Harmon Rebrands, Tweaks Mix

Brent Felgner, February 5, 2007

Bed Bath & Beyond has opened Face Values, its first freestanding Harmon beauty aids store in more than a year, rebranding it in an apparent effort to deliver greater name recognition to consumers through a nod to the small chain's off-price skin care and cosmetics focus.

The Harmon name has not been dropped completely but appears in smaller type above the Face Values logo. The store, with about 3,200 square feet of selling space, is smaller than most other Harmon freestanding units and even smaller than some Harmon departments inside the BBB stores.

Bed Bath & Beyond began introducing those store-within-a-store departments, some measuring about 3,600 square feet, shortly after it acquired the Harmon chain in March of 2002. At the end of its third fiscal quarter, Nov.26, 2006, Bed Bath & Beyond operated 795 stores, 35 Christmas Tree Shops and 38 Harmons. This opening marked the 39th freestanding Harmon store; the number of store-within-a-store departments at BBB isn't known. A series of voice messages were exchanged with company executives but efforts to speak with them directly were not successful.

This Harmon Face Values store, located in a still-under-construction strip center on a state highway, is roughly adjacent to a recently opened smaller-box Bed Bath & Beyond two doors away. At about 20,000 square feet, this BBB is one-third the size of one in Totowa, N.J., about 10 miles down the road. When completed, the center will include a Pier 1, a Michael's crafts store, a local mattress retailer, and about a dozen other stores.

Tighter focus

Because of their sizes, both stores displayed more tightly focused merchandise assortments, but did not substantially depart from their traditional mixes and physical layouts.

Harmon is still characterized by a closed-entry format that forces customers all the way down aisle one — past its characteristic blue baskets of sample sizes — to the back of the store. Cosmetics are still in the last aisle, aisle six in this store, although the department here, a run of about 70 feet, seems slightly larger than most other Harmon cosmetics departments.

The front end of this store also features more point-of-sale terminals, a faux wood floor, and two temporary low rows of promotional merchandise running perpendicular to the store aisles. But despite the apparently trimmed-back skus reflective of the store's size, selected merchandise still runs surprisingly broad facings — in at least one instance, 12 facings wide. It raises questions about whether assortments might still be trimmed more, or if the breadth of these particular exposures plays intentionally into the scheme. Good arguments could be made for either.

The Bed Bath & Beyond store's merchandise compression seems more pronounced, obviously, because this unit is much smaller than its 60,000 square feet or even 35,000 square feet protos. Drive aisles are tighter and merchandise bays smaller. But only one department seemed disproportionately chopped: personal care products, which were reduced to a single short gondola run.

And, here too, is BBB's apparent acknowledgement that opportunistic real estate choices and local demographics will often drive store formats and merchandising, not the other way around. It's BBB's breakout from the big-box cookie cutter.

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