Kohl's puts best face forward

August 19, 2005|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Stacey Baddock was shopping for her college-bound daughter at Kohl's this week when Ashley Judd's glowing visage, smiling from a backlit beauty counter, enticed her to browse.

"I could kick myself!" says Baddock of Owings Mills, the back of her hand smeared with shades of apricot and cinnamon. "I just bought a lipstick for $16, and they have one here I like for $10!"

Nearby, Kohl's executives - observing at the new Timonium store on Ridgely Road - smiled.

Because of course that's the point of Kohl's celebrated Beauty Bank - a full-fledged beauty counter stocked with four lines of professional makeup and skin care, created exclusively for Kohl's by cosmetics giant Estee Lauder. It's all about comparable beauty products for a reasonable price, and a high-end department store experience - complete with helpful smocked beauty consultants - at a suburban, shopping-center location.

"It just blew me away when I saw all these products," says Baddock, a frequent Kohl's shopper. "It's got great presentation. And it's got the products that you want at the price you want."

It's the combination of those factors that is helping Kohl's to grow its customer base.

While other longtime clothiers - including department stores such as Hecht Co. - struggle mightily to keep their customers, Kohl's is continuing to open 88,000-square-foot stores across the country.

The week-old Timonium store where Baddock was browsing at the Beauty Bank is having its grand opening today. And the company has announced plans to open a Salisbury store in October, bringing the total number of Kohl's stores to 11 in Maryland and approximately 675 nationwide. "What they're trying to do is definitely to be identified as a retailer that sells exclusive national brands that give value, in locations that are easily accessible," says Natalie Weathers, professor in the fashion industry management department at Philadelphia University in Pennsylvania. "They sell moderately priced clothes. Their stores are scaled-down department-store format. And they've started to get exclusive licensing deals."

For example, Kohl's has an exclusive deal with Candies shoes and is the only retailer to carry the Daisy Fuentes brand of apparel. They've also recently linked up with Quiksilver and boarder Tony Hawk to sell surfer/skater gear - one of the hottest-selling fashion trends among the suburban teen set.

Partnerships such as those resonate with consumers who want high-end store experiences without staggering price tags.

"It's for those people who don't want to shop at Wal-Mart and can't afford Bloomingdale's," says Renu Dalal-Jain, an image consultant with clients from California to Baltimore. "Kohl's clients are middle-class families and younger fashion-savvy kids who also shop at JCPenney, Sears and Target."

The Beauty Bank is another of Kohl's unique selling points. Unlike a Target or Wal-Mart, which line up cosmetics drugstore-style in row after endless row, Kohl's cosmetics section is set up more like a scaled-down Sephora, bright, orderly and smartly compartmentalized. And where department stores bombard customers with associates trolling for commissions, Beauty Bank advisers offer advice only when asked.

"If they want to sort of browse and play by themselves, they can," says Kerry Paulsen, the Timonium store's beauty department supervisor.

Last week, Paulsen and beauty specialist Chryslynne Gray helped Clary Thomas decide between two moisturizers, one from the higher-end American Beauty line that Judd represents and one from the earthier Grassroots line. In the end, Thomas, of Lutherville, was shocked to find a $16 Grassroots cream made of bergamot and lemon that made her senior citizen skin feel as hydrated as her trusted $80 Lancome brand.

That's because Beauty Bank employees know what they're doing.

"Before they can wear a smock and service customers, they have to go to an Estee Lauder beauty school and be licensed by the state of Maryland," says Darryl Harriday, vice president/district manager for Kohl's.

"Again," says image consultant Dalal-Jain, "this makes the clients with champagne tastes and beer budgets feel as if they are getting something special for their money. It's also noteworthy because none of the stores considered to be Kohl's competitors have this."

You don't have to say that twice to Stacey Baddock, who left Kohl's this week with a lipstick, a liner and a face cream.

"Most of the time, when I've been [at other cosmetics counters], they've ignored me," she says. "And these products are really comparable. ... And the prices are better here than anywhere."

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