By  on January 18, 2002

NEW YORK -- Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, a group president of Estee Lauder Cos., began showing off his new creative ensemble of executives last week and unrolling his blueprint to get the once-dominant Lauder brand back on a growth track.

While still chugging along at $800 million wholesale in the U.S. -- according to estimates by industry sources -- the familiar Lauder blue line has not ruled the roost in department stores for at least a year. That honor passed to its number-one-selling sister brand Clinique, which edged by during 2000.

"The electrocardiogram of the brand has been flat for two or three years," said Bousquet-Chavanne, whose goal is to kick-start growth, starting in the spring and building to "a high-single-digit" rate sales increase by the end of 2002.

Bousquet-Chavanne comes across as an energetic and determined quick study, No fan of second place, he has "a three-year agenda" to regain the top spot in U.S. department stores. As part of last May's corporate reorganization, Bousquet-Chavanne and two other group presidents acquired global responsibility for what had been U.S. brands. He noted that Lauder brand has made strides in Europe, moving from ninth place to fifth in fragrance in the last three years. The brand ranks fourth in makeup and third in skin care in Europe, he noted, adding that Lauder is the top-selling brand in Asia-Pacific outside Japan.

Referring to the U.S., Bousquet-Chavanne freely points out that December was a tough month for fragrances, particularly in light of price competition from the apparel floors, where sweaters were marked down 40 and 70 percent. Privately, a few major retailers talked about the Lauder brand being down 10 percent in December, primarily in some of its big established fragrances.

Bousquet-Chavanne reiterated his long-standing intention to increase traffic to the counter and hike both the rate and amount of transaction. Much of this will be done with a new and increased advertising campaign, aimed at recruiting users in the younger rungs of the core group around age 28 plus -- and even "slightly younger." He refused to divulge sales or advertising budgets, but he made it clear there will be an increase in ad spending this year, depending on how much can be invested in this fragile climate. According to industry sources, the Lauder brand spent about $100 million on advertising last year. Sources speculate that Bousquet-Chavanne would like his increase in ad spending to exceed that of his sales growth, or ultimately 10 percent. He noted that that a spending increase will be be "visible" in the spring and said he expects to gain even more "share of noise" as his competitors pull in their horns on investment.

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