NEW YORK — Target’s magic wand is now waving furiously over the beauty aisle.

Frustrated by high-end customers only perusing its design-focused sections, such as small appliances and home furnishings, the mass retailer has revamped its bath and body area, dumping national brands such as Calgon and The Healing Garden and stocking it with little-known brands from Scotland and Greece. The effort aims to satiate customers’ beauty needs, one that industry experts said are being met by specialty and department stores. The new 48-foot area, which features 20 brands, also aims to save the slumping bath category. ACNielsen data estimates overall category sales have fallen 27 percent since 2002.

Target’s effort is not original. In fact, it borrows from drugstore chains, who have been culling European brands for their beauty departments for several years in order to offer customers something different from the competitor down the street.

Wendy Liebmann, founder and president of WSL Strategic Retail, said the tactic is Target’s answer to drugstores’ exclusive offerings.

“Beauty is a branded category and Target wants to own it, to put their own gloss on it. And if anyone knows how to do it, it is Target. They’ve done it with Mossimo and Michael Graves — not that many Target shoppers knew those names before. Putting this in all stores shows their commitment and it makes you wonder what area of beauty they’ll upgrade next,” said Leibmann.

While the new department courts consumers who haven’t thought of Target as their beauty destination before, the challenge will be maintaining the department.

“The beauty aisle sucks up labor dollars and it is very hard to keep clean and in stock. It is also one of the major sources of shrinkage within the store. Keeping it fresh will be the unglamorous side” of their new effort, said Paco Underhill, founder, chief executive and president of Envirosell, a New York-based research and consulting firm.

In addition to the bath and body upgrade, which features the J.R. Watkins Apothecary line, Target’s exclusive makeup artist range, Sonia Kashuk, has launched new items for spring.

This story first appeared in the March 31, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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