A hit sitcom in the 1970s, Sanford and Son depicts the escapades of Fred Sanford and his adult son Lamont. In the opening credits, a sign above the Sanford’s work and home depicts a crucial aspect of the sitcom’s setting. It says: “Sanford and Son Salvage, We Buy and Sell Junk.”
While the characters of this NBC show were not ashamed of their allegiance to the junk business, it is not a status beauty supplies would readily aspire to. Yet, if your store is attempting to offer product that is one-size-fits-all, you may have more in common with the show’s characters than you would care to admit.
“Offering a little bit of product to cater to every conceivable customer is referred to in the industry as the Sanford and Son approach. It never looks good. It’s congested and cluttered. It says ‘low class’ and it is rarely appropriate,” says Giovanni Yarabek, retail-marketing expert and owner of Punch! Agency located in Tampa, Florida. Yarabek adds that this approach might work in only two situations: extremely remote areas where there is only one beauty supply for many miles or in very low-income areas where price is the only deciding factor for purchase.
Since most beauty store owners do not fit the above criteria, product selection must be strategic. There is an art form to choosing product that will profitably move out the door and satisfy the needs of the consumer walking in.
“When you are selling beauty products, you need to ask yourself, what you are really selling? You are probably not selling the cheapest price. You are likely selling the concepts of looking better and/or feeling better. This is what should be conveyed in your inventory,” says Yarabek.
There are many benefits to mastering the art of product selection. Among them, says Yarabek, is the likelihood of increasing sales and receiving a higher return on investment. This is the logical outcome of giving customers what they want and tailoring the shopping experience in such a way that purchase is easy and enjoyable.
To discover the winning mix of inventory, Yarabek argues that store owners must first understand area demographics and alter the store’s persona accordingly. Whether an owner is considering a property or has already invested in property and has established a store, he suggests several trips to the parking area for a demographic tutorial. In a strip mall, this can be done by staking out the adjacent lot; but it is also a necessary exercise for stand-alone shops whose owners can find clues by observing the cars parked on the street or in the parking area of nearby establishments.
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Studying the cars will give a good indication of the disposable income available to the customers who frequent the area. Is the lot filled with the latest luxury vehicles or is it a menagerie of older and cheaper cars? The answer provides insight into whether a store’s prestige inventory is going to move or if reasonably priced fare is a better choice. Bumper stickers might provide further clues as to the demographics. For example, children-related or pro-environment stickers point to what is valued by those in the area and could translate into inventory tweaks, such as additions to baby personal-care items or organic products.
Yarabek also suggests talking to retailers in the area to ask them about the behavior of their shoppers, or hiring companies that will conduct intercept interviews with people in the parking lots. Social media provides yet another opportunity to collect demographic information, as store owners can seek out and obtain information on the people who “like” their Facebook pages.
“Many people are happy to give away information,” says Yarabek. “Store owners need to know as much as they can about their customer base [to choose the most appealing products]. Collecting demographic information is easy, although it is time-consuming.”
And finally, when it comes to beauty retail, less often means more. For example, “less square footage often means more sales, which translates into more profit,” says Yarabek.
Similarly, less product inventory makes it more enjoyable for a consumer to choose a product, whereas an extraordinary amount of products on the shelf “feels overwhelming,” adds Yarabek.
While strategically selecting product requires a certain amount of background work and self-control to edit accordingly, the final result is well worth the effort. A niche beauty supply, rather than a general beauty supply establishment, can build better brand loyalty and notably increase profits. Beauty Store Business spoke to four beauty store owners who have mastered the art of product selection, albeit in very different ways. Following are their stories.
Although she founded her company in 2009, Stacey Stilts is no stranger to the beauty industry. Her first foray into good-for-you beauty was 18 years ago as an executive with mineral makeup brand Bare Escentuals. This business experience, along with a childhood set on a family farm in Missouri, proved the springboard that launched her passion for natural-beauty products.
However, back then, says Stilts, there was nowhere to go for natural products other than a health-food store. Armed with the mission to change the status quo, Stilts founded Green Line Beauty, an innovative retail boutique in the heart of Los Angeles. Green Line Beauty concentrates all of its efforts on offering natural skin care and cosmetics, as well as educating consumers on the benefits of a natural-beauty lifestyle. Most of its products are prestige in nature, and all vendors meet rigorous standards and submit to a two-week test before the product is carried regularly.
The retailer’s products are offered in a range of categories, such as skin care, cosmetics, men’s products, body care, children’s products and even pet options. The company advertises that it is “always eco-conscious, toxin-free, cruelty-free, paraben-free, SLS-free, fair trade, organic and made from the purest-sourced natural ingredients.” Given these high standards and a very specific focus, product selection is taken seriously.
“It’s not that difficult to decide which products are a fit,” says Stilts. Ingredients are researched to make sure that they are indeed natural, safe, and that they were not sourced from China. Formulas must not be tested on animals. Products must imbue the look and feel of prestige, as well as be effective. “You can’t just go into Whole Foods and purchase these products. We offer things that you can’t find elsewhere,” adds Stilts.
Once the preliminary product selection is complete, vendors submit a two-week supply of their products. Sales associates—women who range in age from 20 to 40 and who ascribe to a natural lifestyle—test the products to make sure there is interest and activity at the store level. If the product passes all of these standards, then it becomes a regular fixture.
Due to its Los Angeles location, Green Line Beauty hosts a large celebrity clientele. Other demographics include those who have recently been diagnosed with cancer and women who are pregnant. While their underlying motives vary, a common thread through these demographics is the desire for prestige natural products.
