If you were overseas and wanted to find products from skincare brand Rodial, you would have to go to an upmarket department store such as Selfridges & Co and Harvey Nichols in the United Kingdom and Nordstrom in the United States.
But here in Singapore, the London-based brand can now be found at three Guardian Health and Beauty stores.
The brand was among 15 new ones brought in by the chain pharmacy in November last year to its new flagship store - Guardian Plus - at Takashimaya Shopping Centre.
These were not your typical pharmacy brands, such as Avene and L'Oreal.
For instance, Rodial products start at $39 for the Stemcell Lip Balm and top out at $299 for the Bee Venom Serum. Other less mainstream brands at the store include Swiss brand Skincode and Korean brand Dr. Jart+.
Just a few doors away from Guardian Plus is the Watsons flagship store, which re-opened in 2012.
For its first anniversary last year, the store brought in new brands, such as British brand Collection Cosmetics and local brand BeautyBiotics.
With changing demands and demographics and the entry of new competition from South Korean beauty brands, Singapore's main pharmacy chains have had to up their game to become bigger players in the beauty market.
Ms Sarah Boyd, chief operations officer of Guardian, says the company has in the last four years been actively looking to stock beauty brands exclusive to it, such as Boots.
"When it comes to beauty, you need to give women the luxury of choice if you want to be a player in the industry," says Ms Boyd. "We don't want customers to feel like they can't get everything here."
For most of its history, Guardian, which was founded in 1972, has been viewed primarily by shoppers as a pharmacy and health store first, and personal care and beauty products store second.
And though beauty products make up just 35 per cent of all its products, this is the growth area, says Ms Boyd.
The company had a 4 per cent increase in sales from cosmetics and skincare last year over 2012.
"The health element of our business is still very important, but it is also important to give customers an overall opportunity to shop," says Ms Boyd.
NEW STORE CONCEPTS
The Hong Kong-based Watsons entered the retail landscape here as a beauty and personal store 26 years ago, though it also dispenses drugs. About 70 per cent of its products are beauty and personal care products and the rest fall under health.
Its merchandising director, Ms Olive Tai, says the company has been feeling the heat from new Korean brands setting up shop here.
"We want to excite consumers, so it is important that we bring in new brands," she says, noting as well that Watsons brings in at least 15 new-to-market beauty brands every year.
"We look to countries like Taiwan, France, Japan and South Korea as they are known for making products that are effective."
For instance, the company introduced Japanese skincare brand DHC five years ago to the Singapore market after it was recommended on popular Taiwanese fashion and beauty show Lady First.
Aside from adding to offerings, both Guardian and Watsons are also providing a better shopping experience in their flagship stores and sporting updated looks.
At the 8,500 sq ft flagship Guardian Plus - the average Guardian outlet is 1,500 sq ft - parts of the store are clearly labelled so customers can easily find what they need.
Two 46-inch touchscreens allow shoppers to call up information on products, prices and promotions.
There is a dedicated corner for men, with skincare products and grooming tools like shavers.
Services, such as hair and skin analyses, are also available.
In fact, the Invisible Pigmentation Visualizer machine by skincare brand Eucerin and the Phyto scalp analysis machine are important aspects of Guardian Plus, says Ms Boyd, who joined Guardian nine months ago, having worked previously for Bourjois cosmetics and the L'Oreal group.
"We don't want customers to come here and feel pressured to buy a particular thing. We want them to understand their problems," she says.
Guardian Plus has a space in the middle of the store for brands to use to promote products and give talks.
The four-month-old flagship store will be a test bed for new products and services before they are rolled out to other Guardian stores in Singapore, says Ms Boyd. There are 153 in total.
Currently, there are seven other Guardian stores, such as those in Ion Orchard and Parkway Parade, which reflect the new store concept. Apart from looking brighter, the new store concept also includes a new Guardian logo.
The brand will be opening 12 more concept stores this year.
Watsons is also embarking on a more aggressive drive to boost its profile as a player in the beauty market.
At its flagship store, the Eucerin and Phyto skin and scalp analysis machines are also available.
Brands such as Bio-Essence and BeautyBiotics also have their own counters and not just shelves - much like what you would find at a department store.
Yesterday, the company launched Watsons on Wheels, a mobile Watsons store that will travel to tertiary institutions and various open spaces near shopping centres.
Each month, it will work with one brand stocked at Watsons to sell products. It may also offer services, such as makeovers and manicures, on board the bus.
The initiative kicks off with cosmetics brand Maybelline this month.
Come September, it will produce a beauty show on Channel 8. It produced another beauty show about four years ago.
The company also plans on launching a new store concept in the later part of the year, though details are not yet available.
Ms Tai notes that the company is currently trying out something new at its Jem mall branch in Jurong, which has a dedicated section for Japanese skincare and make-up brands.
"We are doing all this so that when people think of beauty products, they will think of Watsons," says Ms Tai.
CHANGING PROFILE OF CUSTOMERS
Mr Allan Chia, head of the marketing programme at SIM University, says the changes at these companies are no surprise.
"This could be to cater to the changing profile of its customers. Consumers these days are willing to spend more on skincare and haircare products," says Mr Chia.
Data from market research company Euromonitor shows that Singapore's beauty and personal care market grew to US$1.46 billion (S$1.85 billion) last year, a 5.8 per cent increase from 2012.
This value is expected to reach US$1.53 billion (S$1.94 billion) by the end of this year.
Brands now represented at Watsons and Guardian stores welcome the increased array of choice as benefiting them too.
Says Ms Willin Chen, brand manager of Japanese skincare brand Hada Labo: "As they bring in more brands, they are also bringing in more customers. As a consumer myself, I would want to go to a store with a huge variety."
She declined to reveal sales figures but Hada Labo has been stocked at Watsons for four years and Guardian for two.
For some of the new premium brands, the Guardian Plus store image is a draw.
"Maybe 15 years ago, it was not very fancy to go to Guardian to buy beauty products, says Prince Niclas Massalsky, president of Skincode. In general, he feels Guardian stores in Singapore look more luxurious than pharmacies abroad.
With a price range of $46 to $228, Skincode is pricier than the typical pharmacy skincare brand.
But Prince Massalsky expresses confidence about sales.
"As long as there is quality, people will be willing to pay," he says.
Customers are happy with the changes at Watsons and Guardian.
Bank employee Jaclyn Ng, 27, who shops at Watsons once a week, says the Watsons flagship store feels less cluttered and has better signs than its other outlets.
"At the Ngee Ann City outlet, there are also fewer beauty products being sold on makeshift shelves. Most are now stocked on proper shelves, which gives the store a more organised and less discount store-like feel," she says.
Sales executive Rachel He, 30, says she hopes Guardian will bring in more "really effective" brands such as Rodial.
"If they're in a pharmacy, more people will discover them as we go there so often to pick up daily essentials," she says.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 7, 2014
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