Byline: Faye Brookman

NEW YORK — Brooks Pharmacy of Warwick, R.I., is proving that regional drugstore chains don’t have to take a back seat to national powers, when it comes to beauty retailing.
The 250-store chain operates in seven states in the Northeast and locks horns with Walgreens, CVS, Target and Wal-Mart in many markets.
Although Brooks can’t always compete on price or even service, the retailer has a loyal following, especially for beauty. “There is a Brooks on my way home from work and that’s where I buy all my cosmetics. I can find what I want and get in and out quickly, while filling a prescription if I need it,” explained Chris Jean Schneider, a resident of Wrentham, Mass.
The easy-to-shop beauty department is by design, according to Marie-Josee Rivard, the category manager for beauty at Brooks. Rivard has been working on a new beauty prototype for Brooks that helps the chain present an open and appealing department, while also allocating the right footage to brands based on sales movement. “The space by line varies on the store’s total cosmetics space and its customer base,” said Rivard. She said L’Oreal gets six to eight feet, while Maybelline and Cover Girl are granted eight feet. The newer Oil of Olay and Neutrogena receive three feet. Almay’s four feet round out the main peg wall selection. Rivard singled out Cover Girl and Maybelline as delivering “tremendous” growth in 2000.
Adjacent to those lines, Brooks also offers more specialized brands such as Jane and Bonne Bell for young customers and Corn Silk and Max Factor for consumers loyal to those brands. An end-of-aisle display holds Wet ‘n’ Wild, Brooks’ budget offering. Brooks has made a name for itself with shoppers for nail care and stocks hundreds of stockkeeping units from Sally Hansen, La Cross, Kiss, Broadway, Nailene, Fing’rs, Manhattan Girl, Nutra Nail, Trim, Ardell, Upstage and Super Nail.
To accommodate manufacturers’ color promotions, Brooks has three special fixtures positioned between the peg wall and the other cosmetics counter. And, to tempt teens, Brooks is working with Sassy Doo! on a freestanding display that offers hair accessories, home decor and beauty items. “We opted for the freestanding unit due to the many challenges we face in implementing an in-line program in all stores,” said Rivard.
Like many drugstore chains, Brooks has grown via acquisition. That means there are stores with different configurations. “Some stores even have [service] counters, which aren’t part of the prototype,” said Rivard, who added that makes setting up stores a challenge. “Ultimately, we will need to go to all stores, tear down the wall and put it back up to the prototype standards. It is a work in progress.” Brooks aims to roll the prototype out in all of its stores.
Even with a patchwork of store types, Brooks has proved its mettle in beauty. “It has become a focus for us, especially in the last two years,” said Rivard. Although the category is known for slow turns and proliferation of stockkeeping units, Brooks has found beauty delivers robust gross margins and high retail dollars. “This helps support the ever-so-pressured front store business. I believe it has grown in importance as we have proved to ourselves that time and effort spent on the category does pay off.”
While not ruling universal fixtures out, Rivera said she first wants to spruce up all of the stores. She’s also holding off on private label cosmetics until there is more sales history from leaders such as Eckerd and CVS.
And, while most drugstore chains are reporting a softening in beauty sales over the past year, Rivard said her business continues to expand. The new department look is credited with some of the gains, but manufacturers familiar with Brooks also laud Rivard with being a good merchant. Several manufacturers said Brooks pounces onto new products so that, in some cases, the chain has hot items before the competition. Rivera said Brooks’ size makes it nimble. “We do not get caught in the web of approval committees and layers upon layers of management. It makes for a fast but thorough review of opportunities and challenges resulting in quick implementation of programs.”
Brooks keeps shoppers up-to-date on new items with weekly advertising of beauty. A new item end of aisle display is featured in stores to support advertising. “This program is the best performing program at Brooks and has shown great results for cosmetics,” said Rivera. To offer sharp deals, Brooks also slashes prices on key items at the store level.
Although Brooks is considered a regional chain in the U.S., it is owned by Jean Coutu of Quebec. When added together with Jean Coutu stores, the corporation ranks as the ninth largest drugstore retailer in North America. In addition to boosting beauty’s presence, the new prototype is helping Brooks’ units process more prescriptions. The original store design was created when stores dispensed between 1,500 and 1,600 prescriptions per week. The new stores can accommodate more than 2,000 a week, thanks to new drop-off and pick-up areas.
With consolidation in the drugstore business, Brooks is one of a few chains bucking the trend and adding new stores with bigger and better beauty departments.

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