Byline: Laura Klepacki

NEW YORK — Austin-based Whole Foods Market is breaking into Manhattan next month, bringing with it the natural food chain’s first freestanding health and beauty store.
In the Chelsea Mercantile Building on Seventh Avenue between 24th and 25th Streets, construction of two separate retail outlets — a traditional 35,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market and the new 3,000-square-foot Whole Body store — is well under way. The stores, slated to open Feb. 15, will have separate entrances.
A spokeswoman for the company said the chain hadn’t intended to create a stand-alone beauty store — but adjacent real estate opened up and Whole Foods seized the opportunity to separate out that piece of the business and expand offerings.
“It gave us a chance to create the boutique feel and showcase our Whole Body concept,” said Laurie Rocke, Whole Foods Market coordinator. “We have so much to offer.” In Whole Foods other stores, Whole Body refers to its store-within-a-store health and beauty departments.
Shoppers in the Chelsea neighborhood have already been primed for beauty brands touting wholesomeness. A block away is Organic Market, a corner grocery that devotes about a quarter of its footage to herbs, minerals and natural beauty brands, such as Ecco Bella, Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine and Naturtint, a hair color collection.
But the new Whole Body, with its wooden fixtures and soft lighting, is expected to bring a more sophisticated shopping environment to the neighborhood. And Rocke said the store’s mix of vitamins, supplements, body care and cosmetics will offer Manhattanites a one-stop shopping alternative. “You won’t have to run from your vitamin store to Aveda,” said Rocke.
Trained specialists will be on hand to provide product information and there will also be an Internet kiosk for shoppers to use like a library. Web sites of brands carried will be bookmarked for easy access.
Allyn Jones, Whole Body coordinator, said Whole Body is “where health meets beauty. It is about taking care of your body from the inside out.”
Unlike most supermarkets, which offer minimal selection, Whole Foods presents an eclectic assortment including Dr. Hauschka, Annmarie Borlind, Shi-Kai, Desert Essence, Giovanni Natural Hair Care, Essential Oil Products, Zia Natural Skincare and Demeter Fragrances, along with more widely available labels like Burt’s Bees, Kiss My Face and Tom’s of Maine. Item prices can range from as low as $1.99 for a body gel to $30 for a skin cream. To start, there will be four cosmetics brands. Private label under the Whole Foods umbrella is also an important part of the mix and will be expanded with a men’s toiletries collection in the spring and children’s body care items this summer.
Some suppliers believe Whole Foods is well positioned to succeed in the beauty business.
“We see a lot of growth in the category. We think that their customer is our customer, in the psychographic sense,” said Chris Gable, co-founder of Demeter Fragrances.
But as the chain delves more deeply into beauty, some say it may be moved to modify its business style. Whole Foods, which operates under a decentralized system, allows store managers to make purchasing decisions, which can make stores interesting for shoppers, but can cause headaches to suppliers.
“If they are going to get into this business, they really need to figure out how the category works,” said one vendor, who insisted on anonymity. “Because I can’t meet with 100 store managers.”
In Whole Foods’ Edgewater, N.J., store, which opened last May and served as a forerunner to the Manhattan Whole Body shop, beauty gets front-and-center placement and claims 20 percent of the 50,000-square-foot store’s floor space. Samples are offered throughout the beauty department with signs encouraging shoppers to experiment with products. Some units offer mirrors and sinks.
In November, the company’s chairman and chief executive John Mackey said he expects the Manhattan spot will become one of the chain’s top producers, along with other newcomers in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Cambridge, Mass. Whole Foods, founded in 1980, now operates some 122 stores in 22 states.
Last year Whole Foods, which operates stores under the Whole Foods, Fresh Fields and Bread & Circus banners, reported comp-store sales rose 8.6 percent, with annual sales at about $1.9 billion. In 2001, the company expects its comp-store sales to rise another 7 to 9 percent.
Whole Foods was founded on a philosophy of offering foods and other products that are organically grown and naturally preserved. Employees are referred to as team members and the company donates at least 5 percent of total net profits to nonprofit causes. To encourage civil involvement, employees are compensated for time devoted to community service.

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