Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Employees fill boxes in the production area at Sephora's Salt Lake warehouse. So far, Sephora has no Utah stores.

On the east side of the 400,000-square-foot distribution center for Sephora USA Inc., trucks roll in with mascaras, blushes, lipsticks and shadows in every imaginable color and packaging.

On the west side of the building, different trucks roll out with the makeup, which has been sorted, wrapped in plastic and stacked on pallets. The trucks are headed to some 100 Sephora stores throughout the western United States.

With a presence in the J.C. Penney store in Riverdale, which offers only a portion of Sephora's products, and shopping on sephora.com, Sephora has no stand-alone stores in Utah, although the state is home to Sephora's western distribution center. Near the Salt Lake City International Airport, it opened last year and is the company's only distribution center outside Maryland. About 150 people are employed at the distribution center in Utah, working a single shift from roughly 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., said Jon Siffing, director of the distribution center.

Employees of Sephora, which is owned by the Paris-based luxury company LVMH Group (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton), describe shopping in the stand-alone stores as an "experience." The store is scented with perfumes and creams it sells, and hundreds of products are arranged by brand, such as L'Occitane, or makeup type, such as a few rows of mascara.

"You can touch and feel and sample things," said Teri Olson, a Sephora human resources manager.

"I love the store," said Kim Soth, a Draper resident who shopped in Sephora stores when she worked on Wall Street. "And it really stinks there's not one here. You go in there and you get every brand under the sun as (well as at) Nordstrom or Dillards. They (Sephora) are not pushing the expensive brands. They're trying to show you what's best for your skin and skin type."

Soth, who runs fashion Web site www.commonsensestyle.com, now buys products from Sephora online for herself and her daughter. She said the company has makeup consultants available by the Internet.

Sephora stores are located throughout other parts of the West — in Denver, Phoenix, Seattle, Portland and Boise. One of the factors that company executives, based in San Francisco, consider when deciding on locations is Internet sales from different geographical regions. "You know, Sephora's opinion on this is they're always looking for new markets," Siffing said.

Vendors from around the world deliver products to the Salt Lake City distribution center. As supplies of products get sold at stores throughout the West, an automated system communicates with the Salt Lake City distribution center that clear nail polish, for instance, is needed in Seattle. The goal is to get the products to the stores before they run out.

"At the store level, we want our employees to be focused on service to the customer" and not worrying about inventory, Siffing said.

The company chose Utah for its second distribution center in part because of the work ethic and loyalty of Utah workers, he said.

Jeff Edwards, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corp. of Utah, a nonprofit that draws companies to the state, said his group began talks with Sephora in the summer of 2007. Sephora executives narrowed down potential western sites to two cities, Salt Lake and Reno, and chose Salt Lake because of the workers and the location near I-15 and I-80.

Sephora's Maryland distribution center ships all Internet orders, but that could change, Siffing said. Edwards said the company was looking for good workers who can handle the high volume of shipments that Internet sales generate.

"It's about equidistant from Salt Lake to both Northern and Southern California," Edwards said.

Sephora hasn't been immune to the recession, but Siffing declined to talk about how it has affected operations and employment at the distribution center. But during some recessions, lipstick sales increase because it's a cheap luxury in comparison to new clothes. Olson, the human resources manager, said she's seen that in the stores.

"I've heard some women say they'd buy a generic can of soup before generic lipstick," she said.

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