Byline: Faye Brookman

FREEHOLD, N.J. — By combining salon services with a drugstore cosmetics selection, Essentials is attempting to inaugurate a new breed of beauty retailing.
The company, based in Massapequa, N.Y., operates six stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. While all its units are in upscale shopping malls, they are divided into two types — Essentials and Essentials Plus.
The two Essentials stores average 1,500 square feet each and feature only beauty products. The four Essentials Plus units are larger, about 3,000 square feet, and stock over-the-counter remedies in addition to cosmetics and hair care. Neither format sells prescriptions.
What sets the retailer apart from chain drugstores and other competitors is the presence of full-service beauty salons in five of the stores. And because the chain is primarily devoted to beauty products, it offers a wider variety of cosmetics and beauty aids than drug or discount stores.
More than 7,000 stockkeeping units are packed into the Essential stores, with another 1,000 added to the Plus units. Annual beauty sales average just over $1 million per store for the overall chain.
“The salon and our selection gives us an advantage over drug chains like CVS,” said Alan Jamnik, treasurer of Essentials.
He added that the salon is designed to serve the needs of mass market shoppers.
“High-end customers have access to a wide variety of services at department stores,” he noted. “We give the same type of treatment to low-to-mid-end customers.”
There are hair salons in five of the six stores, and the concept has been so successful, Jamnik said, that the Essentials 1,600-square-foot unit here has just been remodeled to carve out 600 square feet for a salon that will open this month.
Essentials began in 1979 in Princeton, N.J. A family-owned company, it is run by Alan, his parents, Victor and Sara, and his brother Ramy.
The company opened its first in-store salons in 1994, at units in Stamford, Conn., and Garden City, N.Y. The full-service salons offer manicures, facials, waxing, makeovers, hair styling and color.
The salon is maintained as a separate business, with its own cash register. Most of the salons have three hairstyling stations, and hair care is sold in the salons as well as in the main retail area.
“There are people who are really creative in hairstyling but don’t like to run a business, so this is perfect for them,” Alan Jamnik said.
The salon image encourages sales of trendy items such as Equenne, an upgraded line of products from Straight Arrow of Lehigh, Pa., makers of the more mass-oriented Mane ‘n Tail.
Salon operators were among the first to start using products intended for horses, one of the mass market’s hottest trends last year. A harbinger of a new trend is Udder Cream, intended for cows but found to soften skin, with primary usage on the hands. The product is marketed by Redex Industries of Salem, Ohio.
A focal point of both types of Essentials stores is the glass fragrance counter. In addition to miniature fragrance sets, Essentials carries key secondarily sourced names such as Ombre Rose, Wrappings by Clinique, Nat Robbins, Donna Karan New York, Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers, Gio by Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior’s Dune, Oscar de la Renta’s Volupte, Joop and Escada.
The scents typically sell for 20 to 50 percent below department store prices, according to Jamnik.
The tightly edited mass fragrance lineup includes Jean Nate, Coty’s Longing and Revlon’s Fire & Ice. The pegged cosmetics wall includes L’Oreal, Max Factor, Maybelline, Bonne Bell, Wet ‘n’ Wild and Cover Girl. Space is also devoted to niche beauty brands such as Dramateyes, Jordana, O.P.I. Products, Brucci and Prestige.
Essentials also sells a private label eyeliner, lip gloss and mascara priced from $2.29 to $2.49.
The mauve, slotted-wall fixtures used in Essentials are more upscale than traditional drugstore setups, giving Essentials a more elegant appearance than most drug or discount stores. At one time, Essentials even offered Lancome, Clinique and Chanel.
“We found it is too hard to have the full line all the time, and if you do it, you have to do it right and carry the full line,” said Jamnik.
To halt pilferage, especially since Essentials operates in shopping malls — notorious for high rates of theft — there are testers on the wall, but most cosmetics items are kept behind the counter. Customers can ask for them by name and color.
“That works for us because we have so much service,” said Jamnik. This was confirmed during a recent visit that found three trained cosmeticians on hand.
Color cosmetics is Essential’s top producing category, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of sales. The next biggest is hair coloring, followed by personal care items such as blow dryers.
Another major thrust is professional nail care. A 20-foot selection in each store includes Orly, Develop 10, The Mane Secret’s Hoof and Nail, Healthy Hoof, Nail Lady, DeLore and Sally Hansen.
Although Essentials resembles professional operators like Sally Beauty Supply Co., which sells supplies to salon operators, Jamnik said most of his clientele is regular retail trade rather than those in the salon industry.
In the Freehold Mall, Essentials competes with numerous salons, as well as Trade Secret, a 195-store chain that sells professional hair care such as Paul Mitchell, Nexxus and Sebastian.
But the up side of operating in mall locations, Jamnik said, is that Essentials doesn’t need to have pharmacies, which can be expensive to staff and operate.
“People who come to a mall aren’t usually looking to fill a prescription,” he said. “Instead of pharmacy as a customer draw, we have the salon.”