By  on August 29, 2014

BOSTON — Buoyed by a slight uptick in mass cosmetics sales, retailers scrambled to find fresh merchandise at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Total Store Expo this week at the Boston Convention Center.

The show offered a chance for buyers to sift through the aisles for unique, value-priced items to wake consumers from their shopping slumber. Early indicators are promising with Nielsen data showing the 3 percent declines in color cosmetics registered earlier this year have shrunk to a 1.2 percent deficit for the 52 weeks ended July 26.

“We’re looking for up-and-coming brands that offer something the competitors don’t have,” said Jim Devine, president of the Chain Drug Marketing Association, representing regional and independent pharmacies.

Underscoring the vibrancy of the industry was record-breaking attendance exceeding 6,000 executives, a 5 percent gain over last year’s 5,700 attendees. To cap it off, former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke predicted economic growth because of America’s strong and free markets, its entrepreneurial spirit and diverse and growing workforce.

Those latter two points struck home with poignancy for many of those at the meeting, which was a hotbed of upstart, indie beauty companies as well as more products, aimed at multicultural shoppers. There was also a healthy dose of beauty products with wellness attributes.

With sales exceeding $6 billion in all mass retail outlets, color cosmetics is the cornerstone of the entire beauty and personal-care business. Bill Bergin, group vice president, health and beauty at Rite Aid, said color has a “holistic” impact on the entire store. Upgrades to the color cosmetics assortment are credited with lifting total volume at chains including Rite Aid and Walgreens’ Look Boutiques. He also cited the synergy between wellness and beauty. Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, added, “If we are rested and healthy, we look better, and if we don’t look good, we don’t feel healthy. People are making the connection.”

The confluence of two factors fuel expansion of small beauty companies, buyers said. “I’m forced to look for smaller brands with more profit potential because the big companies are eliminating direct shipments for those with smaller volume,” said one source. But even more crucial was the urgent need for buyers to find brands that distinguish their assortments from competitors, be it others in their channel or the migration to value stores.

Garnering a great deal of attention was Eddie Funkhouser, who was on hand to demonstrate his namesake brand gaining traction at Rite Aid. Funkhouser showed his assortment of prestige-inspired items priced between $10 and $65. “I want to bring quality products to everyone,” he explained.

Other exhibitors attracting interest for unique items included German power Cosnova, which is extending its U.S. distribution for Essence and Catrice color collections. Others hoping to gain footage included Bellapierre Cosmetics, a natural mineral line, and Clio’s Mwah, a new natural lip line in packaging designed to appeal to Millennials.

Social media is viewed as the great equalizer in the cosmetics category. While these firms can’t spend on advertising like the big players, they can get their message across via bloggers, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Paul Murphy, president and general manager for SinfulColors, agreed that social media has fueled demand for the on-trend nail color line. The SinfulColors mission is to bring its consumer the color she craves at a price she loves, and she can’t resist buying two to three bottles and sharing her nail artwork with her friends online.

Retailers remain confident on the nail business, despite a downturn in dollar sales. They are looking at items such as nail treatment to offset color declines. One top executive flashed her long talons, which she credited to a nail repair product from Vitry, a company from Paris that is looking for U.S. growth. MBA Beauty is also getting big attention for its Dr. Marvey brand of treatments as well as its water-based colors called Color Well. Red Carpet Manicure showed a new 30-second light to cure its at-home gel nails.

Accessories were also a category several chains said they wanted to expand, especially as products cross over from salon to retail requiring applicators, sponges and brushes for application. Companies with new retail programs included Pacific World, Swissco and Paris Presents. Another big opportunity is eyes, buyers said, with initiatives from L’Oréal for brows and color palettes from Wet ‘n’ Wild. Retailers are still buzzing over the growth of appliances and praised the new Kiss curling wand called Instawave, priced at $59.99.

Other news included:

• Skin care for pregnant and postpartum women from Clio called Mumsie.

• Toodaloo, a mass odor neutralizer inspired by the upscale Poopouri, from Advanced Beauty Systems.

• Bee Bald Men Care Products are skin care for men without hair — both their head and face.

• No Text Red, a limited program from Sinful Colors, designed to halt texting while driving. The concept is to paint thumbs with red nail color to remind drivers not to text.

NACDS president and chief executive officer Steven Anderson captured the brightening mood of the market. “The opportunity is greater right now than ever before,” he said. “If this moment in time cannot be called a renaissance of health, wellness and consumer-focused retailing, then no time in our history will ever bear that name.”

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