Segmentation of Perception is King
Skin care products and clothing basics (e.g. t-shirts) can be commodities if you let them, but if you create a perception that your products are unique then you avoid having to compete with the department stores. An example of a US company employing that strategy is Container Store which sells home organizing products (shelves, rubbish bins, spice racks etc) that could also be bought more cheaply at Target. Customers shop at Container Store because they sell a wider range of products in the home organizing niche and because the products seem more unique, although more expensive, than similar products sold at Target. Australian retailers like Cotton On and Aesop can also be successful by targeting professionals with disposable income who want a wider range of certain products that they feel are more unique than the mass marketed mega brands.
Take Advantage of Local Knowledge
Setting up an American store with American staff lets you find out what your American customers want. It lets you conduct sales and market research in the same channel and it allows you to overcome the language confusions between Australian and American English. You could try to uncover those answers with market research and focus groups but you could also burn through a lot of money without really understanding the questions to ask, let alone getting the useful answers you get by being based in the US.
Economies of Scale
Selling enough product in the US to gain economies-of-scale is the sweet spot of any US market entry plan. One store will not provide enough profit to support your brand building efforts but a common product line, common store layout and standardized advertising material used in multiple stores can pay dividends if you can fund the initial start up costs. Once again, Container Store shows how to create and own a niche with its model for selling higher priced shelves, hooks, and food storage containers in stores across America.
Commit to a Long Term Strategy
Only time will tell if your foray into the US retail market will be successful. However, if you manage your customers’ changing perceptions of your brand and take ownership of a clearly defined group of customers then you could be the next Container