NEW YORK -- Mass market beauty manufacturers expect glad tidings this Christmas and are predicting some of the healthiest gains in years.

"The mood is basically optimistic," said Bill McMenemy, executive vice president of marketing at Del Laboratories. "We feel that people are buying a bit more in general, so that bodes well. In addition, this year's approach is a lot more scientific."

He added that some stores have even planned their markdowns in advance -- which items, when and by how much.

"We have all analyzed last Christmas extensively, and so now we can all make educated decisions on what and how much to buy," he added. "Everyone is working together more than ever before to maximize sell-through."

This year's optimism is fueled by sales-increase projections ranging from 10 to as high as 40 percent for the November and December selling season. Last year, manufacturers were looking for holiday increases in the high single digits or very low teens and, for the most part, they got gains in middle-to-high single digits.

"Overall, we have noticed a good increase in purchasing, especially during a slow summer," said Jerry Abernathy, president of Coty. "We feel that we are already off to a good start. We are anticipating a strong Christmas."

Business, however, is not expected to catapult back up to the huge Christmas gains of the early Eighties.

"Retailers and consumers are probably all going to be more cautious in the way they buy as a way of life, not just as a trend," said John Nuechterlein, senior marketing manager for Yardley. "Being conservative is now the norm. But it is safe to say that things are loosening up a bit."

Manufacturers cited several ways to make this year's holiday selling season more rewarding. These included sharply priced gift items for under $10 and more upscale presentations, tailoring gift offerings and in-store displays to meet the needs of different retail accounts. Added value is another key. One example is packaging fragrances or cosmetics in reusable holiday tins or travel bags.

"Value is still the major buzzword in the mass market," McMenemy said. "Consumers are looking for it in terms of pricing, size, impression and content."

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