By  on September 9, 2011

Gurwitch Products LLC is on a growth kick, and it’s not wasting time.

Six months after taking the helm as president and chief executive officer, Claudia Poccia has mapped out a growth plan by amping up the firm’s marketing of its flagship Laura Mercier Cosmetics brand, driven by a multiplatform media campaign centered on the founding makeup artist’s flawless finish credo. Also, the company plans to relaunch and expand its RéVive luxury skin care brand next year by taking steps to increase consumer awareness and doubling the business in existing retail accounts.

Poccia noted that the Mercier brand continues on a global basis to outpace market growth, and RéVive is also accelerating market growth in North America and is on pace internationally.

A new advertising and social-media push was launched last month to expand Mercier’s community of consumers and professional makeup artists with video and interactive programs on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the Mercier Web site. A mobile app is also in the works.

Poccia is moving to further develop the logistical infrastructure. A U.K. office is scheduled to open in November. It is seen as a stepping-stone to a planned overseas expansion, including a debut for Mercier in the travel retail market, perhaps by the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013. Poccia expects the Mercier brand to enter China within 18 months and she has an eye on Latin America as a long-term goal. The 15-year-old makeup artist brand now has a distribution of just under 1,000 doors and also does business in the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Italy and parts of Asia. RéVive, which was founded about 13 years ago by plastic surgeon Dr. Gregory Bays Brown, is sold in about 175 doors, mostly specialty stores.

In the midst of all these expansion ideas, Mercier and Poccia have decided it’s time to give back. Poccia said the two women have drafted the framework of a social responsibility plan to fight ovarian cancer.

But she is keeping an eye on the big picture. “Our overarching objective is to create a house of prestige beauty, a portfolio of businesses that meet the needs of the luxury consumer in the cosmetics space,” Poccia said.

Karen Grant, vice president and senior global industry analyst of The NPD Group, said, “The makeup and treatment are doing very well — period. They are running with the big dogs.” The company confirmed that it ranks ninth in the U.S. department store makeup category. Grant asserted, “It is a strong contender in a strong makeup artist trend.”

While it is still early days since the advertising and new digital material broke, there are signs of a response. The number of Facebook “likes” has increased 5.8 percent since Aug. 1, and the brand has attracted a Facebook fan base of over 41,600, according to the company. The overall Facebook engagement level has risen by 60 percent since the beginning of August. Poccia added that the number of Facebook postings increased 36 percent in the month to nearly 1 million views. Moreover, e-commerce sales have jumped 25 percent in the same period.

The overall business, which had been growing at a double-digit rate, has picked up added speed of a few more points, according to a number of industry sources, who estimate the size of the total Gurwitch business at between $180 million and $240 million wholesale. Poccia declined comment since Gurwitch does not break out numbers. It is thought that about 80 percent of the total business is done by the Mercier brand.

Sources speculate that Gurwitch’s ultimate goal is to eventually build global sales volume to $500 million to $1 billion at wholesale.

The battle plan is based on building market share for the Mercier brand in the U.S., then expanding it overseas in 2013, principally by putting the advertising focus on Mercier’s signature Flawless Finish look. The campaign and the positioning of the brand stems from Mercier’s approach to beauty, which evolved from her background as a painter in her native Provence, France.

“Her philosophy was that you have to have a great canvas, and your canvas has to be prepared and be flawless so that then you can work with colors to create your vision,” Poccia said. She added that, as a result, Mercier created categories of business like foundation primer, tinted moisturizer and secret camouflage, an imperfection corrector. These elements were marketed together into four steps designed to help women achieve a desired finish. The company maintains that its tinted moisturizer is the industry leader with more than a million units sold annually, and there are plans to catapult that business over the next 12 to 18 months.

Poccia said when she first joined the company, succeeding Sharon Collier, she noticed “a consistency of message, application and a vision across [Mercier’s] counters around the world. That emanates from Laura spending time with the artists and really telling them what her philosophy is. And that really is that she believes that every woman is naturally beautiful and that a woman radiates when she feels like a better version of herself.”

The company has capitalized on this base by increasing advertising spending fivefold with a war chest estimated by industry sources at $8 million this year. A new print ad, photographed by Daniel Jackson under the direction of creative director Robert J. Luzzi, is appearing in 12 national magazines. As part of the social-media campaign, digital content has been created for the brand’s pages on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as well as on lauramercier.com. In addition, eight videos, featuring four of the brand’s makeup artists, have been produced to appear on lauramercier.com.

One tactic that the company is using to foster a cult atmosphere on the social-media sites is to tease out the offering of tips, or secrets, in makeup use from consumers, makeup artists and Mercier herself.

Ellen Greenwald, chief marketing officer, said that last year the company launched a “What Is Flawless?” campaign and asked women to answer the question. “Thousands” of answers poured in, and the responses led to this year’s “Flawless Has Many Faces” advertising, said Greenwald. “The effort spread out across different media platforms because [the consumer] is really engaging in all different places.”

The professional makeup artist community is included in the conversation, Poccia noted, adding that “the whole idea here is that every flawless face has a secret.”

Greenwald agreed, “Our key engagement is to really activate them to come share their secrets, and we’re going to share ours. Right now we’ve collected secrets from Laura herself, and we’re asking celebrities, beauty insiders and tastemakers to share their secrets with us. And we’ll be posting secrets, we’ll be asking questions to really start a conversation, but not just your beauty secrets. Share your secrets about life, your secrets about love, your secrets how to get through a day at work.”

The interactive idea also was pressed into service for at least one product launch, the introduction of a collection of shades of caviar sticks used as eye color. Flip-cams were given to makeup artists at Saks Fifth Avenue so they could video the application on the caviar sticks and upload the result on YouTube and their own Facebook pages. Mercier also launched a kit for making smoky eyes.

The recently drafted social responsibility plank of the company’s spreading platform came into being partly because Mercier and Poccia have been connected to women stricken by ovarian cancer. “We have a very personal connection, and we are committed to making a difference,” said Poccia, who asserted that ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of death among women.

The plan is the raise money for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and Poccia hopes to have a program up and running by the end of the year. “If we can do one quarter of what the industry does for breast cancer research, we would be satisfied,” she said. “It’s a brand with a purpose, and we are two women with a mission.”

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