BOCK EXITS SEPHORA TO JOIN AVON
Byline: Pete Born
NEW YORK — Beauty’s map of power retailing was redrawn somewhat Thursday when Steve Bock announced he is leaving Sephora USA to join Avon Products as president of its retail division.
Bock, who has a strong resume in specialty-store beauty retailing, was instrumental in helping establish Sephora in the U.S. market. He joined the French-based perfumery company, a subsidiary of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, on Nov. 3, 1997, and helped transplant the chain to the U.S., where Sephora now has 67 stores.
At Avon, Bock will be in charge of the Avon Center in Trump Tower and, more importantly, he will oversee the launch of Avon’s first foray into retailing in September. The 110-year-old direct-selling company will break with its history and merchandise a full cosmetics brand, called Becoming, in Sears, Roebuck & Co. and J.C. Penney. The move has been seen as a controversial departure for Avon.
Andrea Jung, Avon president and chief executive officer, said Bock was recruited for his retail expertise both in department and specialty stores, as well as other new forms of retailing. Jung said Bock will help develop Avon’s present retail strategy “as well as develop other formats.”
Jung said it is too early to say what the company may do beyond launching Becoming in Penney’s and Sears, but “obviously, we are serious about retailing.”
The Becoming product assortment has been developed, with 400 to 450 stockkeeping units, and it is positioned between Avon’s core brand sold door-to-door and prestige lines in department stores.
Jung noted that a typical Becoming lipstick will retail for less than $10, for instance, while prices of a similar department store product begin at $14 and the Avon direct-selling line offers lipsticks for less than $5.
The pricing was calculated, Jung said, to avoid cannibalization. Current plans call for setting up Becoming shops in 150 to 200 doors of Penney’s and Sears combined.
Asked why she selected the two national department stores, rather than drugstore chains or even Wal-Mart, as some Wall Street analysts had advocated, Jung said Penney’s and Sears fit the concept.
“The brand concept requires space,” she said, noting that those two chains had guaranteed shops measuring 400 to 600 square feet. The square footage is required because the brand is predicated on a number of lifestyle concepts. “It needs more than a few feet of space and pegs on a wall,” she said.
Also, the mall location of most Penney’s and Sears stores is key. During the last two years, Avon has studied the buying habits of its clientele with the creation of kiosks located in malls. As it turned out, 96 percent of kiosk customers had never bought an Avon product before because they prefer shopping in malls. Moreover, a check of Avon’s door-to-door sales in the zip codes where the kiosks are located revealed “no negative results and some positive results. Avon subsequently began licensing its mall kiosks to its reps, with now close to 100 in operation.
Jung reiterated that she expects the new brand to generate sales of $200 million to $300 million at wholesale once it is established. And while plans are not yet set, Jung said she expects Becoming to develop into a global concept with distribution overseas. The line may be exported to Europe and Mexico, she said.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” said Bock, who will relocate from San Francisco to New York to start work by Feb. 1. “Something like this comes along once in a lifetime.”
Bock said he was drawn by Avon’s long history and the global reach of its image.
“I need to immerse myself in the culture of Avon,” he said, as a first step before participating in the shaping of the merchandising strategy for Becoming. There he will join Stuart Sklar, group vice president of marketing, and Kipp Acton, vice president of sales. Bock is familiar with Jung’s working style. They were together at I. Magnin in 1987 when he was the divisional merchandise manager and she was a general merchandise manager.
He had been at Magnin’s for nearly five years — taking a year out near the middle to work at DFS — before moving to Saks Fifth Avenue in 1993. He was there until 1997, ultimately rising to executive vice president and gmm. At Sephora he became executive vice president in charge of merchandising. As such, he largely shaped the content of the store and introduced the Sephora concept to American cosmetics vendors.
Succeeding Bock as senior vice president of merchandising is Shashi Batra. Popular among the vendors, Batra was vice president of merchandising. “We’re very fortunate to have Shashi, and this will be a seamless transition,” said David Suliteanu, ceo of Sephora USA.
“It sounds like a good opportunity for Steve,” added Suliteanu. “He’s definitely been a contributor to the launch of Sephora. We really do wish him well.”