Tailoring product to a specific niche was a natural choice for Stilts—and one that has yielded many benefits. “There have been no disadvantages,” says Stilts. “We do all the research on the products, and we try so hard. Although we’ve only been open since 2009, our clients are very loyal.”
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It’s a beauty store, but you won’t find things like glittery nail polish, ruby red lipstick or rose-scented fragrance. That’s because Grooming Lounge targets a clientele that most beauty retailers do not: men.
More specifically, “Our niche is really men looking to upgrade their grooming routine and handsomeness quotient. Our brand is regarded as upscale and classic, with a bit of an edge,” says Michael Gilman, co-founder. “We really just aim for men who want to look and feel better.”
Founded in 1999 by men with experience in the fashion industry, Grooming Lounge’s initial launch was online at groominglounge.com. Since then, the concept has grown to include two brick-and-mortar locations—billed as upscale barbershops and men’s spas—in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia, as well as a line of custom-formulated men’s shaving and haircare solutions sold alongside other products. The brick and mortars also offer services, such as men’s haircuts, hot lather shaves and buff manicures in an intentionally masculine setting.
In addition to men’s shaving and haircare supplies, typical product inventory also includes well-chosen selections from skin care, hand and nail tools, body-grooming tools and travel-related categories. An overarching standard no matter what the category is excellent product performance and brand appropriateness.
“We literally try everything before it can go on our site or store shelves. Our corporate office tests the products, our barbers and skincare professionals test the products. We want and need to make sure they fit the bill,” says Gilman.
The company sees no disadvantages to being a niche beauty supplier. “On the plus side, it’s great to be one of the few that carries many of the products and lines we represent,” says Gilman. “There are plenty of places out there that sell stuff for women. Guys need and want a place of their own—a place that stocks a large array of men’s products and that has the information men need to use these products with confidence.”
Founded in 2006 by John and Jennifer Graham, The Apothecary Newport is well suited for the legendary neighborhood it serves. It is located in Newport, Rhode Island, and is situated between the famous mansion-studded cliff walk and prestigious Bellevue Avenue. The company focuses on selling sophisticated, fun beauty products, as well as offering services such as skincare consultations, waxing, spray tans and customized facials.
Its target audience is females ages 25 through 65, and its product categories include skin care, cosmetics, hair care, fragrance and sun protection. Despite a diverse product offering, “We don’t carry general supply brands,” shares Jennifer Graham. “We need to have more exclusive beauty brands than your general beauty supply.”
Some of the brands carried at The Apothecary Newport include MD Skincare by Dr. Dennis Gross and Stila Cosmetics. Aside from its exclusivity factor, Graham determines which product inventory to carry by examining the track record of the product in the industry. “They need to be result-oriented. The science of the skincare product or cosmetic is very important to us. Clients are savvy these days, so we need to carry proven products and know how the products deliver,” she says.
In addition to offering effective products to an upscale clientele, the store places emphasis on exemplary customer service. The staff includes skincare specialists and makeup artists who provide a “non-rushed, no-pressure experience,” says Graham.
When starting their company, the Grahams dismissed the idea of becoming a discount retailer because online shops made it hard to compete on price. Instead, a niche beauty store serving the prestige market proved the perfect solution. “To be successful, we need to offer clients more, and we feel niche-focused beauty boutiques create an experience for customers, which helps with our overall customer retention,” says Graham.
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Kim Matheson’s road to the spa industry started at a Marriott. While working for the global hotel brand, a chance assignment allowed her to discover her love for spa management. Her career eventually led to the management of several spas, including the elite Peninsula Spa in New York City, as well as global consulting to help develop new spas in areas including the United States, Moscow and Dubai.
Matheson founded www.MySpaShop.com more than three years ago as a way to reach more people with the spa concept. “My intent with MySpaShop.com was to focus on lifestyle, beauty, fitness and well-being,” says Matheson. Although categories vary widely, all products that are sold on the site are products Matheson has used within a spa and wellness setting. She adds, “With MySpaShop.com, we use lines that are known specifically within the spa industry. So they are high-integrity products, and we’ve selected them because we know they work.”
The company currently operates only in the online space; however, it has developed a unique affiliate partnership with several brick-and-mortar spas. The spas direct customers to the ecommerce site for in-between-visit supplies and receive back a portion of the retail sales profits. In addition to products, the website offers a strong educational component, tapping professionals to write content on do-it-yourself spa and wellness treatments.
Matheson says the audience demographic is similar to a typical spa-going profile, slightly skewed toward higher male demographics due to their propensity to shop online. “That means it is 65% female, aged 35 to 55, college educated for the most part, with a household income of about $100,000 or more,” she adds. While this demographic makes up the largest share of sales, there is also a notable trend in frugal customers who tend to buy nail supplies and complete their manicures and pedicures at home, says Matheson.
“Our hands and feet category surprised us,” says Matheson. “It has been really busy. We’ve sold a lot of things like pedicure socks, nail polish and foot scrubs.”
A niche beauty business related to the spa industry was the only place Matheson saw herself. She says she never considered opening a general beauty supply. “We all have our own journey. My journey—though I didn’t see it coming—has been committed to spa and everything the spa world includes, like aromatherapy, therapeutic treatments, fitness and beauty. That’s where I set my life, and that’s what I’m passionate about. I believe in it.”
She says that it’s important for beauty store owners to sell what they believe in. As for Matheson, “I think it’s easy for us and our customers to know MySpaShop.com is going to have items that can be found in a spa or wellness center. If you have a vision and a lifestyle that you can believe in and recommend, it doesn’t make sense to do things outside of that.”
Leah Genuario is a Hawthorne, NJ-based freelance writer. She is the former editor of Beauty Packaging.