WisBusiness: State Street cosmetics store aims for female students with money to spend

By Colleen Flaherty

MADISON – Lauren Frank had a vision as a freshman at UW-Madison for an upscale cosmetics store.

Frank, 26, wanted to open a shop that catered to the needs of students like herself who had no place in downtown Madison to buy the latest

She has now made that dream a reality.

Frank opened Prep Cosmetics in May — and her vision looks promising. With nearly 23,000 female graduate and undergraduate students on campus and at least another 8,000 women faculty and staff, the market appears ready for a business that offers the luxury of designer cosmetics.

“We bring a unique presence to State Street,” Frank says. “We are a way for almost everybody to enjoy an upscale shopping experience without
breaking the bank.’’

The store was opened with personal investment by Frank and her mother, Meryl Jacobson, who also helps run the store. They split the financing in half. Because bills are still coming in, Frank
said she did not know what it will ultimately cost to get the Prep Cosmetics up and running.

Shoppers are welcomed into the store with a fun and funky atmosphere. The store features music from the independent record label Quannum Projects
spanning genres from hip-hop to samba funk to lo-fi, electronic-based music.

The staff is attentive and friendly and the store itself is clean and has a well-put-together display of the lines of nothing but top-of-the-line cosmetics.

But the shop is more than just another ndependently owned business on State Street. It also represents the continuous evolution of the formerly Bohemian shopping district that reflects how the downtown is evolving – and students themselves are changing.

A recent Higher Education Research Institute Study reported that at 42 of the country’s most elite state universities, 40 percent of freshmen
entering college in 2004 come from families making more than $100,000 a year, up 8 percent since 1999.

Applying that math to UW-Madison would mean a market of more than 10,000 female students with potential disposable income.

Frank says that while her store is upscale, student-customers don’t need to have a lot of money. “Our products are affordable. I remember a lot of times when I was looking for a little pick-me-up and would have loved to go shopping for new makeup.”

For example, one of the brands the shop carries is Cargo, often used in television, motion picture, and commercial productions and is a preferred among many make-up artists. A tube of this lipstick runs $17.

The store fits well with State Street’s tradition of independently owned businesses.

“There is a nice synergy between the young shoppers and a young entrepreneur,’’ says Mary Carbine executive director of Madison’s Central
Business Improvement District.

Though State Street is now home to a $210 million Overture Center, it’s main effect has been bringing more people downtown and helping the
business already there, according to Carbine.

“[Prep Cosmetics] is more a reflection of an overall change of how cosmetics are sold, therefore a change in student expectations.”

“State Street has always been an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, and bars. The mix of places seems to change over the course of time, and one
of the major factors for that is what the student consumer market is interested in,” says George Twigg, spokesman for Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

Frank says she is pleased with the response from Madison and has high hopes for the future. “Customers seem to be really excited about having high-end cosmetics in the area.”