Maly Bernstein, vice president of beauty and personal care, discusses the retailer's radical makeover of the category via new concept stores featuring trendy brands and immersive experiences—including Glamsquad salon services

A “trending now” wall of Instagram-driven makeup brands, K-Beauty shops curated by Korean-beauty influencer Alicia Yoon. Sounds like the makings of some hipster DTC upstart? Try CVS.

The drugstore chain’s four new BeautyIRL stores introduce a radical makeover of the category, nearly doubling the space devoted to the business in a redesign that spotlights indie brands and on-demand salon services via a new partnership with Glamsquad.

Taking a page from specialty chains like Sephora and Ulta: The concept stores reimagine beauty to encourage shopper discovery of new brands and trends, playing host to popup shops and fresh “breakthrough” experiences, like a Test-And-Play hygiene bar.

In recent years, the drugstore chain has worked to elevate the beauty departments across its store fleet, adding more niche, organic brands and trend-driven displays. Maly Bernstein, vice president of beauty and personal care for CVS Health, spoke with PSFK on how the BeautyIRL stores mark a dramatic evolution of that push, with the goal of expanding the concept to more stores next year and beyond.

PSFK: How does the new store concept reflect CVS’s overall direction in beauty and its competitive positioning in the marketplace today? What are some of the biggest growth opportunities in beauty that are reflected in the store?

Maly Bernstein: I think overall, it’s an incredibly exciting time in beauty—giving retailers like CVS Pharmacy a way to revolutionize the in-store beauty experience. Because of social influence, the beauty customer has rapidly evolving expectations of what they want to experience in store, and meeting those customer expectations is at the very heart of the BeautyIRL store design. We wanted customers to be able to discover and play with popular, social beauty brands and trends in real life—making them more accessible and tangible. We didn’t look at this project as just a new merchandising strategy—our team put a lot of thought into how we could make our customers feel inspired and have fun. Taking ideas from outside of beauty, we have a carnival cart of bath bombs, a newsstand of K-Beauty facial masks, hanging K-Beauty hand creams inspired by hanging paint tubes.

Our partnership with Glamsquad also uniquely positions us in the market, allowing us to give our customers personalized access to professional makeup artists for beauty expertise and product recommendations. It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to deliver an omnichannel service experience to customers.

What's behind the move to add hair and makeup services in partnership with Glamsquad, and how does this reflect a changing shopper?

We are committed to providing a next-generation beauty experience—which is why we are excited about our exclusive retail partnership with Glamsquad, a technology-driven beauty services company and community of beauty professionals. They are leaders in on-demand beauty services and we are partnering with them to unlock their expertise and capabilities to create new beauty services and experiences for our customers. Services offered in these new BeautyIRL stores will include express hair styling, makeovers and mini services. Currently, we are testing ways to ensure a seamless customer experience at each store, including both walk-in service and “book-in-advance” digital options.

Since its launch in 2014, Glamsquad has disrupted the beauty industry by using technology to deliver personalized and convenient beauty service experiences to customers, making an exciting partner for us. CVS’s partnership with GlamSquad underscores the importance of retail’s evolution in offering differentiating services and experiences, including within the beauty space. This partnership is an opportunity to deliver an omnichannel service experience to existing and new customers and provide an avenue for customer application and sampling of the new product offerings.

Last year's mock prototype store in New York City showcased beauty trends and what’s buzzing on social networks. What’s on the “TrendingNow” wall in the BeautyIRL stores and why?

I am incredibly lucky to have a team of true beauty lovers who naturally follow social trends and who are already familiar with the new, niche brands that are emerging online—our passion for beauty unites and excites us.

In our BeautyIRL stores, we wanted to create a mix of classic and new, socially driven brands making their mark in the evolving beauty landscape—especially among millennials and Gen Z. This is a job that’s never considered complete as we’re continuously looking to discover and feature up-and-coming, relevant brands both in these new BeautyIRL stores and across our national footprint. We looked at what brands were being coveted online—with robust social following—and offered the latest in color, ingredients, hydration, scents at prices that invite our customers to try the trends and treat themselves.

On our “now trending” wall, we wanted to create a destination in-store where customers can discover and test these new brands themselves. On the wall, and throughout the new BeautyIRL stores, you’ll see new brands like StoryBook, Zoella, Karity, Zum and other new indie brands we have introduced across our national footprint like Peri Pera, Crème Shoppe and Wunder2.

Is the “create your own” sample bar a nod to the rise of subscription-box services?

Mini-beauty products are hot right now—and we wanted to have fun with the concept, allowing our customers to create their own perfect mix of fun travel sized products in a cute, free-with-purchase cosmetics bag that comes in three sizes and will feature a new, fresh pattern and design throughout the year. For $5, $10 or $15 customers can fill a small, medium or large bag with a mix of our 168 fun beauty must-haves—like dry shampoo and face masks—from more than 60 brands like DaBomb Bath Fizz, Formula 10.0.6, Frudia, JiiNJU and Hask. It’s a fun concept we thought would be ideal for travel, make a great gift or just indulge a beauty lover’s desire to try new brands and product.

Tell us more about the testers.

Testers and hygiene bars, featuring micellar water, mirrors and cotton rounds are available to inspire play and exploration of all of the new brands and products. CVS beauty consultants staff these locations and are trained to ensure testers remain clean and hygienic.

What do you hope to gain from this four-store test in terms of enhancing CVS's beauty performance?

This year our beauty business is growing faster than the market, gaining share across nearly all of our beauty categories. Beauty is an important part of our front-store sales growth strategy, and a primary way for us to attract younger millennial and Gen Z customers.

We are also looking for ways to engage with new, emerging brands with a strong social community and to help make them even more accessible to beauty enthusiasts nationwide.

What's the rollout strategy for the format?

Our approach is always to test and learn and that’s what we will do with these stores, with the goal of expanding in 2019 and beyond.

CVS Health

CVS is just one major retailer responding to consumer trends with updated merchandising and store design. For more ideas from similar inspirational brands, see PSFK's reports and newsletters.