PARIS — Sephora plans to pack a punch with its new retail format, set to be unveiled in early May here.

This story first appeared in the March 14, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It comes amid a stagnant worldwide perfumery market and continuing speculation that LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Sephora’s owner, could be sprucing up the 479-door chain for an eventual sale.

The new, 9,150-square-foot Sephora will be on the Rue de Rivoli in one of the former Samaritaine department store buildings, which is under reconstruction and owned by LVMH. Compared with other Sephora doors, “Sephora Rivoli” boasts heightened service, including an emphasis on new products, skin care, massage and nail treatments, said Francois Neukirch, general director of Sephora France. In the past, Sephora has built its reputation on the back of its fragrance expertise, with the category reportedly generating 50 percent of the chain’s volume. Skin care, however, has proven to be a harder sell, because of the store’s self-service format.

“The first vocation of the Rue de Rivoli store is to highlight for customers the work of prestige brands, to create trends and be fashion [forward],” he told WWD.

Many elements of the store’s format were chosen after being tested in Sephora’s treatment-specific “white” store in the Bercy Village neighborhood and some of its other French doors.

Sephora’s next-generation concept store is the last step in several recent changes for the chain, whose executives aim to make it positive in cash and operating profit globally this year.

At this point, there are no plans to carbon copy the new retail format. “Sephora Rivoli is a megastore, and we won’t transform all of our stores into megastores,” continued Neukirch. However, elements that work in the new location might be adapted to doors in France and then throughout Europe.

While Neukirch would only say the upcoming shop should become one of Sephora’s top five grossing stores in its first year, industry sources estimate it could generate up to $15 million in retail sales in the period.

To enter the new Sephora door, which is in the basement, people will descend via an escalator flanked by a red carpet. Once inside the store, however, Sephora’s traditional red carpet is replaced with white marble, chosen to brighten the store’s signature black-and-white decor.

Straight on are a series of white tables divided into three categories, which run along the shop’s length.

The first is to display individual new fragrances, while the second will have novel scents grouped by type — for instance, seasonal fragrances or young designer scents. These and events staged to accompany them will be changed regularly to create excitement, said Neukirch.

“The store will breathe, be very supple and change very rapidly,” he continued. “The central aisle will add life and change every two weeks or every month as a function of what’s happening.”

In the last part of the central aisle will be a “fragrance initiation” table for consumers to learn about scent and sample its component ingredients. A perfumer from a Grasse, France-based fragrance house will oversee the table full-time.

As in traditional Sephora doors, scents here will remain displayed alphabetically by brand on shelving that runs along both sides of the store.

Another break from Sephora’s habitual format comes with the new perfumery’s skin care department. Formerly, Sephora consigned the category to the back of its stores. Now, however, it is to have a more prominent location, right by the new store’s entrance.

Neukirch acknowledged treatment is a strong lure for consumers. So, too, is the service proffered to sell it, alongside other beauty categories, he said.

Trained aestheticians will run the new Sephora door’s skin care section, where dermatological diagnostic tests and quick, above-clothes massages will be available.

To further facilitate the shopping experience, a rotating selection of skin care products will be displayed by theme. Antiaging items, for instance, might be grouped together on shelving separate from the traditional treatment-merchandising units stocking brands alphabetically.

“We generally treat products by brand, but our ambition is that everyone, no matter what their age or [ethnic] origin, can find a solution to their needs in our store,” explained Neukirch.

This new system of merchandising skin care will be introduced in the chain’s 50 largest stores in France by June.

The treatment selection will also showcase a broad selection of high-end hair care, including brands such as John Frieda, Biotherm and Lancôme. Niche names in the lineup include Alexandre Zouari and Christophe Robin.

Up on the wall in niches here, some treatment lines will be shown in their entirety.

In the new Sephora’s fragrance section, scents’ ancillary bath and body lines will get more play, as well. They, too, will be displayed in niches above traditional shelving units, while formerly, they were largely stored in drawers.

Sephora’s color cosmetics department will also have a makeover. Rather than housing all of its makeup in gondolas, classic brands, such as Chanel and Christian Dior, are to be in wall units at the back of the store. Trendy brands, such as Hard Candy, meantime, will be in freestanding merchandising units.

An area for in-store makeup events will be in the heart of the color cosmetics area, as will a nail bar, where customers will get free manicures.

In the new Sephora store, consumers also will be able to sign up for loyalty cards — a first for the chain.

All of the added services are meant to lure shoppers from the surrounding busy commercial district. Here, fast-fashion-brand shops, such as Etam and Zara, are located nearby along Rue de Rivoli in the trendy Marais neighborhood, plus new restaurants designed by Philippe Starck and Andrée Putman. The newcomers are expected to generate traffic, as is the new Kenzo store, which also is housed in another former Samaritaine building.

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