NEW YORK -- Mark Kaplan, president of LaLoren Inc., hopes he has found another way to take advantage of what might be a department store lapse.By capitalizing on a void in department stores four years ago, Kaplan pioneered the mass market bath explosion with his Sarah Michaels product line. He believes he can do the same for home fragrances, a $500 million market that many observers feel department stores have overlooked.Until now, most home fragrances have been sold via specialty outlets. The mass market has provided an audience, but mostly for home fragrances sold in the housewares department -- air fresheners, for example.With bath sales hitting a plateau, Kaplan thinks it is time for the home fragrance market to bloom. He expects retailers will give excess shelf space to his new, 48-stockkeeping-unit Sarah Michaels Home Fragrance Collection. Kaplan predicted first-year sales will hit $18 million."There's been a shakeout in bath, and many retailers are going with one or two lines," said Kaplan, whose company is based in Stoughton, Mass. "That's freed up space for home fragrance."Industry experts agree the time is ripe for home fragrance sales."Consumers are ready to improve their environment with fragrances. It is a vast, untapped market," said Marilynn Lundy, designer and owner of Environmental Images by Marilynn Lundy in New York.According to Kaplan, existing mass market home fragrance lines do not contain a full array of merchandise. Other lines in mass distribution include Sinclair and Valentine, Karen Carson and Ben Rickert.Major fragrance firms such as Coty and Maybelline offer home fragrance items during holiday promotions. The Sarah Michaels collection features potpourri, candles, oils, home sprays, holiday cachepots and scented light bulb rings.Prices range from $3.50 for a 0.5-oz. oil to $8 for the light bulb ring. Scents include Rose Mist, White Flower, Gardenia, Peach, Callas, Freesia, Apple Spice and Blue Spruce.Annette Green, president of the Fragrance Foundation, said the mass market is ripe for home fragrance sales."There has been an upgrading in the products that are offered. Some items, like light bulbs with scents, are perfect for mass market distribution," she said.Green added that building the home fragrance category has been a challenge for department store operators."They don't know what to do with it," she said.Mass market retailers concurred that their customers appear ready to try home fragrances."There is a market for this, but people need to be educated about how to buy it," said a category manager for a major chain.To that end, Kaplan said he has made his products "user-friendly.""The potpourris are instant gifts because they are sold packaged in a ready-to-display bamboo basket," he said. "Before, people had to buy the potpourri and then run around looking for something to put it in."But Kaplan hopes home fragrances will be more than a gift purchase."We think it will be both a self-purchase and a gift item," he said.Kaplan noted that because mass market fragrance manufacturers -- except for Coty -- have displayed a lack of excitement and creativity, consumers are ready for the alternative of home fragrance.Gordon Keil, president of Gordon's Deep Discount, based in Newark, N.J., has seen an upturn in his home fragrance volume."We're adding more potpourri and candles. Our customers like to find unique items like this in our stores," he said.Research conducted by Architectural Digest for the Fragrance Foundation revealed tremendous opportunity."The growth potential target is women 35 to 54. They spend the most on home fragrances and have a greater propensity to purchase home fragrance products," said John Schenck, marketing director for Architectural Digest.The study identified potpourri, scented candles and spray atomizers as the most frequently purchased items. The research found that the holiday season is the key selling time for home fragrances. Retailers agreed that the business has been mostly seasonal."We do well with the potpourri and scented cachets from lines like Truly Lace during Christmas," explained one buyer for a Midwestern-based chain.Many retailers said the business will remain only a seasonal sales surge. Marcia Gaynor, buyer for Pharmhouse, based in New York, said she would continue to promote home fragrance during the holidays rather than stock it year-round."I'm not sure our customer is interested in it on a day-to-day basis," she said.After last year's shortage of new scents, mass market retailers are being courted with a wealth of new fragrances.One of the latest is Art' Fleurs, which combines two of today's popular trends -- fragrances from France and natural scents.What makes Art' Fleurs unusual is its bottle, which contains a silk flower submerged in each of the three fragrances. Two years of research went into developing the process.Price points range from $25 for a 3.3-oz. eau de toilette spray to $30 for a 1.7-oz. parfum spray for women. An Art' Fleurs for Men collection consists of a 3.3-oz. eau de toilette for $25 and a 3.3-oz. after shave spray for $20.Art' Fleurs will be on counter in August. Its U.S. distributor is European Creations, Oak Park, Mich.
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