FIRST LOOK: CVS unveils Beauty 360

WASHINGTON If anyone thinks that CVS has recast itself solely as a healthcare company, given its string of acquisitions in recent years, including Caremark and MinuteClinic, they certainly haven’t seen Beauty 360. The chain’s hot new beauty concept was introduced here. Monday afternoon at a special unveiling, at the chain’s newest Capitol district store, in the very center of Dupont Circle. In fact, depending upon which side of the store you are on, you may have a difficult time figuring out that you are in a CVS/pharmacy at all.

With a separate entrance onto busy Connecticut Avenue, Beauty 360 makes a major statement among the other shops that line the bustling shopping area. And it’s all about beauty. The store is lined with high-ticket department store and specialty skin care, cosmetics, men’s grooming and fragrance brands, such as, Borba, Ahara, Clarins, Elizabeth Arden and Juicy Couture, with price points as high as $140 or more for some items.

While some Canadian drug chains have taken a run at the high-end beauty business, at the moment there is clearly nothing on the U.S. retail pharmacy scene like Beauty 360. CVS executives believe that it will redefine the way that women shop for beauty, by putting a high-end, high-experience beauty concept right in the middle of the neighborhood. With more than 6,000 stores across America, the chain has plenty of options to put Beauty 360 into areas that over-index in beauty.

“For us, it is all about the evolution of where we have been. We believe this is a natural next step,” Mike Bloom, senior vice president of merchandising, told Drug Store News. “We think about it as a pyramid where everybody plays at the bottom of the pyramid and everybody has entered into the game and everybody carries the same products. Then you see some retailers sort of moved out of that and into proprietary brands and then into [in-store skincare centers]. So we believe the next evolution is this concept.”

Beauty 360 adds on to the core CVS beauty offering and builds on that, inviting trial among a new group of customers who may not have been purchasing these items in other channels, and perhaps saving other customers a separate trip to the department store. Located at the edge of the beauty quadrant of the store, breezeways at either end of the cosmetics wall invite customers to pass through into what is clearly a very different and extremely posh shopping experience.

Even if you entered through the CVS/pharmacy side of the store, which opens out to 19th St., there is no mistaking that there is something different going on here, with signage for Beauty 360 in clear view from the front door. The space—2,700-sq. ft., in the Dupont Circle store, but could range anywhere from 2,500 sq. ft., to 4,000 sq. ft.—with blue-greenish seafoam and brushed metal accents throughout, is lit up like a stage, inviting a level of customer interaction that borders on retail-theater, with expert staff on hand to help direct the experience. Special Innovation Stations, highlight product technology, while "Play Stations" allow for extensive product testing. Special beauty consultants are dedicated to the area, helping customers navigate product offerings and providing an array of signature services, including mini-manicures, express facials, hand massages and make-up application.

“It is really designed from a customer experience perspective so our folks can help customers identify the products that work for them, so it is very experiential,” said Eileen Howard Dunn, senior vice president of corporate communications for CVS Caremark.

The new store in Dupont Circle, uses the space that would have gone to pharmacy to carve out the home for Beauty 360. Given that CVS operates several other stores within walking distance of the new store, the fact that the Beauty 360 location doesn’t have a pharmacy is less an inconvenience as much as a decided point of differentiation from any other chain drug store in the district.

The next Beauty 360 location will open in early December at 25272 Marguerite Parkway in Mission Viejo, Calif. Certainly, with the recent announcement that it has finally closed its acquisition of more than 500 Longs Drugs stores, CVS will have plenty of options for fashion-forward locations to put Beauty 360.

CVS will promote Beauty 360 through direct mail and will also leverage its reach with more than 50 million customers through its ExtraCare loyalty program. Given the higher pricepoints for the merchandise in Beauty 360, the 2 percent-back ExtraCare rewards offers something beyond just convenience for CVS to compete against the department and specialty stores with. In addition, Beauty 360 customers will earn “Beautiful You” rewards, which can be redeemed for free Beauty 360 signature services.

But the major advantage that CVS will have over department store/specialty channel competitors, according to Bloom, is CVS’ real estate. The company estimates that more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within two miles of a CVS store and the chain sees about four million customers a day. That adds up to an awful lot of opportunity to grow Beauty 360.

“Convenience is really one of the key theories here. We have great real estate and are on the corner of Main and Main in many towns, cities, urban, suburban and rural. We are there, so for us it is right and we think it is the right time. … With the economy, her trip behavior today is different so if she can do even more one-stop shopping that is terrific,” said Bloom, who also referred to the struggles facing department stores today.

For an exclusive first-time look at the Beauty 360 store with comprehensive photos, click here. 

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