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PARIS — France’s leading perfumery chain, Marionnaud Parfumeries, is getting a makeover. Its nips and tucks might force some others in Europe to take a good, hard look at their own retail concepts.

Marionnaud, which gradually built strength across France — and Europe — as the mom-and-pop store for beauty, is entering the modern age with a more consistent, professional approach that focuses on hands-on service.

In a press conference held in Rungis, on the outskirts of Paris Thursday, Marionnaud (which is owned by A.S. Watson — the retail division of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.) unveiled to the press two full-size models of the company’s new perfumery concept, due to go into beta test publicly during the first half of 2007.

Located in a huge hangar in an area full of warehouses, the 4,220-square-foot and 1,335-square-foot perfumeries are two iterations of the new Marionnaud retail concept — that soon will include a signature beauty institute — to be tested and tweaked on a regular basis. So far, the company has invested about $3.9 million in market research for the “laboratory.”

“Why a lab?” Laurence Paganini, managing director of Marionnaud France, asked rhetorically. He explained that the company believes in the importance of testing retail ideas on volunteers. Marionnaud has hosted numerous groups of 30 people each that have included beauty manufacturers, plus “Marionnaud shoppers, ex-Marionnaud shoppers and Sephora shoppers,” according to one executive, referring to Marionnaud’s prime competitor in France. Sephora follows in market share but has been pioneering retail concepts, including recently focusing on beauty services and niche brands.

The space is also used as a research center to evaluate future consumer needs, ways to update the stores and as a site to train Marionnaud beauty advisers.

Paganini said Marionnaud has learned consumers believe the perfumery’s strengths are its accessibility, both in terms of geography — there are 1,250 of its stores stretching across most of Europe, of which about half are in France — and the personal attention it proffers, plus its professionalism.

“A new focus will be on pleasure,” said Paganini.

To help add this facet, Marionnaud signed Philippe Kauffmann, of Atelier K., who redesigned the perfumery’s logo and retail space, keeping its new motto, “Take care of yourself,” in mind.

This story first appeared in the January 16, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Kauffmann said the company decided to maintain Marionnaud’s black script typeface, since it’s part of the chain’s heritage and signature.

Kauffmann did add a puff of reddish dots, which run under the “M” in Marionnaud and get denser as they go.

“It gives a bit more air and is more modern, without losing the history,” said Kauffmann.

For the store, he said it was clear Marionnaud needed more than a superficial touch-up.

“It was important to reposition the brand,” agreed Thibault Ponroy, the company’s director of strategic marketing.

“It was key to give dimension to the concept,” continued Kauffmann, explaining Marionnaud needed to be updated, although consumers already love the brand, which is a stalwart in France. It was developed for some two decades by Marcel Frydman, who purchased the first Marionnaud door as a gift to his wife. (In spring 2005, Watson took over the chain.)

Unlike its multinational rivals, including Sephora, which is known for its self-service retail concept, and Douglas, which is of a similar open plan, Marionnaud kept true to its perfumery heritage, boasting strong in-house beauty adviser support. Yet the retail concept evolved very little over time, save for some Marionnaud megastores. One was opened on Paris’ Champs-Elysées and another in Marseilles. Most Marionnauds have traditional layouts with gondolas and products arranged by brand and category.

The next-generation Marionnaud is another story, however.

For its exterior, Kauffmann designed huge glass windows, meant to let people feel drawn into the interior.

Inside, the space is organized in terms of three different time periods consumers might spend in the store, explained Kauffmann. In one area, there are shelves containing products that can be easily selected by consumers in a hurry. Kauffmann said he made certain not to cram shelves with items, so as to “create spaces for the eye, spirit, a place to breathe.”

Inside that area and following its perimeter is a section chockablock with tables with lit surfaces.

“The approach here is less immediate,” said Kauffmann, who said the tables are meant to have themes, either based on brands or particular trends. “New designer fragrances” could easily be displayed here, for instance.

The third, central space is for the most hands-on, adviser-heavy beauty. Kauffmann envisions tables here that highlight interactive services, such as manicures, a selection of creams to be tested or jewelry-like decals that can be pasted on skin, almost like tattoos.

“There are advisers who are dedicated to this space,” said Kauffmann, of the area that’s also peppered with “mini institutes,” partially closed-in areas carved out either by opaque, white curved dividers or purple glass, undulating screens, behind which beauty services can be given on an even more confidential basis.

The store’s color code — beiges, pinks and purples — was inspired by various skin tones, said Kauffmann.

Evidently, nothing about the store has been left to chance. Lighting, in the form of modern chandeliers that look like paper cutouts, is not consistent in terms of each fixture’s brightness, but rather adjusted according to an area’s needs. The music playing in the store has been chosen by executives to create a relaxed ambience, while numerous versions of a new beauty-adviser uniform (with colors in keeping with Marionnaud’s decor) are being tried out in the lab.

Also being tested are electronic devices dotted around Marionnaud’s walls. These machines are to be swiped with products’ barcodes so that beauty information can pop up on screens. When Marionnaud fidelity cards are swiped, consumers can find out how many points they have accrued in-store.

The new Marionnaud perfumery will make its way outside the lab environment soon. According to Ponroy, two to three pilots of the concept will be tested in malls and in city centers during the first half of 2007. Of those, one will be tried out elsewhere in Europe.

The testing of a full-service Marionnaud beauty institute will begin in the lab within a few weeks. Although Marionnaud does not advertise its existing institute services, it has built acclaim in the field. Already, the company boasts 750 aestheticians and 300 institutes.

“This brand is extremely strong,” said Kauffmann.

A new Marionnaud spa institute concept could be unveiled to the public in the first half of 2008.

Seemingly, nothing about the Marionnaud’s renovation is being rushed.

“Last year was one of reorganization, of reinforcing the team — in France, we closed 25 platforms without problems — and perfected the logistical system,” said Hugues Witvoet, chief executive officer of Watson’s Luxury Perfumeries and Cosmetics division, who added that Marionnaud opened 30 stores in Europe and registered 4 percent sales growth on a like-for-like basis in 2006 overall.

This year is more about updating the retailer’s image. Ponroy said while Marionnaud stores are being changed, the company is careful to respect and reinforce the brand’s traditional values.

But again, the revamping is not being rushed. “This is not a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde process,” he said.

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