By  on August 17, 2007

NEW YORK — When he's not at his job as vice president of sales operations and customer development at Del Laboratories, Bruce Kowalsky uses his college experience with ice hockey to coach youth hockey and baseball.

That coaching experience also helps him call the shots in his role at Del Laboratories, where he is responsible for the supply chain from order receipt to delivery.

Technology has made its mark on the supply and demand chain in beauty and personal care retailing. With bigger chains controlling more of the business, manufacturers who want to survive must invest in the latest systems. "We have added high-speed fills and dock sortation to speed our time to market," explained Kowalsky, a 19-year veteran of Del. "Today, you've got to get products to the shelf quicker than ever."

Kowalsky said Del installed new forecasting systems to help predict the ups and downs of the beauty business — especially seasonal fluctuations. The improvements at Del have been especially noticeable to the trade over the past two years, buyers said. Del's speed to market could come to be even more crucial as the company announced Wednesday plans for an initial public offering.

Today's retail environment also dictates manufacturers and retailers work more closely than five years ago when, in a sense, the two groups were sometimes at odds with each other. The result today is greater synergy between buyer and seller. "There is greater collaboration between retailers and manufacturers and we are much closer to them than ever," Kowalsky explained. That is also leading to more targeted marketed programs. What Target wants might be different from what CVS desires in terms of displays or product assortments. "We are introducing initiatives to build exclusivity so retailers don't have to compete on price," he said.

Retailers are noticing Del's efforts via Kowalsky to improve the production-to-shelf process. "Bruce is a strategic partner who understands our business," said Sherry Saffert, senior category manager cosmetics and accessories for CVS. "He not only has improved the communication between companies, but has made a positive impact on our mutual partnership and works very closely with our team. If we need something done, Bruce is the go-to guy to do it and does so in a timely manner."With chains buying others, a retailer buying another chain can cause a huge blip in a vendor's order sheet. For example, if a chain that didn't carry NYC is snapped up by one that does, there is a huge growth potential that must be factored into Del's plans. "The weight of each retailer today is very important because you don't have as many regional chains to offset large ones," Kowalsky added.

Another change in technology that looms in the future is radio frequency identification technology, which will be harder to implement in beauty than other categories. For example, it is difficult to insert a tag into a tiny tube of lipstick.

But RFID is a mandate for the future, driven by chains such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens, who want to be able to track items throughout the entire process. Currently, Del is using RFID on master cases from its warehouse. In general, Kowalski said, the technology needs to become more cost efficient.

Despite the rush to greater technology, Kowalsky said the true key to pleasing consumers will continue to be innovation. He cited success stories at Del such as the transformation of NYC into a chic price-value option as well as breakthrough products in nail care, nail color and foot care. "We have so much innovation coming, too," he added.

And, Del will continue to work to enhance the shopping experience. "I think the shopping experience needs to improve and one thing that we must do is educate shoppers," he said.

The teamwork linking technology, innovation and consumer knowledge is what Kowalsky thinks will help Del achieve its final goal.

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