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HELPING MALLS GET THEIR URBAN GROOVE

Byline: Faye Brookman

PARAMUS, N.J. — Hip New Jersey girls no longer have to head to Ricky’s in Manhattan to get edgy, yet affordable, beauty supplies.
A store called Urban Groove hit the Bergen County mall scene early this year, the heart of New Jersey mall-based retailing.
“We’re trying to bring New York’s cutting-edge products to the suburbs,” said Urban Groove owner Jack Panico. Industry sources estimate the store could churn out sales exceeding $2 million per year.
A 20-year veteran of the salon business, Panico envisions expanding the concept to as many as 10 new sites within the next year. “People are saying there is nothing like this store, especially in the malls,” said Panico who also operates an upscale salon in nearby Ridgewood, N.J.
Panico’s expertise is in the salon business, but he saw an opportunity to target what he felt was an untapped market for beauty products in the shopping center universe. Through a friendship with the operators of New York’s hip emporium Ricky’s, Panico saw an opportunity to bring the fashion positioning of Ricky’s to malls. “We just edit out some of the merchandise that’s not appropriate for the suburbs,” Panico joked, referring to the adult-only rooms at Ricky’s.
Although there have been many stores seeking to satiate young customers’ quest for edgy items such as Mish Mash, Claire’s or Limited, Too, Urban Groove brings a unique mix of items under one roof. Urban Groove is the first to merge a merchandise mix aimed at trendy shoppers with an equally fashionable salon. There’s a touch of Ricky’s beauty, a salon inspired by the likes of Ulta and even novelty items a la Spencer Gifts.
Although Trade Secrets and Ulta have salons, both lack the funky product mix that makes Urban Groove a must-visit store for customers under 25. The 4,500-square-foot store here at Paramus Park Mall sports a 10-chair salon currently staffed by four stylists. In addition to cuts and color, there is a multipurpose room for facials or waxing.
“We’re not a phantom salon [a fake salon to secure salon hair care], we’re a real salon, and we do custom colors,” said Panico. The custom colors — bearing names such as Turbo Lights and L.A. Angel — are displayed on mannequins and can be duplicated by the stylists.
The salon presence opened the door for the store to sell the prestigious Bumble and bumble hair care collection. “We are exclusive in the area with them,” said Panico. Salon products are cross-merchandised near the stylist’s chairs so customers know what the store sells.
On the retail side, there are also hundreds of wigs and hair extensions in a bevy of colors, an array of color cosmetics including a line made famous by Ricky’s called Mattese and an assortment of bath and body products. There’s an extensive line of hosiery, including fake diamond-studded fishnets and retro lunchboxes featuring icons such as Lucy. And, the store space is unlike other mall-based retail stores. Designed by Salon Interiors, the store features steel and tile flooring and upscale fixtures.
The salon business is booming and most salon clients pop over to the retail side of the store. “This store is like eye candy,” said Panico who said wigs and hairpieces are among the best-selling items. To keep customers coming back, the merchandise is refreshed every two months.
In color cosmetics, Urban Groove offers an array of lines including Trucco, Mattese and Styli-Style. Bath and specialty items include Burt’s Bees and Dirty Girl. There are also accessories including almost every color imaginable of fake eyelashes. “We even have a kiddy section of products,” said Panico who added that although teens love the store, it is shopped by a wide age range.
The eclectic merchandise mix results in average sales rings ranging from $30 to $100, said Panico. “There are many impulse purchases once people come into the store,” he explained.
Urban Groove appears to be in sync with young customers in this affluent suburban New Jersey area. While the cosmetics department was quiet at Macy’s next door, both young men and women prowled the aisles at Urban Groove. The hosiery department in particular was very busy with several shoppers buying pink fishnets. At the cash register, the store employee was a prime endorsement. “I wear a different hair extension every day, and people always ask what I have,” she said.
The wild merchandise assortment at Urban Groove is appropriate for where Panico hopes to take the concept to next: Las Vegas. “I can see this working in any of the casino-based shopping malls,” he said. “Right now, I’m talking to many malls. The ideal mall is any center with high foot traffic.”
Word of mouth is currently the advertising vehicle for Urban Groove. Barbara Sax, a mother of two children, was so impressed with the store she mentioned it to friends. “Right now, our best advertising is our clients,” said Panico. But if his dreams expanding Urban Groove to a national chain come to fruition, Panico said he’ll start advertising. “I can see this rolling out on a national basis. Plenty of people want this type of merchandise and don’t know where to find it,” he concluded.

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