By  on March 18, 1994

LONDON -- London department stores reported that sales of prestige skin care products grew by 20 to 30 percent last year, and they see no end to the boom in 1994.

"We are seeing our treatment business explode," said Hilary Dart, perfumery buyer at Selfridges. "The entire market is expanding, and new customers and companies are coming in all the time."

In contrast to the surge in London, the overall skin care market in the U.K. -- including mass market and prestige products -- remained relatively flat last year in terms of value and volume.

The British market rose 3 percent to 423.92 million pounds ($627.41 million) from 412.72 million pounds in 1992, according to A.C. Nielsen's Beauty Care Survey.

But inflation last year was 2 to 3 percent, indicating that sales in value terms were static. The main growth came in the premium end, where sales expanded 6 percent to 74.67 million pounds ($110.5 million) from 70.5 million pounds.

The massive growth in London is being driven at the class end by product launches, a recovering British economy and an increasing awareness by British women of the need for total body care, buyers said.

Sales of some well-established lines have increased by more than 40 percent.

"The English for a while have been good at taking care of their faces," said Jenny O'Donoghue, perfumery buyer at Harrods. "Now they are learning that the rest of their body needs care, too.

"What we see is a definite need -- which is being answered by some companies -- to simplify things," she added. "The market is now less price driven than convenience and lifestyle driven."

Among the fastest-growing lines are Clinique, Lancome, Decleor, Elizabeth Arden, Christian Dior and La Prairie, buyers said. Clinique's growth is a result of the launch of Turnaround Cream last year, as well as of heavy promotional activity, buyers said.

Arden's Ceramide line has been strong, and the company soon will launch Alpha-Ceramide. Dior has been boosted by the success of its Svelte line, which it has extended with the introduction of Hydra-Star."AHAs have had a huge impact," said Daniella Rinaldi, perfumery buyer at Harvey Nichols.

She and the other buyers expected others to leap onto the AHA bandwagon and said growth will continue as companies launch more acid-based products.

"AHA is not a fad," Dart of Selfridges said. "It is now part of women's beauty programs. Over time it will become a standard ingredient in skin care and then something else will be launched."

Some buyers are skeptical about the impact of AHA, however. "Our customers aren't asking for it," one London buyer said. "It's something that is still too difficult for women to understand. They're looking for simple, basic products."

Department store buyers are bullish about their prospects in treatment because of the increasing number of smaller houses launching body and skin care lines and the high degree of service needed to properly sell these products.

That element makes them perfect for a department store environment at a time when this area is facing increasing competition from drugstore and supermarket chains, the buyers noted.

London stores are moving rapidly to take advantage of the growth in treatment by expanding the number of lines they carry and holding beauty "playgrounds" and other promotions to attract customers.

Harvey Nichols, for example, has decided to focus its department on body and skin care and color and reduce the number of fragrance lines it sells.

As a result, skin care and color account for about 80 percent of the department's sales, Rinaldi said. Treatment is about half of sales at Harrods and 30 to 35 percent of sales at Selfridges.

The raft of new treatment products on the market is enabling stores to buy niche products that are exclusive to them or are only sold in a few stores.

Selfridges, for example, has Europe's only H20-Plus shop-in-store. Harvey Nichols has smaller houses such as Thalgo, Samuel Par, Phytomer and Estherderm. Liberty introduced Aveda skin care and color to its new perfumery department, and Harrods recently remodeled its toiletries department to focus on such niche lines as Kiehl's, Heaven & Earth, Mottura and Comptoir Sud Pacifique.Decleor is one of the smaller lines that have been successful, gaining attention because of its aromatherapy-based products. Aromatherapy is a growing category in the U.K.

Harrods and Fortnum & Mason carry the British line Aroma Therapeutics, which also is carried by Barneys in the U.S., while Liberty buys the 32-stockkeeping unit line Espa from the U.K.

Buyers said aromatherapy is attracting growing interest from consumers, but is causing confusion over which products are simply fragrances and which actually are therapeutic.

That is one reason Decleor is such a strong seller: It emphasizes a scientific approach, buyers said.

Sales in the women's market will also be fueled this year by the launch of EstÄe Lauder's Resilience moisturizer, Sisley's Tensor, Shiseido's Pureness and Arden's Alpha-Ceramide, among other products.

The British market, both men's and women's, still lags behind that of the U.S. and continental Europe in usage of treatment and skin care products, however.

"French women buy about three times the number of treatment products as British women," O'Donoghue of Harrods said. "Treatment products in the U.K. are still seen as pampering, while in France they are seen as part of women's beauty routines. There's still plenty of room for growth in the U.K."

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