The Spark Behind Sephora

Paul Loux, Senior VP Store Design, Sephora Americas

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HEADQUARTERS San Francisco

TYPE OF BUSINESS Beauty and fragrance retailer

NUMBER OF STORES 1,600 global locations, including 325 stores in North America and 386 in-store shops in J.C. Penney

Beauty and cosmetics retailer Sephora is ignited not only by its highly trained cast of associates and smart, forward-thinking approach to in-store digital, but also by the man behind the black, white and red store design.

Paul Loux didn't create the signature palette and Sephora flame — he arrived at the company, which is owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), in 2008 by way of design/store planning positions with Guess? Inc., Levi and Nike. But he has sparked a continual reinvention of a design formula that today includes social and digital elements designed to engage, inform and bridge the gap between online and off.

Senior editor Katherine Boccaccio talked with Loux about the Sephora brand, its future plans and how the chain uses digital to bring the store to life.

Does Sephora have a store prototype?

One of the foremost pillars of Sephora's strategy is creating a store experience that is different from any other — one that is unique, special, fun and ever changing. When I joined the brand at its 10-year anniversary in 2008, we embarked on a holistic reinvention of our store prototype. Every store we have opened in the past few years reflects this new formula, although we continue to make changes to tailor our stores to specific locations and to inject ongoing innovation.

In short, a prototype design that reflects the optimal brand experience is essential for brand recognition. But it is also important to be flexible. For instance, when we went into the Meatpacking District with our 16th store in New York City, we needed to make a unique statement in that very dynamic neighborhood — so our store there is different in many ways than our others. Similarly, when we opened our first location in Mexico in an underground center, a special approach was required for both the site and for making our first brand statement in a new market.

No matter the location, what are the most important elements of Sephora's design?

There is an absolute signature to our stores with our brand codes of black, white and hints of red, chosen to carefully offset the range of colors inherent in the products we carry. This theme is part of our "calpinage," or striped icons, along with the Sephora flame, which are recognized around the world.

But beyond store aesthetics, we are an open-source beauty treasure trove. Everything about the store design serves to encourage a high level of trial, experimentation and engagement with all the brands we carry, unified by the service and expertise that Sephora's highly trained cast members (the company's term for salespeople) offer.

We hear a lot about "seamless" retailing, and we've seen plenty of news about Sephora's in-store digital makeovers. What are some of the ways that Sephora incorporates the digital experience in its physical stores?

Providing expert advice to our clients is a critical part of our brand, and we're very proud of the way we're using digital experiences to bring this to life for our clients wherever they are. Rather than creating "visual noise" with no specific purpose, we have created interfaces that help our clients navigate through a complicated set of beauty choices. For example, we can filter the store down to the best skincare products for her concern, match her skin tone to the best foundation recommendations, or give her access to our deep library of product ratings and reviews from other clients … and the list goes on.

What role does interactivity play in the Sephora store experience?

The entire Sephora store experience is about play, exploration and interactivity. We will always pursue ways to augment that dynamic when we feel we are helping our clients discover new products, tips and trends. Just last year alone we brought in a number of unique interactive innovations, such as Sensorium, Skincare IQ, Color IQ among others, with even more to come.

What has Sephora's experience been with mobile checkout?

Across our store portfolio, we have determined that the right balance is a combination of both traditional cash wrap and mobile checkout. There are unique client engagements that happen in each type of interaction, and our aim is to have both modes at her disposal, so that we can offer the shopping experience that she wants.

Tell us about Sephora's expansion plans.

Our goal is a balance between making large investments in existing stores to elevate the client experience — making it continually interesting, engaging and fun — and putting new stores in exciting locations where we know there will be considerable demand. We opened 26 stores in 2012, and also remodeled three stores and relocated another three. But we don't comment on our future plans.

How would you describe your leadership style?

With my team, I try to play the role of steward and editor to progressively hone in on the optimal design solution. Innovation comes the most swiftly — and has the best staying power — when it's the result of carefully identifying a need, brainstorming with a team across a variety of functions, viewing every comment as valuable, and then crafting that into something that goes a leap beyond what might have been the preconceived solution. When that unexpected spark happens, it's the fun and magic of design, and you know you've hit it.