The new Story concept store in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, which serves as a pop-up-store-for-hire for brands ranging from American Express to USA Network's "Mr. Robot," brings in some 5,000 shoppers on its best days.
Major Coty brands such as CoverGirl, Rimmel and Sally Hansen long have lived in higher-traffic places like Walmart, which sees 140 million people weekly, or the drug stores that Manhattanites frequent.
So what does Coty have to gain from sponsoring Story's first beauty installation, which might at best bring through 100,000 shoppers?
For Shannon Curtin, senior VP of Coty and herself a veteran of Walgreens and Walmart, it's about learning how to do retail marketing in a new way.
"For us it's a ... living lab," Curtin says. "This is a way for us to try different things and see what sticks, what might be scaleable, and take the essence of what consumers thought was most engaging and start putting that through the market where it makes most sense."
Four mass Coty brands—the fourth is Clairol—are on display and available to anyone for the price of interacting with the in-store displays and the sharing of their experiences on social media. So, for example, people can get Sally Hansen polish after having their nails done at the do-it-yourself nail bar and sharing a photo on social media. Rimmel has a Vengo vending machine that asks guests to take selfies and share them, and an augmented-reality mirror from YouCam to try on products in the store. Clairol uses Perch Interactive's touch-screen display system to distribute its Color Crave range of temporary and semi-permanent shades. CoverGirl uses the Array, a 3-D portrait studio, to let customers take more sophisticated selfies.
The store isn't just filled with Coty brands and interesting retail marketing gadgets. Direct-to-consumer and other high-end brand products at prices ranging from $10 to $150—from brands including Diptyque, Harry's and Dr. Colbert—are also for sale. It's a miniature and tech-savvy take on channel-spanning beauty retailer Ulta, and for Coty it's a way to find how its mass brands can better compete in a beauty marketplace where walls between mass, prestige, online and offline are crumbling.
"This is part of our next year's journey, having our brands show up in unique and different ways," Curtin says. "We'll get a lot of information based on the interest in-store, then can lift and reapply to several markets across the U.S."
It's a quick learn for Curtin, who first talked with Story founder Rachel Shechtman four months ago. She believes the data will help convince retail executives like she once was to try Coty's ideas. She's hoping to bring as many as possible through during New York Fashion Week.
Shechtman says Coty's involvement helps showcase that about 15% of her store's traffic is what she calls "B to B," or people from all walks of retail passing through for inspiration.
Success for the Story sponsorship will mean Coty has "broken some boundaries to help our retailers see things in a new way," Curtin says. Coty will monitor the social interactions and hashtags generated by the installation to get a sense of what worked best.
"Experience is going to be an incredibly important part of growth for retailers that have traditionally been brick and mortar," Curtin says. "Essentially in the mass market, you're trying to find a way to elevate the space, because you don't want to replicate a department-store feel."
The YouCam AR Makeup Mirror, on display for use with Coty brands at Story, is designed to help women "experiment in seconds without having to worry about the hygiene or cleanliness of using samplers or the inconvenience of having to apply and remove makeup," says Adam Gam, VP-marketing of the app's owner, Perfect Corp.
While YouCam has been used at Macy's, Bloomingdales and Estee Lauder stores, Gam sees it as a potential draw for Coty at mass retailers that don't have beauty advisors or makeup counters, and the Story installation will help prove it can work in a wide range of settings.