By  on December 2, 2008

HONG KONG — Cosmoprof Asia wrapped up its three-day run Nov. 12 to 14 as beauty industry executives faced the prospect of a global recession with determined optimism.

“When economics are shaky, manufacturers and distributors still need a platform, a meeting place, to gather at a point where they can share their visions and understand what’s going on and what will be next,” said Laura Zaccagnini, the international affairs manager of Italian-based Sogecos Spa, which runs Cosmoprof’s network of shows in Bologna and Shanghai. A new event called Mumbai Style will make its debut in 2010.

Asia’s largest beauty trade show saw rising numbers of exhibitors and attendees. There were 1,357 vendors, up 7.3 percent from 1,265 last year. Visitors totaled 39,467 people, up 6.4 percent from 2007.

Mike Tan, the vice president of CMP Asia, which runs Cosmoprof in Hong Kong, noted that “when it comes to the crunch, there’s even a greater need for [groups] to be selective about where they go and to go to the key events to get the best representation.”

Many exhibitors were eager to use the show to break into Asia’s lucrative markets for beauty and aspirational luxury products.

Sarah Townsend, who spent 25,000 New Zealand dollars, or $136,276 at current exchange, exhibiting her skin care and homewares brand that prides itself as being made purely in New Zealand, said just one deal would make her trip worthwhile. She managed to do just that when she snagged an order from an agent for the Hong Kong-based retailers Watsons and SaSa.

But the experience — Townsend’s first at Cosmoprof — wasn’t entirely positive. Some visitors photographed her products, while others failed to hand over business cards — behavior that made her suspicious of piracy.

“They are taking photos and asking for catalogues. It’s kind of ruined it for me. I’m not used to it. They are not supposed to take photos. My only hope is that they can’t [copy it and] say ‘Made in New Zealand.’”

Her sentiments were echoed by Sean Mehta, the president of Luminess, a U.S.-based company that makes foundation airbrushing systems and hosted one of the fair’s most-visited stands.

“We’re not sure who the good guys or the bad guys are,” said Mehta of the potential for pirating, as a male visitor took his seat to have his face airbrushed.

For Yuko Shakuda from Mizuho Brush, a Japanese company that makes cosmetics brushes, including ones made from sable, water badger and pine squirrel hair, expansion into China and Hong Kong is paramount — and the brushes were attracting the right kind of interest largely due to their unique concept.

“Hong Kong people like Japanese stuff,” Shakuda said. “We want to sell in China — we’ve had strong interest from distributors and I think this is a good opportunity.”

It seems that high technology and catchy marketing tools (Luminess had TV screens showing infomercial testimonials) proved popular at the show, while the plethora of natural, organic and “cellular” skin care groups did their best to get noticed alongside the mostly European-based manufacturers of glass bottles, plastics and lipstick containers.

Business has been going smoothly for those already in established channels, with growth experienced recently in their usual markets. Yet they see 2009 as tougher in those, and Asia as the savior.

“The last year [we were here] was 2005,” said Shawn Russell of Robanda International. “But we wanted to focus on other markets. So we came back this year as we’ve purchased a makeup line, and we’re looking to expand that in Asia,” he said. “We also have a new product — a waterless shampoo. If this is a success, then we can hope for the best. Internationally, we were up 30 percent this year…[but] we may not be up as high next year.”

Melissa Tay, from Australian brand Napoleon Perdis Cosmetics, was more upbeat, saying it was business as usual. Napolean already is carried at Lane Crawford’s upmarket department stores in Hong Kong and is popular in the U.S. and its home market. “This is more a branding exercise for us,” said Tay. “We’re looking to get into Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan. We’ve been doing well in Australia, and [the economic downturn] hasn’t affected us.”

New Zealand’s Townsend concluded, “People are saying that, in six months, it’s going to be different. But I couldn’t get served [in the shops in Hong Kong]. I think people will spend money….It’s key to be positive.”

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