When Judy Wray, category manager for Rite Aid Corp., envisions her customers, she sees them as the architects of a new beauty skyline.

“They are the designers of the future of beauty. And think about it: No matter where you look, more and more people today thirst for design-driven, high-style products that blend form with function and add beauty to their lives.”

These consumers may be driven by a thirst for design, but their secret tool, Wray said, is the neighborhood drugstore. “Just little old me. That’s right, the drugstore. And Rite Aid is reacting to this with a new store prototype called Customer World.”

According to Information Resources Inc., the drug class of trade accounts for more beauty sales than any other mass channel, Wray said. She presented data showing that last year, close to $7.2 billion in sales and 43 percent of the sales among mass marketers went to drugstores. Beauty care sales in drugstores grew 2.9 percent for last year, which actually was a faster rate than any other trade class.

Rite Aid did even better. “Through the initiatives that Rite Aid has implemented, we grew beauty care sales by 4.2 percent, and we’ve been able to grow sales of color cosmetics by 6.4 percent over the last six years.” Rite Aid has accomplished these numbers by having a firm handle on what customers want and by translating that into the Customer World concept.

A few examples of Rite Aid’s response to new consumer demands in its Customer World stores include enhanced adjacencies, products for mature shoppers, a new store layout for quick in-and-out shopping and a men’s grooming area.

She said men shop differently than women, and they especially eschew coupons and bargain-hunting. According to Euromonitor International, sales of men’s grooming products are expected to increase to more than $4.5 billion by 2009. “In our stores we found that although a majority of shoppers are female, which we cater to, 34 percent of those walking through the door were men. That’s a sizable population. And the average male spends 51 minutes a day on personal grooming, and more than $5 billion a year on grooming,” Wray said. To that end, Rite Aid has a dedicated men’s shopping area in the store.

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Consumer shifts are also fueling interest in products for maturing shoppers. “Thankfully, a number of new lines have recently been launched aimed at the Boomer beauty shopper. For example, earlier this year Revlon launched its new Vital Radiance line, designed to enhance the natural beauty of women age 50 and older. But it’s more than just product. Vital Radiance offers these women customized service, including a dedicated staff of beauty specialists available seven days a week by phone to provide personalized consultation,” Wray said.

While many drug chains are adding service, Rite Aid is strictly self-serve. And from studies of videos of shoppers, Wray said, there is a desire to get in and out without too many obstacles. However, Rite Aid took a unique approach in addressing this customer need. “Recently, we introduced Emma, an interactive, in-store beauty consultant. Emma gives customers the information they are searching for about beauty,” Wray said. “In the market where we are testing Emma, customers can get detailed product information. Emma provides them with more information on an item when it is scanned. She can show videos on products and their benefits. And more importantly, customers can go to Emma for beauty tips.”

Rite Aid also delivers targeted product promotions. The chain recently marketed Almay for one month in its stores. The promotion included samples, coupons and in-store makeover events. “Then we went to the source where Almay customers were finding their beauty information. Through a partnership with Hearst Publications, we were able to secure mentions within the promotional pages of their beauty books. We drove them online, to find out more about providing a Web link to data locations. And we went direct to the customers, with e-mail blasts to those who reside within 5 miles of our demo locations,” she said.

The comprehensive one-month campaign for Almay showed impressive results for Rite Aid. In the demo stores, the chain was able to achieve Almay’s average sales for one week in just four hours. Makeup artists reported that 6,500 pieces of Almay products sold during the event time — 11 pieces per store from the beauty demo alone.

All of these efforts reflect Rite Aid’s passion to understand shoppers and what they want in the chain’s stores. “You may ask if this approach to retail really works. I say yes, that’s without a doubt. And why am I confident? Because we’ve seen the proven success. Our Customer World store sales, depending on the various categories, have increased 35 to 50 percent. To date, the Customer World concept has been implemented in about 100 of our stores, and we plan on going to 800 to 1,000 more within the next five years. It’s all part of making sure we give what the customers want on their terms,” Wray concluded.