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Kiehl's makes inroads into elusive male cosmetics market

Among the makeover mirrors and sales people flashing fragrance spritzers, a different kind of boutique has set up shop in Dillard's cosmetics department in Brandon.

A human skeleton named Mr. Bones beckons the curious. Antique microscopes, pharmacy compounding tools and apothecary jars suggest something medicinal. A model stunt plane and a counter manager wearing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle pin hints that this place is not about the feminine mystique.

It's Kiehl's, a fast growing, unisex skin and hair care brand that's shaking up the staid world of luxury cosmetics.

"We're for the whole family: women, men, babies, even your horse and canine friends," said Chris Salgardo, president of Kiehl's USA (pronounced "keels"), a L'Oreal growth vehicle racking up double-digit sales gains despite a deep recession.

While 70 percent of customers are women, in New York and Los Angeles almost half are men.

That's unheard of in an industry where marketers confessed to making up the bogus "metrosexual" trend a few years ago to tap into the male market. Now they see Kiehl's as their best chance to get more men buying high end hair and skin care treatments.

"We keep it simple," Salgardo said. "No nonsense packaging. Free samples that eat up most of our ad budget. We let the products sell themselves."

Kiehl's grab-what-you-want counter contrasts with rivals who keep their elegantly packaged products locked under glass until a salesperson arrives.

Spurning most beauty products and stocking only eight of the 122 fragrances in its files, Kiehl's big sellers are skin moisturizers, shave and sun protection cremes, shampoos, rinses and a treatment for diaper rash. Names are practical: Dry Run Foot Creme, Razor Bump Relief, Baby Face and Body Wash and Epidermal Microabrasion cream. Pet shampoos include "spray and play" tonic that neutralizes doggy smell with no bath.

Kiehl's sells in its own 30 stores, online and locally at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. But now Dillard's signed to put 36 boutiques in department stores. The first local one officially opens in Westfield Brandon on Thursday with another coming to Westfield Countryside.

Some experts see Kiehl's as the next big thing in selling high-end cosmetics since Sephora, a French chain owned by Louis Vuitton LVMH that lets customers grab and try on a wide variety of lesser known luxury cosmetics on their own.

"Kiehl's changes the paradigm with a health and wellness approach that demystifies cosmetics," said Wendy Liebmann, chef executive of WSL Strategic Retail, a New York research firm. "There's no intimidating hocus-pocus. It feels authentic and fun."

The boutique is decked out to celebrate Kiehl's 1851 origin as an apothecary in New York's East Village and to create a pharmacy backdrop. There's no animal testing or aerosols. Men's products are fragrance free.

To help men shed reticence, the chain weaves in its history. Aaron Morris, a pharmacologist and pilot-race car driver who took over in the 1960s, parked his vintage Harley-Davidson collection and Lamborghini in the store to occupy husbands as their wives shopped. Free samples got them trying products, some of them made for athletes

Then came macho sponsorships: a Mount Everest expedition, endurance marathons and a parade of celebrity customers at charity fundraisers. From Andy Warhol, the lineup extends to Hollywood types like Julianne Moore, William H. Macy and Brad Pitt to artist Jeff Koons and rocker Fred Durst.

L'Oreal, the French cosmetics giant that makes everything from Maybelline to Lancome, bought Kiehl's in 2000. Since then, sales quadrupled, surging past $200 million in 2009.

Salgardo just returned from Kiehl's 11-day charity event-motorcycle run up the Pacific Coast on his own Harley.

"At the end of the day, I reminded riders to man up with our Midnight Recovery Concentrate to get that motorcycle wind damage off their faces."

Reach Mark Albright at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Kiehl's makes inroads into elusive male cosmetics market 08/16/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 11:58am]
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