Ulta’s VP of store design and experience Paul Loux breaks down the new Ulta layout

The new design is “stitched together” to highlight new products and brands across categories.
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Ulta, the retailer that typically facilitates makeovers, is getting one of its own, introducing a new layout to select stores this fall.

The new look may be bad news for those who have memorized the floor plan (just us?), but it will more strongly reflect how its consumers are shopping by uniting mass and prestige in one front-of-store section, Paul Loux, VP of store design and experience at Ulta, told Retail Brew.

CEO Dave Kimbell first announced the new layout on Ulta’s Q2 earnings call on August 25, saying the move would “elevate key growth categories.”

  • Ulta reported strong Q2 earnings, with both prestige brands (like Fenty Beauty, MAC, and Clinique) and mass (like NYX, ColourPop, and E.l.f.) makeup and skin care brands delivering double-digit YoY sales gains.

While Ulta has historically bifurcated its prestige and mass offerings on either side of the store, (with fragrance in the middle and hair care and its salon toward the back) the two sections are being joined together at the front of the store—though still with delineation between the two. The new layout debuted in a North Carolina location earlier this month, and will be introduced first to new stores and selected remodels, Loux said.

  • When it comes to store design, Loux has over 20 years of experience, previously leading store design and experience for beauty leaders like Estée Lauder, Sephora, and Marc Jacobs, along with Nike, Levi, and Guess.

“What we’re really doing is bringing the categories together more formally and intuitively,” Loux told us.

Go with the glow: Beyond cosmetics, Ulta's top-selling category, the new layout will feature a slew of other changes. Skin care is also on the move from the back to the front of the store, now positioned alongside makeup. This highlights the growing traction in the category, which was one of the best performing in Q2, per the company. The category is also of particular importance to Gen Z customers, Loux noted.

  • Ulta will also establish space within skin care to spotlight notable products, from “indie brands to well-known bestsellers,” he said.

The center of the store will now feature a “beauty bar,” focused on cross-category services and events, with its private-label Ulta Beauty collection nearby.

  • Fragrance will now be wall-anchored, he noted, which will give it a “much stronger backdrop and give it more of a presence” within the store.
  • Its growing wellness assortment (which is now featured in 750 stores with 140+ brands and 700+ SKUs) will be adjacent to skin care.

The new design is “stitched together” with an additional front-of-store display which uses a “deeper curatorial approach” to highlight new products and brands across categories along with store events or beauty trends. It’s also another place to focus on conscious beauty or Black-owned brands.

  • That feature will hit all stores this year, Loux said.
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“We think that's going to be an incredible first handshake as the guests enter the store,” he said, adding, “I’m anticipating seeing a really nice fluidity as the guests come in, and they have a consultation…then they can see they can span out and look at products very readily across hair, skin, makeup, and fragrance.”

Blending it in: Loux said the retailer has been piloting and testing different aspects of this new layout in stores over the past year and a half, a result of a “robust test-and-learn phase” that included directly asking shoppers what changes would make the store feel more “connected and experiential.”

  • Ulta found that consumers were shopping across both mass and prestige in one trip, and it worked with consumer insights to iterate on the new look throughout the design process. “It’s a constant feedback loop,” he said.
  • While its Target in Ulta shop-in-shops are a “microcosm of the full experience,” it’s working with Target to develop a new layout there, too.

Loux said the ultimate goal of the changes is to “amplify discovery” for shoppers by allowing them to shop the full makeup and skin care categories all in one area. Ulta’s original concept of putting prestige and mass in the same store was an “industry-setting precedent,” he said, but behaviors are changing.

  • As many brands fall somewhere between drugstore staples like CoverGirl and prestige offerings like Clinique, it will also underscore the fact that the organization of products is “not always that binary,” Loux said.

“It was really game-changing at the time, and we want to continually change the game and do the right thing and follow the consumer,” he said. “It’s served us beautifully and this has been its evolution, building upon it now.”—EC

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