By and  on February 11, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO — Love was in the air at the ECRM Cosmetics, Fragrance and Bath Conference held here this week, as several companies hooked up and announced acquisition deals.

Two years after buying former AM Cosmetics brands — namely Wet ‘n’ Wild, Tropez and Black Radiance — Markwins International Corp. has scouted out a new cosmetics company, Soho Cosmetics, to add to its brand portfolio.

Soho Cosmetics, a Montreal-based company, surfaced in the Canadian market two years ago and specializes in color cosmetics and cosmetics bags. Eric Chen, president and chief executive officer of Markwins, explained that the French-Canadian company will give Markwins a foothold in the Canadian market by establishing a “well-seasoned operational base there.” Markwins also has ambitions of introducing Soho — after a full-scale revamp, of course — to the U.S. market. Chen said Soho’s high-fashion, avant-garde image offers a point of difference among similarly priced mainstays, such as L’Oréal and Revlon, that use spokesmodels and glitzy marketing campaigns to create almost duplicate brand positioning.

Soho’s midpriced range will bring Markwins, which built its business by churning out value kits and budget brands, into a new tier. It also may soon give Markwins a strong footing in China, where domestic cosmetics consumption is growing at a rate of 22 percent annually. Soho, more so than the company’s budget brands, would be best suited for the Asian markets, explained Chen. The executive said the company expects to close the deal in March.

The move is part of the company’s larger strategy to build a robust portfolio of beauty brands, noted Chen. Prior to acquiring the AM Cosmetics brands in 2003, the Markwins business relied on gift sets, such as color cosmetics kits and train cases, sold under the names The Color Workshop, The Color Institute and ACT.

“In order to build the company, we need to pursue brands,” said one member of the Markwins team. He acknowledged that Markwins is looking to acquire domestic beauty brands, as well. As part of its international expansion plans, Markwins recently introduced its Wet ‘n’ Wild brand to the European market.

Whispers also circulated that Pacific World Corp., owners of the Nailene brand, was close to acquiring fellow artificial-nail manufacturer Fing’rs. According to a buyer who met with the company, the Pacific World meeting room showcased a smattering of Fing’rs products.

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