PARIS — Guerlain’s plans to enter the small but promising children’s fragrance market in April has left its competitors wondering whether the French perfume giant will play Fairy Godmother or Big Bad Wolf.
With the introduction of Petit Guerlain, the company will become the first major prestige fragrance house to launch a scent for kids under its own name. As a result, the company will either gobble up share of a fledgling market from other manufacturers or provide the jolt the industry has been looking for since the mid-Eighties, when fragrance marketers first targeted the 10-and-under set.
Bernard Fornas, Guerlain’s international marketing director, believes there’s plenty of room for growth. “The [adult] fragrance market is in a traffic jam,” he said. “Because competition in the children’s market is not as great, market leadership is possible quickly.
“Also, it is a niche market, which means you don’t compete against your existing lines,” he added. “There will be no risk of cannibalizing Shalimar.”
Petit Guerlain will be available in both a non-alcohol version for infants and an eau de toilette for children. It will make its debut April 4 in Guerlain’s standard European distribution of 12,000 doors and several weeks later in the Far East.
Currently, Tartine et Chocolat, with worldwide sales last year of $8.5 million (50 million French francs), is the European market leader. The line, made by Parfums Givenchy under license from the French children’s apparel firm, bowed in 1987 in France.
Fornas declined to reveal sales objectives, but vowed Petit Guerlain would top Tartine’s sales in 1994. He also declined to discuss his promotional budget, saying only that there would be “substantial” press campaigns.
Its competitors so far have not advertised extensively.
Although Givenchy distributes Tartine et Chocolat in a handful of European countries — and several Mediterranean cultures have long traditions of dousing youngsters with cologne after baths to ward off disease — there’s wide agreement that France is the most developed market for children’s scents.
Last year, sales in this category in France totaled $21.2 million (125 million francs) with more than half in selective distribution. Tartine et Chocolat claims 60 percent market share, or roughly $6.5 million. That share, however, is likely to change with the entry of Guerlain.
The second biggest French player is Shao Ko, a French company founded in 1987, which produces selective lines under license using the cartoon characters, Babar and Celeste, Tintin and Mickey Mouse and Minnie.
Shao Ko’s sales in 1993 were $3.4 million (20 million French francs), according to Alexandre Bigle, president. Bigle said he expects volume to jump this year to between $5.1 million and $6.8 million (30 million to 40 million francs), largely due to the company’s entry into the Japanese market in November.
In December, Shao Ko created a new division to market fragrances and soaps of characters licensed from Disney in the mass market, and Bigle expects Disney to approve distribution of the prestige Mickey Mouse and Minnie lines in U.S. duty-free shops by the end of the February.
Finally, Bigle is hoping to open a Paris boutique for its prestige products in 1994.
Shao Ko and Tartine are the biggest brands for kid’s scents, but there are others, including Annick Goutal’s Eau de Bonpoint and Caelicia’s Vanille et Mure. Also, French children’s apparel manufacturers Clayeux and Jacardi offer market fragrances, and so does Dutch children’s wear manufacturer Oilily.
When it comes to marketing to children, Bigle is against “baby talk” in packaging and counter displays, but he believes that kids need a story to become interested in fragrance.
While many of the marketing tools are borrowed from adult fragrance, the kids market boasts some key differences:
There’s general agreement that $34 (200 francs) is the maximum price point that consumers will tolerate. Suggested retail prices for 100-ml. Petit Guerlain are $30.50 to $33 (180 to 195 francs).
Tartine et Chocolat retails for $31.35 (185 francs), while Shao Ko’s Babar is $22.90 to $24.60 (135-145 francs) and its Mickey and Minnie lines are priced at $20.40.
There’s a double target — the mother and the child. Tartine uses a hedgehog mascot on packaging and counter materials, and Shao Ko’s cartoon characters are aimed at the child.
Both companies package their products with stuffed animals and toys as giveaways. Meanwhile, Guerlain has adopted a more traditional presentation without giveaways and will rely instead on much heavier advertising.
But competitors are skeptical that an ad will be more enticing than a teddy bear.
Unlike adult fragrances, there are wide differences in acceptance of children’s scents from country to country in Europe.
“In Germany, there is no children’s (fragrance) market,” said Catherine Guilhem, Givenchy’s international marketing director for fragrance, who noted a low birth rate there and a preference for body products and soaps over fragrance.
“As for the English, the journalists were frankly taken aback by the idea,” she said, adding that Mediterranean markets had been more receptive.
Givenchy briefly tested Tartine in U.S. department stores in 1989, but abandoned the market because the U.S. subsidiary had other priorities.
In the U.S., Guerlain has no plans to launch the fragrance this year or next. A spokeswoman noted,”We don’t think the market is ready for a product of that type in the U.S.”
However, Japan, one of the toughest adult markets because of a cultural resistance to fragrance, is Shangri-La for children’s producers. “Japanese teenagers and young office ladies are attracted by the light scents,” Guilhem said, “but also by the childish, pastel packaging.”
Another bright spot is gift-giving, a year-round affair, between presents for newborns and children’s birthday parties. Gift sets such as Shao Ko’s Parfumerie de Celesteville collection — a 100-ml. Babar scent, soap, washcloth and hairbrush priced at $32 (190 francs) — represent 40 percent of sales.
Fornas said Guerlain is optimistic about the possibilities in the children’s category, but not 100 percent sure. “I think we will see two or three big brands enter this market in the next five years.
“We think the baby market is taking off,” he continued. “But you never know. It could be like men’s skin care, where we’ve talked and talked about it for years and it has never gotten off the ground.”