NEW YORK — In a dramatic shift in strategy, Limited Brands Inc. has decided that its fledgling Aura Science brand can be more profitably merchandised through the stores of its sister Victoria’s Secret Beauty division than through the brand’s own freestanding units.

The result is that the nine experimental Aura Science stores will be closed, but the distribution of the Aura Science brand will be rolled out to another 300 Victoria’s Secret Beauty stores this year. That is in addition to the pilot distribution of 25 VSB stores last year, the company said Tuesday.

It also will expand its test of selling Aura Science in the Bath & Body Works division, which was begun last year, as well. As an experiment, Aura Science products are currently available in two Bath & Body Works stores.

Robin Burns, president and chief executive officer of Intimate Beauty Corp., Victoria’s Secret Beauty and Aura Science, said the test of all three formats proved that, at least in the early stages, the Victoria’s Secret distribution was the more productive approach, with its built-in consumer traffic. Also, the Victoria’s Secret stores will gain the credibility of having a skin care brand, she said.

“They all did well, but the Victoria’s Secret Beauty stores won,” said Burns, who insisted that the closing of the Aura Science stores was not an admission of failure.

She noted that the nine Aura Science stores chalked up comp-store gains of 47 percent in November and 25 percent in December. Burns added that the company expects to open Aura Science stores in the future. “When we feel we’ve got the base customer and the data [from the Victoria’s Secret distribution], we’ll open stores,” she said.

Meanwhile, the retrenchment will eliminate the position held by Lynn Emmolo, executive vice president and general manager of Aura Science, Burns said.

Aura Science was launched in April 2002 amid great fanfare with the opening of a 2,300-square foot flagship in the Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio. Aura Science is a joint venture between Limited Brands and Shiseido, and the project was launched with the expectation of making it a $1 billion business. Burns once speculated that the brand concept could ultimately support 500 stores in the U.S. and just as many overseas.

This story first appeared in the January 14, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In the early selling, however, Burns said she learned what was the right combination for sales productivity and profit: It is 1,000-square-foot stores in prime mall locations.