By Diane Mastrull
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A business for women and girls…Beautyland Couture is much more than a place to “get glam.” Nina Kaplan introduces to her 5,000-square-foot emporium of fun, fashion, and self-esteem in the Newtown Shopping Center which is empowering women and young girls to explore.
With its pink-bordered heart logos and heart-shaped mirrors, its sparkly chandeliers, and countertops laden with makeup, hair-care products, nail polish and headbands, BLC — for Beautyland Couture — could be mistaken for a promoter of superficiality.
Until you spend a few minutes with owner Nina Kaplan, an artist, author, and longtime entrepreneur who says her objective with all this girlie glam is to inspire young girls and women to believe in themselves, no matter what they look like.
“We don’t cater to one type of girl, we cater to all,” Kaplan explained on a recent afternoon at her Newtown establishment, what she calls a “multimedia concept store.”
Eventually, the 53-year-old Richboro mother of two hopes to make a far-reaching impact with five destinations throughout the country that blend retail with restaurants and other elements of fun — like the American Girl stores/cafés — plus several smaller satellite locations.
The medium for her “Be the best you can be” message: Madison Kensington, a highly principled teenager from Bucks County who is the main character in the Madison K. three-book fiction series Kaplan has written and self-published since 2011. Their covers are done in the same shades of pink and black that dominate the walls inside BLC.
The books follow beauty blogger Madison K. and her two best friends as they navigate college, work, and the ups and downs of life in New York, all while embracing their flaws. The main character was inspired by Kaplan’s 24-year-old daughter, Madison, including her dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. The real Madison Kaplan works in beauty-product sales, has done some acting, and helps her mother at BLC.
Though Nina Kaplan aspires to a Disney-like following, she made a point of putting some feminist distance between Madison K. and at least the Disney princesses of old.
“I think our girls can do more than comb their hair and wait for Prince Charming to come along,” she said. “They can be entrepreneurs.”
We sat on a pink couch on a raised platform at the store’s center on a quiet weekday afternoon. That weekend, the stage turned into Birthday Party Central for a group of 4-year-olds who got makeovers and feasted on snacks at the candy bar at the rear of the store. Movies played on flat-screen TVs throughout the 5,000-square-foot emporium of fun, fashion, and self-esteem in the Newtown Shopping Center (next to the Acme) that appeals to young girls and grandmothers alike.
Of $1.4 million in revenue last year, 28 percent came from parties, Kaplan said. Accessories and makeup are the next biggest sources of sales, with BLC brands top sellers. Online sales at www.beautylandcouture.com grew 8 percent last year, while in-store sales remained steady, she said.
None of this was what Kaplan, who attended Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Yale University School of Art, set out to do professionally: “The life plan was to be a fine artist. I wanted to change the world through painting.”
She was making jewelry and selling it at flea markets to pay for paint. Customers frequently complimented her way of dress, prompting her to open a high-end boutique, Angel Heart, on State Street in Newtown in 1989 and, across from it, a home-accessories shop, French Lace, in 1994. She sold in 2009, following rough retail downturns accompanying the 2001 terrorist attacks and the recession.
Her husband, Michael, a wholesale distributor in the perfume and beauty-products business, suggested blending that with girl empowerment. BLC opened in Newtown in 2010. In December, they launched a handbag line featuring nine designs, all made in China.
With such an ambitious growth plan, Kaplan said she has begun exploring venture-capital prospects and more BLC product lines, including clothing and a stuffed animal modeled after Zsa Zsa, her Pomeranian — a constant in the store who is featured in the Madison K. books.
The books were never part of Kaplan’s agenda.
“I was just writing a business plan,” said the Northeast Philadelphia native, whose parents owned beauty-supply stores. More than 10,000 books have sold, she said.
Daughter Madison said any initial unease over similarities between her and the main character in those books has given way to unrestrained pride.
Of her mother, she said, “I just tell her I’m in awe of her.”
So is Simona Avetyan, an eloquent 10-year-old in fifth grade at Newtown Elementary School.
“You can kind of say Nina is a role model,” said Simona, who recently won a handbag-design contest at BLC. “She wanted to start this store, and that’s exactly what she did.”
Simona has read all three Madison K. books and tries to visit the store every weekend, mostly for the chance to talk with Kaplan, she said.
“I just want to keep encouraging her to keep up with her ideas,” Simona said, “and be the best that she can be.”
Exactly what Kaplan wants Simona and all young girls to do.