By  on January 4, 2002

NEW YORK -- "Our timing was terrible," Molton Brown chief executive officer Charles Denton said candidly about a U.S. relaunch of the London brand's revamped color cosmetics line, which started selling exclusively in Barneys New York on Sept. 7.

Yet, hindsight is 20/20 and "our plans are long term," said Denton. "New York is the most important city in the world and we will continue to expand there."

Now more than ever, Denton believes this is the type of attitude that's needed to build the firm's U.S. business into a $10 million operation. And though the brand's bath, body and skin care offerings at Neiman Marcus and Sephora have been staples of its business here, the color line is seen as the key to reaching that goal by the end of this year, by putting a $3 million to $4 million jolt into the $6 million currently done at retail in the U.S. Molton has worldwide sales of $30 million to $35 million.

In the past few months, slight strategic changes have been inevitable in a market that's markedly different in the aftermath of the fall. For example, as part of a plan to open a SoHo boutique, Molton Brown had been eyeing two sites there. As rent prices have swayed, a waiting game has begun. Also pending is a merger of the brand's U.S. and European operations.

When changes Denton has less control over occur, he takes it as further evidence that thinking long term makes sense. A Molton Brown travel spa in New York's John F. Kennedy Airport was supposed to be operating by now, but British Airways, in whose terminal the spa is planned, delayed the project until at least April. Denton takes this in stride, saying, "I'm not looking to win any sprint races."

By and large, plans for the color relaunch haven't changed all that much, considering the current business environment. Despite the September timing, the new color line "is doing quite well," said Denton. "It's slightly below expectations, but it's an important success." What's more, "we've managed to grow our [total] business 120 percent at Barneys," from the fall of 2000 to the fall of 2001. The color line will remain exclusively at Barneys in New York, Chicago and Beverly Hills until the spring, after which a careful rollout to select specialty stores -- perhaps a dozen in the next 5 months -- will take place.Since 1973, when Molton Brown was conceived as a London salon, the firm has looked to maintain a personal bond with consumers. "We've described ourselves as a partner for life," said Denton, who came aboard after the company was acquired from its original owners in 1989. "The next couple of years will be very exciting for us."

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