When a then unknown to the U.S. French-based company wanted to launch a color cosmetics line in America more than 20 years ago, that brand found support from a powerful and intuitive retailer. The company was L’Oréal and the merchant was Vern Brunner of Walgreens who had the foresight to see that L’Oréal would fill a need in the U.S. mass market. Many other retailers thought the line too expensive and perhaps to “French” to work in U.S. stores.
Brunner had that magic touch with many other products — not limited to beauty. His death on Wednesday is the passing of a yet another master merchant, the kind, as they say, they just don’t make anymore.
Brunner died at age 68 after a long battle with cancer.
Although he was called a great idea guy and one who would support new items, he was also known for being steadfast and believing in what was best for the customers. Many suppliers were sent back to the drawing board with ideas gleaned from a meeting with Brunner.
Perhaps Brunner believed he knew what was best for Walgreens shoppers because — like many former Walgreens merchants — he was a career employee. He began his journey there as a pharmacy intern and worked his way up through the ranks as a district manager and then director of store merchandising. In the early Eighties, he was senior vice president of marketing and by the end of that decade he was executive vice president. He retired in 2001, but stayed active in the industry as a consultant to many firms. In fact, he even tipped off reporters to hot new items he heard about as a consultant.
What many said was unique about Brunner was that he melded the merchant’s “gut” feelings associated with the early years of the chain drugstore industry with the need to digest the reams of scanner data that started flowing into headquarters in the last two decades. While many buyers and merchandising managers merely became numbers guys, Brunner kept the art in buying. In an industry with few faces that stand out and make a mark, Brunner was unique. The industry will surely miss him.
A few words with Joann Tyson, chief executive officer of Cosmetic Promotions, a Florida based firm bringing unique marketing ideas to mass beauty. Tyson is celebrating 20 years in the business with her company that does everything from provide makeup artists for store openings to training. She is a beauty junkie and loves her job. She’s seen many changes in the last 20 years in the business.
WWDBeautyNews: How did you come up with the idea for Cosmetic Promotions?
Tyson: It actually was when I was working for Almay. I had come up with an event to support our annual Endcap at Eckerd and the event was so successful, that the buyer said I should do that for other brands and eventually I did.
WWDBeautyNews: What is a typical day like for you?
Tyson: It is always different and exciting — no two days are the same. I spend most of the day answering e-mails and handling my customers’ needs — finding ways to solve their problems, creating quotes.
WWDBeautyNews: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Tyson: I’ve seen products come and go, like Clarion and the Cutex nail pen. I’ve seen new items succeed because they are unique like Yes To Carrots. The consumer has really changed because they are so smart now and educated from the Internet. You can’t tell them a product will cure wrinkles!
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