Byline: Laura Klepacki

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — What a difference a shopping environment can make.
“The retrofits are awesome,” said Kathy Steirly, vice president of cosmetics merchandising at Eckerd, referring to the chain’s stores boasting its new beauty format. Sales in those units are up, on average, “between 18 percent to 20 percent.”
The changeover began with 700 stores last year. About 80 stores a month will be redone this year, with another 800 units turned over in 2003. “With that, we will be at about 90 percent,” said Steirly.
The modification has centered on removing manufacturer-supplied displays and replacing them with a universal fixture — and adding cosmetics counters with beauty advisers. Eckerd also introduced its own cosmetics brand, Mira. On top of that, it reduced prices on some 5,000 beauty items, taking an everyday, low-price approach.
So inspired is Eckerd about its early successes that it has decided to take an even more aggressive stance with its beauty departments and has divined a five-year plan. “Front-end beauty is really a big focus and we want to be the [beauty] destination,” said Steirly. “We want them to think Eckerd.”
A store nearby its Clearwater, Fla. headquarters showcases some merchandising ideas to come. For one, Eckerd is introducing a new department slogan: “Feeling Beautiful Starts Here.” The verbiage is found throughout the department — on gondolas, on overhead signs and even on the floor. There are also graphics that run along the tops of gondolas that define and identify the beauty care aisles and the product categories, such as sun care, skin care and hair care. The use of color clearly marks where the beauty department begins and ends. Freestanding displays have been decorated with colored paper and silk flowers. The base is ringed with a pastel ruffle like a bed skirt. The point, said Steirly, “is to address inner beauty and outer beauty.”
Eckerd also is angling to be first to market with product introductions and has been known to drive its own trucks to distribution centers to pick up new items the day they are being shipped, to get a jump-start on selling. “If its new, it will be at Eckerd,” said Steirly. “We will have our truckers at their dock to pick it up.”
Steirly said she finds that store personnel get excited when they know they are handling a first, and “they will pull out all the stops.”
She said there are many reasons consumers should turn to Eckerd as their beauty destination: “It is easier to shop in drugstores. It is not fun to shop at Wal-Mart. Here, you can be in and out in 15 minutes.”
Other tweaking going on includes cutting back on space for bath and body, including its own Comfy brand, which has been discontinued. The real estate is being given to fragrance, particularly designer fragrances, which Steirly said, “has been exploding in some markets.” The Mira line will add new categories, including accessories like cosmetics bags and implements like applicators and brushes.
Steirly said the efforts are being driven by Eckerd’s chief executive officer Wayne Harris. “The focus is on the store and how do we make their [consumers] lives easier.”
Steirly said since Harris has come on board in 2000, a spirit of teamwork has evolved throughout its ranks. At the chain’s annual company meeting and trade show two weeks ago, during an awards ceremony, more time was devoted to handing out the company’s Character Awards, a category initiated by Harris last year, than for business achievements. The Character Award is given to eight Eckerd workers for their humanitarian efforts. This year, another new category was added — Most Valuable Partner — to recognize suppliers.
Even Allen Questrom, chairman and ceo of J.C. Penney Co., Eckerd’s parent, has weighed in on the beauty improvements, and recently toured the prototype store with Steirly.
At Eckerd’s trade show, where the chain’s regional directors get the opportunity to meet with suppliers, beauty made a strong showing. Procter & Gamble was on hand with hair stylists and colorists to demonstrate and explain its new Clairol products. L’Oreal executives explained how there would be a big push on its new Endless lip color in Eckerd stores this season, and Coty talked about its new Spa Theraphy collection. Revlon representatives said if Eckerd was gearing up their beauty department, they would be ready to help.
And executives at the Physicians Formula booth were ecstatic about their brand’s business with Eckerd. After getting additional space — now two feet — sales have shot up 277 percent year-to-date.

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