SR: The nicest surprise was the volume this [Fifth Avenue flagship] store does. We’re not the smallest kid on the block. Take the Prada Candy launch; we did as much or more, week by week, as Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf’s. With the Clarins brand, this store does the most volume in all of New York City.
BI: What are the synergies coming out of the merger between the Bay and L&T?
SR: First let me say that the intention is to keep the companies separate because the two stores have such distinct personalities; they’ll never be one. That said, they share a wonderful commitment and enthusiasm for bringing the best to the customer—the best assortment, value and shopping experience.
BI: Have you discovered big differences in the Canadian and U.S. beauty customer?
SR: Before I got involved with L&T, I’d have said the Canadian consumer was much more skincare-oriented, especially in Quebec with the European influence. But it’s not the case.
BI: What’s new at the Bay?
SR: Largely because Bonnie [Brooks, HBC President & CEO] has worked so hard on making the Bay cool and fun and relevant again, we’re getting all kinds of opportunities from our vendors. We launched [Viktor & Rolf] Spicebomb exclusively at the Bay and it’s phenomenal; we’re triple the plan. Years ago, you wouldn’t have mentioned Margiela and the Bay in the same sentence. But now we carry the “untitled” fragrance line. Then there’s Beauty the Guide, our shoppable digital beauty magazine that launched in Canada last fall. It’s its own brand, owned by HBC—not a store vehicle. And as of September 6, the brand will be available to American customers through L&T. We’ve also started to include in some of our Bay ads the fact that there’s something complimentary every day, be it dramming [the Bay offers Estée Lauder Foundation] or a sample. You never have to leave the beauty department empty-handed.
BI: Are these innovations applicable to L&T, too?
SR: Sure. Beyond the digital e-commerce magazine and the don’t-leave-empty-handed approach, an initiative that’s gotten huge positive response at the Bay is our effort to broaden the shade range in foundations and concealers across our makeup brands, to serve every customer, every ethnicity. We have the same opportunity here at L&T. We’ll have more big L&T news in September that I can’t share right now, but I can tell you we’re opening a new L&T in Boca Raton in the fall and we’re looking for more space to bring additional brands and some services into the Fifth Avenue store.
BI: Where do you stand on the trend of department stores offering their own private label beauty products?
SR: Quite honestly, we don’t have that expertise. We will do some of our own gift items, but that’s different. In actual skin care, we’d need a whole slew of scientists; I wouldn’t be comfortable just going to a lab and saying, “This is what we want.” There are high margins and I understand why some retailers do it, but I’d rather work and invest with vendor partners who can do it better than we can.
BI: With all the other selling platforms around, what do you see as the role of the department store today?
SR: Department stores have always been about service, but years ago service meant barriers: that lady behind the counter. Sephora came along and did a great job of breaking down those barriers, and department stores went into a coma. Then self-serve went to extremes where women wasted a lot of time and money buying the wrong stuff—like buying two or three foundations before getting the right shade. The way I see it, service and open-sell aren’t antithetical. There’s a middle ground and department stores can capitalize on that. First, in building customer relationships—friendly relationships, more side-by-side than behind-and-in front-of-the-counter—with trained experts. Second, there are all the exciting things we can do real estate-wise, and in merchandising and animation. We’re completely focused on all the unique advantages a department store has.