By  on September 21, 2007

NEW YORK — David Russell, vice president of sales/cosmetics for Coty Beauty, equates the rollout of Rimmel with using a "rifle" rather than a "shotgun."

Knowing the beauty business was in a precarious position — two major launches had encountered consumer apathy — Russell knew the importance of a controlled rollout where expectations would be met.

"We had very specific distribution and space goals and we didn't expect to be all things to all people. We didn't want to go immediately into 15,000 doors and fail. We wanted it to be viable," he said.

That laser approach to sales and distribution helped Rimmel post yearly sales gains of 52 percent at a time when the market was expanding only 2 percent. With success under its belt, Rimmel is now in more than 16,000 doors with a goal to hit 22,000 this year, Russell said.

Russell is no newcomer to launching a new brand. His experience includes roles at leading firms including Revlon, Clairol and L'Oréal. In fact, he worked on the rollout of L'Oréal in 1978 to the mass market. He explained how Rimmel was the opposite of introducing L'Oréal.

"The L'Oréal brand was birthed in this country and it is exactly the reverse with Rimmel, which has been around since the 1860s and invented mascara," he recalled.

Once Rimmel was established, Coty added Underground, a more edgy complement to Rimmel. The challenges were steep since for many accounts this called for more footage. By truly explaining the positioning and reason for being, Russell was able to convince many retailers of the need for Underground, too.

"What we were trying to do is bring edginess at better prices and a more wearable form to the mainstream," said Russell. Underground was meant to provide a more reasonable choice than Smashbox or Benefit. Another goal was to broaden the audience for Rimmel as well as mass market beauty. On this he is clear: Underground is not a teen brand and, in fact, is being purchased by women of many ages.

Like many seasoned mass market executives, Russell has seen the big get bigger and technology dictate more and more decisions. Still, his goal is to visit all accounts — no matter the size. In fact, he had just returned from a chain with fewer than 100 doors. "So much of the business has become impersonal with just crunching data, but you still have to have human contact," he said. "You can be sure that whether we're meeting with a retailer to talk about a global cosmetic brand like Rimmel or an iconic brand like Airspun, our goal is to build a bigger business for our customer partners."He said that despite consolidation, the industry is still focused on profitability, turn, inventory, increasing market basket, gaining share and searching for a point of difference from one chain to another. The quest for difference resulted in many exclusive brands.

"For the retailer, it has significantly broadened their role as both brand markets and suppliers. For Coty Beauty, this change has given us a different set of competitors to focus on within each retailer, which in turn has benefited us as we develop products that fulfill consumer needs," said Russell. He added that many exclusives are premium brands to mass and have encouraged national lines to beef up technology. A case in point is Coty's new Renew and Lift Foundation. "We developed a foundation formula that combines the technology of the best skin care products in the market with a great foundation formula and were able to launch a product with a claim of looking up to eight years younger in 12 days." He believes that as long as Coty brings products to market that offer a choice, his beauty division can leverage a steady stream of real-time customer and consumer data, enabling it to make better decisions faster.

The avalanche of new products is driving retailers to challenge manufacturers beyond new products. He said greater emphasis is being placed not only on product differentiation, but also on the level of support put into driving consumers into outlets. "For Rimmel, this has been entirely positive. The combination of innovative new products with a growth rate that consistently exceeds the category aligns us strategically with our customers' needs."

Russell is sympathetic to the expenses of resets today. "The costs have made it increasingly difficult for the retailer to take a chance on unproven or undersupported brands, yet the number of brands and products achieving success in the market indicates that this hasn't precluded new products and brands from gaining entry," he said, pointing to Rimmel as a case in point. "We've gone from having distribution in just one customer a few years ago to having distribution in most major retailers today — evidence that a uniquely compelling consumer offering can still work its way into the marketplace," Russell said.

Russell likes to relax by bass fishing or carpentry. But most of the time the nails he's thinking about are on women's hands...not the type driven into wood.Editor’s Note: This is the second profile in a periodic series about beauty executives and how their jobs have changed in the new retail environment where big chains get bigger and wield more power.

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