such as Fun.
Mass merchants are also seeking to duplicate the excitement found in specialty stores. Ames Department Stores, for example, is aiming at young customers by adding more funky brands such as Loud Music and Townley. The department is now about 25 percent larger than older Ames stores, according to David Covitz, the top executive in hard lines.
Eckerd has also begun to pay more attention to teens, and Happy Harry’s of Newark, Del., is expected to unveil a new department format that includes a dedicated teen section.
Food stores, which once shunned cosmetics because of slow turns and a high inventory commitment, are now getting into the act, too. A new Wegmans store in Princeton, N.J., has a presentation that rivals most drugstore chains. A large bath boutique features wooden and metal barrels for bath gels and soaps. Display vignette areas featuring items such as Markwins Nail Pops and Parfums de Coeur set off cosmetics. The department also features full displays of both Neutrogena and Oil of Olay.
The introductions of Neutrogena and Oil of Olay to the category have brought mixed blessings. While the two elegant fixtures have given retailers the ammunition to produce more attractive departments, the fixtures have also caused headaches because retailers had to rip up stores to fit them in. “The fixtures have set us back a few years,” lamented Karen Durham, divisional merchandise manager for Duane Reade. Other buyers agreed that the efforts to put in the fixtures, especially Olay’s, which light up, have put a strain on the departments.
Despite the efforts required to squeeze the line in, retailers said the result will be more productive departments. Buyers analyzed each stockkeeping unit in product lines to determine what to keep and what to toss.
To make sure its line maintains a spot at retail, Prestige Cosmetics went an extra mile with a new fixture. According to Tom Winarick, executive vice president of Prestige said the company worked to create an upscale display. Rather than plastic, the fixture is wood. Prestige also added elements to provide more information for shoppers.
The fixturing is a key element in the new Caboodles makeup line. “Teens like an ever-changing environment,” said Gary Schofield, vice president of marketing and sales for Caboodles Cosmetics. To that end, Caboodles’ fixture has a unique back wall. Panels in different colors can be inserted into the fixture for seasons or different looks.
Seeking space on pegged walls, Townley has just unveiled a display that offers products in both open stock and carded packages. “Retailers told us we’d paid our dues and were ready for the wall,” said Abie Safdieh of the display that groups products together with large graphics to direct shoppers to either face, eye or lip.
P&G, which incorporated testers into its Oil of Olay unit, as well as mirrors, tissues and a waste receptacle, will be tweaking it slightly, adding more graphic panels and making it more colorful, said Marc Pritchard, vice president of P&G cosmetics.
Next from P&G will be a new fixture for Cover Girl. Slated to roll out in time for spring resets, the fixture is designed to simplify the shopping experience. Some 200 sku’s are expected to be trimmed to make room for new introductions, such as the CG Smoothers collection. Product information will be a major element of the wall unit.
Janice Kasper, category manager for the Chain Drug Marketing Association, a trade group for independent retailers, says all of the efforts this year, “have been very, very positive” for the mass cosmetics industry.
Heavy promotions from Olay and Neutrogena pushed competitors to advertise more this year, she noted. “It has given everybody a reason to look at departments carefully, review them and freshen them up and, in some cases, give them a new look.”
“The new fixtures are nice, and the category really needed it,” said Kasper. “More nontraditional retailers are taking their businesses into cosmetics and bath and skin — all categories that were so strongly ours.”
But with the flow of new products and the introduction of new fixtures, there are, naturally, growing pains. Some retailers who do not have the new units in place have found themselves holding onto new products until they can secure a place to merchandise them.
And besides taking on the new products and fixtures, retailers can continue to improve departments, “by adding a little personality,” suggested Kasper. “Stores need to come up with different looks.”
Longs Drug Stores of Walnut Creek, Calif., is frequently pointed to as a prime example of what retailers can do to differentiate departments. While the chain has corporate buyers, each store has a cosmetics manager who can order items just for that store and create store-specific programs.
Some retailers also take standard manufacturer promotions and customize them. Several retailers built in-store displays featuring replicas of the Titanic ship for a Max Factor promotion that tied in with the release of the movie video.
Still other retailers have taken other approaches to make their departments destination shops. Sears has continued to expand its Circle of Beauty concept with new private label cosmetics lines, including Studio Makeup and The Instant Makeup Expert, or TIME, collection.
Target is also expanding its assortment of proprietary beauty collections with the Sonia Kashuk Makeup line, which rolls out this month.
“There has definitely been more attention paid to the cosmetics department this year than in the past several years,” said Kasper. “And there has been more enthusiasm from buyers this year, but this year has also been harder because of all the new competition.”