By  on February 18, 1994

ATLANTA -- The management at Big B drugstores is banking on the idea that Southern women, who account for 75 to 85 percent of the chain's customers, want to buy cosmetics at their own convenience.

"Convenience is the word that keeps coming up in our philosophy," said Bobby Little, vice president of store operations for Big B, which is based in Birmingham, Ala. "We believe women want to be able to drive up, get what they want and leave, rather than having to walk through a mall."

Big B sales for 1993 reached $585 million. An increase to $645 million is projected for this year, when the company plans to open between 10 and 15 new stores.

Cosmetics is expected to account for around 6 percent of total sales this year, or near $39 million. The category is prominently featured in the regional chain's 356 stores, which average 9,000 square feet apiece.

About 50 feet of wall space at the front of the store is devoted to cosmetics, as are separate fragrance counters in most stores.

Upscale fragrance lines, such as Sanofi's Oscar de la Renta, Estee Lauder's Knowing, Liz Claiborne, Yves Saint Laurent's Opium, Giorgio Beverly Hills and Giorgio's Red, are offered at an average price of $35 for 2 ounces.

Designer knockoffs by Parfums de Coeur, called Alternative Designer Fragrances, are advertised as comparable fragrances, but at around $3 each. Other lower-priced fragrance lines include Jontue, Gloria Vanderbilt from L'Oreal and Revlon's Ciara. Many lower-priced fragrance lines are brought in on a promotional, temporary basis and phased out, said Little.

Big B also owns Drugs For Less, a 20-store discount chain inaugurated in 1988, in response to the growing discount market. At Drugs For Less stores, which average 30,000 square feet, fragrance represents 35 percent of total cosmetics business, or around $13.5 million.

The chain stocks a wider selection of designer fragrances, including Chanel, Calvin Klein's Eternity and Obession, Ralph Lauren's Safari and Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds, at an average of $34 for 2 ounces.

In makeup, basic lines such as Cover Girl and Maybelline account for Big B's largest unit sales, while prestige lines such as Max Factor, Almay and L'Oreal are bestsellers in terms of dollar volume, said Little.

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