In a world where groceries take center stage, it's not unheard of for personal care to get relegated to shelf space where the limelight doesn't shine—perhaps between the aisles of supplements and toilet paper. But your customers want the convenience of a one-stop shop, so you're selling added-value beauty products—often with relatively high price points.
To up the stakes even more, the higher price tags mean natural PC products compete more closely with department stores for sales than conventional grocery stores, says Stacey Stilts, national training and education manager for Zia Natural Skincare, based in Culver City, Calif. That said, few natural foods stores have marble countertops and a full-time staff of white coats to pamper anyone walking by. But a few thoughtful touches and a clued-in staff can bring personal care into the spotlight and instill the confidence your customers need to lay down their money for high-end PC products.
Setting the mood
"It's really important that people feel comfortable in the personal care aisle," says Cindy Young, personal care merchandiser for New Seasons Market, a nine-store chain in the northwestern United States. "These price points at a grocery store can be shocking," says the former account manager for Estée Lauder. But an artfully arranged PC department can stand out as a luxurious addition to your store.
While natural light is ideal for sampling cosmetics, extra lights on the makeup counter can make the colors pop, Young says. "We have smaller fluorescent lights under the bottom shelves over the lipstick display, and you can see all 26 shades." Young also had small dividers installed in her PC departments to break up the sometimes overwhelming masses of products and to keep shoppers' eyes from wandering.
A few mirrors and a stool invite shoppers to slow down and sample the wares, says Mia DiFrancesco-Licata, brand manager for Gardiner, N.Y.-based Kiss My Face. And even if you don't have a sink to wash up in, offering tissues and cotton balls for sampling—and cleaning up afterward—is key. "There's always that feeling in a retail store that you want to try something. People want to open a sealed item to try it, so they'll look around to see if anyone's watching," she says. "You want to avoid that; make people comfortable so they can pick it up and try it—you don't want them to have to take a wild guess on a product."
Sample with a purpose
"People like to touch," Young says. "Once you have a product on the person's skin, it's so inviting, it's almost a guaranteed sale," Stilts explains. And that doesn't just mean randomly handing out free samples or setting a basket of them on the counter—it means talking to customers to find their needs and skin types, offering specific matches. "It's important for the staff to try samples as well," DiFrancesco-Licata says. "And I often find that when sampling programs are good, you get a lot fewer returns, because people know what they're getting."
Keeping it clean
In the PC department—especially with testers—cleanliness is next to godliness. "It's such a turnoff to see color all over the place," DiFrancesco-Licata says of makeup displays. "People think, ?Did someone put this on their lips?'" A staff member should regularly monitor the area for spills, smears and used-up testers. Clean tester nozzles on bottles are much more appealing than clumped-up, grimy pumps, Stilts says. "This is one of my biggest pet peeves. You see buildup after about two days." She suggests keeping a spray bottle of natural sanitizer handy for quick wipe-downs. For lip gloss and mascara testers, cutting off the wand so shoppers have to use disposable cotton swabs will help keep things sanitary. And for lipsticks, Stilts suggests a gentle wipe from a paper towel sprayed with natural sanitizer.
Another hint from Stilts to boost your department's image: When you're labeling your testers, don't touch that Sharpie. Professionally printed labels give them an authoritative air. And be sure to refill or replace bottles when they get near the halfway mark, she says, because nobody wants to try a product that looks like it's already half used.
Though handing out samples is a great way to show customers you're confident in your products, demos are the best way to increase sales to regulars and attract new customers, Stilts says. Once you've decided on a product to feature, make sure your staff is highly educated about what they are promoting. "If you know nothing, you won't sell anything," Silts says, pointing out that ingredients are the biggest things people ask about. If you don't have a licensed aesthetician on staff, many personal care manufacturers will supply training or provide a representative to do the demo, Stilts says.
Once your staffer has learned about the featured product's manufacturer and ingredients, make sure he or she dresses the part. That means looking professional and distinct from the rest of the staff, Stilts says. For Zia, that translates to a white smock over a black top and black slacks or skirt.
If your PC department doesn't happen to have a countertop and sink to accommodate the demo, a table with a tablecloth can serve as a sampling platform. Stilts suggests building displays that incorporate products' ingredients, like fresh fruits or flowers.
I second that promotion
Young says there's a reason why mainstream PC companies like Estée Lauder and Lanc?me are so successful: They make people feel beautiful. "We might shun their ingredient list," she says, "but we should not shun their marketing."
New Seasons' body care department sales have doubled in the last two years, perhaps because, as Young puts it, "If you make it fun, you've always got to have new things." Her department's three licensed aestheticians provide free makeovers, which shoppers must sign up for in advance. And the staff keeps a file of what products people buy—with the customer's permission, of course—so they can send e-mails when those products go on sale, and so customers don't have to remember the exact product name of the multitude of offerings. New Seasons also offers makeover appointments for proms and weddings, and has a special supply of small gift bags for PC department employees to put high-end purchases in, helping avoid shoplifting and giving purchases a special feel. Young also suggests using travel-size products as gifts-with-purchase.
Getting creative with promotions and displays can set your PC department apart and help assure your shoppers that spending the extra nickel on naturals is worth it—for themselves and the environment.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 11/p. 16,20