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Beauty Scoop: the Baker Agenda

NEW YORK -- For Sherry Baker, success depends on doing a few vital things very well.<BR><BR>After a month on the job as the new North American president of Halston Borghese Inc., Baker says, "The challenge is to be focused, to pick your shots and do...

NEW YORK — For Sherry Baker, success depends on doing a few vital things very well.

After a month on the job as the new North American president of Halston Borghese Inc., Baker says, “The challenge is to be focused, to pick your shots and do things right.”

In the past, the fledgling company “tried to do too many things,” she emphasized.

“When you are not the biggest company,” Baker continued, “you have to be sensitive to picking and choosing what you do and do it better than anyone else.”

Although the company was formed only in January 1992, when a group of Saudi Arabians bought the Halston and Princess Marcella Borghese brands from Revlon, it has been intensely busy.

In addition to the acquisition of the Nautica fragrance license, the company established a new manufacturing base, installed a computer system that was balky in the early going, fine-tuned the packaging on Borghese and Halston and launched two major fragrances — Halston’s Catalyst for women in May 1993 and Borghese’s Il Bacio the following September.

A third fragrance — Catalyst for Men — was launched Sunday, exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Michael Marten, the company’s founding president and chief executive officer, retired and was succeeded by Raymond Baliatico in February. Baker, whose cosmetics background includes Revlon, Charles of the Ritz and Unilever’s Erno Laszlo and Parfums International divisions, succeeded David Horner, who is continuing with the company as a consultant.

Now Baker’s first priority is training, following a four-week tour of department stores during which she heard beauty advisers complain about out-of-stock problems, late merchandise shipments and sometimes poor communications with New York headquarters.

“Shipping is much better now on regular business,” Baker said. “In terms of promotional merchandise, I think there is still slippage.”

In addition to sharpening communications with the beauty advisers, Baker intends to hire a new vice president of training, “hopefully next month.” The company’s previous training head, Mary Tumolo, vice president of business development, recently resigned to join LancÖme.

Baker also would like to expand the training staff to 10 and upgrade the beauty schools conducted for store personnel. She plans to give Borghese’s counter presentation a more consistent, unified look.

“First we have to solidify the vision, starting store by store,” she said. “That could take a year.”

As a result, Baker has postponed by a year plans to have Richard Avedon photograph a new Borghese ad campaign. The ads will be produced early next year for publication in fall 1995.

“We would have been at the halfway stage and wasted a glorious opportunity,” Baker said.

Although Baker declined to break out sales, sources estimated that Borghese does about 50 percent of the U.S. volume; the Nautica men’s fragrance, about 10 percent, and the Halston fragrances the remainder. The U.S. business reportedly totaled $115 million at wholesale last year and is expected to rise to $140 million this year.

Borghese’s Italian heritage, which Baker considers a prime asset, was underscored Tuesday by a reception at the Italian consulate here for Princess Marcella Borghese, who founded the company in 1957.

There also was good news this week from the launch of Catalyst for Men.

“Given the first days of sales and the presale numbers, although it’s still early, we fully expect to achieve plan,” said Steve Bock, vice president of Saks Fifth Avenue. “For the period from Sunday to Father’s Day [June 19], we expect it to be a top-five fragrance.”

Although neither Saks nor Halston executives would disclose sales figures, sources said the plan calls for the men’s scent to generate $250,000 by the holiday.

A few other retailers, who declined to be identified, said the new scent is attractive, but they remain mindful of Catalyst’s problems, including inconsistent shipping and limitations on financial support.

Baker plans to roll out Catalyst for Men to about 700 department stores in the fall. Sources estimate that it is targeted to do $8 million to $10 million this year, with a total support budget of $15 million, including the possibility of TV in some markets.

Baker readily acknowledges the problems, but said she senses a willingness by retailers to be patient, if they see progress, and she is working on a three-year plan.

Baker also maintains that the financial muscle is there. Recalling a recent board meeting, she said, “There is a huge amount of support.”