As Walgreens continues to diversify its assortment to better meet the beauty and wellbeing needs for all, hair and scalp care are being given special emphasis, in particular textured hair, the fastest growing segment in the category. Here, Sara Mullins, Senior Category Manager, Hair Care, Walgreens, talks to CEW Beauty News about the recent revamp of the hair care section in many Walgreens stores by doubling the space devoted to textured hair, how she stays connected to consumers’ unique needs, and the ongoing efforts to broaden inclusive offerings in local communities.

BN: When did you begin your review process to add new hair care brands at Walgreens? What drove this decision?

Sara Mullins: We kicked off our review process in April 2021. The first step was to look at the overall macro environment to understand what is trending in the market, what consumers are concerned about, and whether we were meeting those concerns because hair is frequently linked to chronic conditions. Walgreens strives to be the leading partner in reimagining local health care and wellbeing. We always have a customer-first mindset when we think about adding new products to our shelves. After that, we refine our specific strategy of where we want to position Walgreens to win. That’s where we landed on scalp health and textured hair. In addition, we took this opportunity to ensure that we are showing up as the expert for health for both. Our beauty consultants and pharmacists are trained to answer questions and support customers in item selection with regards to skin products and care needs. They have a unique relationship with customers and each other where our pharmacists can give a warm handoff to a beauty consultant who can then walk the customer through the aisle to find the right solutions for their needs.

BN: How would you describe your current product mix?

SM: Over the last several years, we have elevated and differentiated beauty and personal care at Walgreens. The major macro-space change and assortment in hair care was the next major step on that journey to become even more relevant and differentiated in the communities we serve. Specifically, around 70 percent of overall consumers nationwide have a form of textured hair, which is the fastest growing segment in hair. In the majority of our stores, we were only dedicating three feet to that department. So we saw that as an opportunity to grow and better serve those consumers. We collaborated with multiple internal teams to determine where we could double our textured hair space. Going from three to six feet or beyond, and changing macro-space across a 9,000-store chain, is a true labor of love. We were able to affect around 4,000 stores in this first year. The goal is to continue that work by providing more inclusive offerings to our shoppers with brands and products they are looking for. A great example of this are the many Black-owned and female-owned textured hair brands that we carry. Walgreens partners with diverse entrepreneurs to help grow their brands. Two brands that we are proud to partner with are Mielle Organics and Miss Jessie’s, both of which are growing within that space. We also recently launched a new page on our website that highlights Black-owned and founded brands, making it easier for consumers to shop and support these businesses.

BN: How did you select which brands to add? What research led to your selections?

SM: As part of the assortment review process, we spent about two months meeting with both current and new suppliers, and reviewed thousands of new products. I personally also start by looking at Google trends. I like to see what ingredients or brands are trending and which are starting to decline. If I see that a customer is searching for something, then I know that there’s a need. I then look to see if it is in our assortment, and how much space we are dedicating to it. From there, we review our internal data with our insights team, and we have supplier insights to focus on those white space opportunities, including what needs to be expanded and deleted, and what isn’t working. We are looking to incorporate more diverse brands at our April Supplier Diversity Summit (April 5 – 8) where we are inviting diverse vendors to pitch their products.

BN: At what point does price come into the equation? Do you have a good, better, best model?

SM: We analyze the assortment in a lot of ways. We want to make sure that both our current assortment and innovation offers solutions at all price points. Given that we are a 9,000-plus store chain, we have to make sure that we are meeting shoppers across the broad spectrum of communities we serve. We also track what items have very high loyalty rates and high repeat purchase rates. We look at hair concerns and make sure that we are evaluating the assortment of product categories so that we have the right mix of shampoo and conditioner versus treatment and styling, and so on.

BN: When does the new merchandise mix rollout start?

SM: All 9,000 stores will get new products. Hair care, textured hair and hair appliances launched early January.  And hair color and hair accessories will launch mid-February. In total, we should see completion by early March. We were able to do macro-space footage changes to about 4,000 stores, but all stores will see new products.

BN: How will consumers learn about all this newness? What are your promotion plans?

SM: We have displays in-store regarding innovation and a lot of those items are also running promotions. They have coupons currently running to drive trial, which are all accessible through our website and via our app. I am super excited that we have new data and media capabilities that enable us to create custom marketing programs for brands, whether for a small brand or a very large brand. Through our nearly 95 million myWalgreens loyalty members we can connect to the right target.

BN: You have 95 million loyalty customers? That’s amazing!

SM: Yes. Approximately 75 percent of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a Walgreens.  We have a huge loyalty base and a lot of our marketing work revolves around mass personalization when it comes to reaching our consumers. Through mass personalization and our myWalgreens loyalty program we are able to share personalized offers with customers who have an affinity for this category. Plus, with Walgreens Advertising Group, brands have the ability to partner with us to tailor campaigns to the size of their company and their ambitions for growth. We are seeing fantastic returns on the campaigns that we have launched so far. We’re excited to leverage that new capability to drive our new assortment. We also have 3,000 beauty consultants in our beauty differentiation stores. Throughout the year, they’ll be hosting different in-store events. We have events like Diversity is Beautiful, National Curly Hair Day, and we also do Senior Day events. That’s an opportunity for beauty consultants to promote innovation and introduce consumers to new brands throughout the year.