Talk about pivot.

Sonia Khemiri and Sylvie Giret were set to open a physical beauty store in Soho in early spring. The concept was to create a space mixing a trade show, a showroom and a retail store under one roof. Handpicked brands, mostly indies, would be featured in an environment designed to provide a point of entry for brands where they could educate consumers about their concepts.

Then the Coronavirus hit.

The duo quickly shifted gears to transform the concept online—literally. While most ecommerce sites just show images and descriptions of products, Sonia and Sylvie’s Beautyque NYC is a 3D shopping site duplicating the look and feel of the real store. Shoppers can even virtually browse shelves. “Our 3D store is conceived to recreate the physical sensations of being in a real store and allows for customers to walk around as if they were in an actual store,” said Sonia, calling it a safe experience in the “new normal” of COVID-19. Visitors can “walk” around and zoom in and out to learn more about the brands and products. The store is linked to a website that features a shopping section.

In a twist, launching online proved beneficial since consumers can’t currently visit physical stores. “And we offer brands who don’t have thousands of dollars to spend to be visible. For consumers, they can shop in a serene environment where they aren’t overwhelmed,” said Sonia.

While omnichannel was always part of the founders’ playbook, the timeline was altered by the pandemic. The brick and mortar store remains in the pipeline at the right time. Online or in stores, Sonia and Sylvie are laser focused on emerging brands, a niche market they know personally as brand creators.

“We want to provide a place for emerging brands to engage directly with consumers,” says Sylvie explaining those brands don’t always have the time to attend tradeshows or the resources to meet large retailer requirements. “We felt it was a white space.” Examples are Sylvie’s own Skinergies, a clean skin care brand that requires a high-level of education, and Sonia’s own Sunia K. Cosmetics, a luxurious skin care oil that requires demonstration.

In tandem with Beautyque, upstart brands can engage with consumers in a controlled avenue to help determine their expansion potential. Unlike traditional retailers, there is no performance time frame brands must meet to remain in the mix. “We have common objectives with our brand partners to grow and expand their reach. Some will take longer,” said Sonia, noting that since the format is a mixture of retail, tradeshow and showroom, it is not possible to use typical performance grades.

There are three basic pillars the founders eye when curating the assortment: mission based, non-toxic but effective; a compelling founder story. “We want it to be purposeful; not to just make money,” explained Sylvie. “We like a mission behind a brand.”

Beautyque balances clean with performance. “We stay away from super clean requirements [of some retailers],” said Sylvie. “We want non-toxic but are willing to accept some ingredients that produce results.” The clean segment, the founders added, is already well represented by other retailers.

Sonia and Sylvie also like brands with a compelling founder story exemplified by its launch assortment of 16 brands in four categories, makeup, skin and body care, tools and devices and intimate care. The launch lines include: Amazing Cosmetics, Dome Beauty, Madame Gabriela Beauty, The Sexiest Beauty, For the Biome, Sweet + Kind, Lena & Lina San Francisco, Vera Moore Cosmetics & Skincare, Skinkick, Sunia K. Cosmetiques Authentiques, Si Skin Organics, Fresh Faced Skin Care, Skinergies, Croon, Snow and Rejucream. The brands range in sizes but are mostly mid-to-small companies. Prices range from $13 for a lip balm to over $299 for a Snow teeth-whitening kit. More categories are in the plans.

Currently, brands are drop shipping—especially due to COVID-19. Free shipping is included with orders.

Beautyque’s audience, said Sylvie, is not just trend driven. The format fosters an environment designed to expose site visitors to brands they might now know.

The company already has a database of thousands and is inviting membership in BeautyQlub. Prospective brands can also reach out online to Sonia and Sylvie at [email protected]

“We’re not just another e-tailer; we offer the sensation of walking around. And you don’t have to wear masks and gloves,” concluded Sylvie.