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Unilever's latest retail experiment is a blend of today's trends.
The company opened St. Ives Mixing Bar in New York's Soho neighborhood this summer. Inside, customers can choose ingredients from Unilever's St. Ives skin care brand to create their own facial scrubs and body lotions.
The St. Ives concept allows customers to customize a product that is normally the same across all drugstore shelves. It also creates an experience where shoppers can interact with the product. Both are what millennials are looking for today.
"We wanted to create a space where millennial consumers are heavily engaged," said St. Ives brand director Suzanne Palentchar. "They're seeking experiences, not just products, and we wanted to be part of that journey they're on."
Pop-up shops aren't a new concept. Kellogg opened a Pop-Tarts cafe in New York earlier this year. Unilever operates two similar stores in New York, one for its Magnum ice cream brand and another for its Pure Leaf tea brand.
This, however, appears to be the first time a company has adapted the concept to personal products.
At the mixing bar, customers receive a form they fill out to choose the ingredients they want blended into a face scrub or body lotion. They are then paired with an employee who teaches them about the products. The employee blends the ingredients together and writes the customer's name on the bottle. Both the scrub and lotion cost $12.
Customers can sample St. Ives' classic drugstore products at a sink station along the back wall. They can take Instagram-worthy pictures in a photo booth. Every aspect of the store is designed to allow customers to interact with St. Ives, Palentchar said, and the pictures customers are taking in the photo booth show her the shop is meeting its goal.
"When you step back and look at those images in totality, it's just an amazing diverse mix of exactly the millennial target that we're trying to engage with on this," she said. "They're having fun and having a joyful moment, and we're a part of that. We're just over the moon."
Shoppers aren't the only ones who benefit from the experiment.
St. Ives is closely tracking data collected at the mixing bar, Palentchar said. The company is identifying the most commonly selected ingredients. The information may be used to create future products.
The company is also collecting contact information and consumer data. On the order form, customers are asked to provide their name and email address. They are also asked to answer questions about their skin concerns, which skin care products they use most often and where they buy them.
They collect even more data from a Vengo machine. It's essentially a vending machine that dispenses free samples in exchange for people answering similar questions to the ones on the order form.
The company has collected more than 25,000 email addresses at the mixing bar, Palentchar said. She hopes the store will help boost St. Ives' brand awareness and help them engage with customers.
"The information we're collecting in the sampling machine will help us have a better conversation with consumers," Palentchar said. "They already receive boilerplate emails. By getting information from them, we can have more engaging conversations with them so we're not talking at them, we're communicating with them."
St. Ives has sold more than 10,000 lotions and scrubs at the mixing bar, Palentchar said. The store has been so successful that Unilever decided to keep it open for longer than initially planned.
The store opened June 16 and was supposed to close at the end of July. It will now be open until Sept. 30.
St. Ives is focused on finishing out this year's run, Palentchar said, so it has not discussed whether it will open the store again next year. But this could be just the beginning for personal products pop-up stores.