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Enterprise–Complexions RX Pores Over New Skin Care Concept

Beauty may be skin deep, but for one San Diego company, both beauty and skin care are big business.

Complexions RX opened its first store at Fashion Valley Center in January 1999. The store was based on what company chairman Dr. Dan Piacquadio refers to as the “Lenscrafters” model of retail, selling attractive items at the front of the mall-situated store, with a more medically oriented set-up in the back.

Another outlet based on the same model opened at The Shops at Mission Viejo in October. Store owners plan to expand into Los Angeles by the end of the year, said Susan Danish, president and chief executive officer.

Complexions RX focuses on what it calls “integrated skin care,” which means anything and everything from selling moisturizers and cream all the way up to traditional medical procedures, Piacquadio said.

“It’s a little bit of the spa, a little bit of the aesthetician, a little bit of the doctor’s office, all whirled up in one place that’s customer-service oriented,” he said.

The front of the store carries beauty products such as makeup and over-the-counter skin care products like sunscreen. The store has services often found at a spa, such as facials and microderm abrasions, Piacquadio said.

The store even performs services like a dermatologist’s office, such as laser hair removal and chemical peels. Prescription products are also available from the full-time medical staff.

The staff at both locations consists of two nurse practitioners, or registered nurses with additional training that allows them to perform low-level medical procedures, and a medical doctor, he said.

Product Performance

All products and services work together, Danish said. A person with acne might come in for a cleanser, but also decide to get an acne facial or consult with the medical staff, who might then recommend some procedures or prescription medication, all of which are available on-site, she said.

“It’s putting a lot of pieces of skin care together to provide truly superior results for people,” Danish said. “We provide a whole range of products and services that address whatever the concern or issue is.”

The store also carries a line of 75 proprietary skin care products that are designed in-house and sold exclusively at Complexions RX.

The store does almost everything associated with skin care. If skin care can be regarded as a continuum of everything from buying makeup all the way to face lifts, Complexions RX handles the “bottom two-thirds” of all the products and services, Piacquadio said. Piacquadio doesn’t have exact figures, but guessed that the bottom two-thirds covers roughly 80 percent of skin care customers and 80 percent of all the money spent annually on skin care, he said.

Prices for medical services range from $25 for a consultation to as much as $1,100 for a package of four laser hair removal sessions. For the other services not handled by Complexions RX, the store provides referrals to community physicians, Piacquadio said.

Skin Care Research

Complexions RX evolved out of Piacquadio’s experience in the medical field. Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania as a medical doctor in 1984, Piacquadio has been in San Diego since 1985 as a medical researcher for a company he founded and continues to work with, called Therapeutics, Inc.

As part of Therapeutics, Inc., Piacquadio consulted with or did research for major pharmaceutical companies to develop medications. Some of these products were designed to improve physical appearance, such as injectable collagen to reduce wrinkles, or minoxidil to promote hair growth, Piacquadio said.

Eventually, Piacquadio realized many of these products didn’t do as well as he would have hoped, simply because they didn’t have a home. Many of the skin-care products are supposed to be dispensed in a doctor’s office. However, in this era of managed care, most Americans don’t go to see a doctor for skin problems, he said.

Other products are over-the-counter medications, but require additional training to use properly because they have unusual side effects. That training is not available at a typical store, Piacquadio said.

“There was this real gap that the consumers were talking about between a cosmetics counter and the doctor’s office,” Piacquadio said.

Targeting A Market

Piacquadio created Complexions RX as a way of reaching the large percentage of the patients who don’t see a doctor for skin care problems.

Mary Neffendorf disagreed with Piacquadio’s analysis. As an aesthetician with the Carmel Valley-based medical office Center for Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, she is familiar with Complexions RX.

Every product and service available at Complexions RX is also available at her center, with the exception of makeup. Although not all dermatologists have a trained aesthetician on staff, her center has one, she said.

Neffendorf said a trained dermatologist is on hand at all times. That way, if an aesthetician has a question about a client’s skin, there is someone on hand at all times to address theses concerns.

Neffendorf contended that more people are seeing dermatologists these days. The number is actually increasing because people are finding they can get better results by seeing a dermatologist, she said.

For their part, Piacquadio and Danish point to sales figures that show in any given week, 60 percent of their business is from repeat customers. That’s an indication Complexions RX is doing things right, she said.

Danish won’t release exact sales figures for the privately held company, but said last year the company was just “putting its toe in the water.”

She noted that right now, Complexions RX is getting 10 to 20 times more business than at the same time last year.

Projected sales for calendar year 2000 are going to be in the $3 million range, Danish said.

Right now, the company is working to expand, with a third site projected to open by the end of September at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles. The company is scouting other possible sites, Danish said.

Danish has plans to site 20 stores in the next few years. Possible locations include San Francisco, Texas, Arizona and Colorado, plus additional locations in Orange County and Los Angeles.

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