City Chemist, a boutique pharmacy in the bustling heart of downtown Brooklyn on Montague Street, has a beauty department that comprises more than half the store and serves as an enclave for well-heeled residents. And with a product mix including Estee Lauder, Fresh, Laura Mercier, Smashbox, Caudalie, Clarins, Butter London, Mario Badescu, Stila, Philosophy, Anthony Logistics, the Art of Shaving and OPI, it’s hard to find a reason to go anywhere else. Diana Dolling-Ross, founder and owner of City Chemist, as well as Town & Country Apothecary in Ridgewood, N.J., sat down with Beauty Insider to discuss her recipe for success.
Beauty Insider: How did you get involved bringing upscale names to pharmacies?
DDR: Back in 1994, I walked into Town & Country and noticed that this old pharmacy carried Clinique and Estee Lauder. I applied for a job and when I met with the original owner, I asked him how he had these brands. He informed me that Leonard Lauder was his mother’s sales rep and that Town & Country was the first store in the state of New Jersey to carry the Estee Lauder brand.
BI: What was your vision for the store?
I saw this as an opportunity to build an upscale independent beauty apothecary; complete with spa room and services. I rather naively thought that since my idea was so unique the brands would come willingly!
BI: Did prestige agree to sell to you?
DDR: I approached many companies during the next few years only to be told “we do not sell to drug stores.” So, in an effort to appeal to the prestige market, I eliminated the mass brands, created an aggressive promotional calendar, convinced Clinique and Estee Lauder to let me offer my customer GWP, hired beauty associates and began my quest for acquiring additional brands.
BI: Was there a turning point?
DDR: Yes! I was turned down repeatedly by too many brands to mention. Then, the heavens opened up and the approval was given for me to carry La Mer! I knew that La Mer would catapult Town & Country to the next level. La Mer was carried around the store on silver platters. I sent formal invitations. My pharmacists wore tuxedos and the sales associates wore formal dresses adorned with corsages. We offered demonstrations. The store was packed with women and we sold out!
BI: Did you ever meet Leonard Lauder in your quest to build Town & Country into a makeup mecca?
DDR: I had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Lauder several times with my former boss and the original owner of Town & Country, Paul Emmanuel. I told him about my idea and unlike many industry people, he did not dismiss my ideas; instead he listened. I was so impressed by his enthusiasm and open mindedness for the beauty industry!
BI: Describe what makes City Chemist different.
DDR: Products are never sold to the customer; instead products are sold for the customer. In-store demonstrations and individual consultations are conducted to create an individualized beauty profile. There’s a continuous communication between the sales associates and their clients.