By  on January 28, 1994

NEW YORK -- Retailers say Clarion's call was never clear.

Launched in 1986 by Noxell Corp. as the mass market's answer to Clinique, Clarion was not able to expand its wholesale volume beyond $35 million, even with the muscle of Procter & Gamble, which acquired it in 1989.

Last week P&G decided to pull the plug and phase the line out by June 1995.

"Clarion never really had a strong focus, except when it was launched as a hypo-allergenic line," said Pat Gardocki, director of merchandising at F&M Distributors, Warren, Mich.

Most recently, P&G tried to establish Clarion as a brand for women over 30.

Many chains had given P&G an ultimatum: Make Clarion perform or it gets dropped from their assortment.

"We had an agreement set last June that they would make it profitable by December or it was out," said the buyer for a large discount chain.

Others, such as Fay's Drug Stores, based in Liverpool, N.Y., had already edited Clarion from its merchandise selection.

Although P&G's announcement didn't catch buyers off guard, the terms of the phaseout program were a pleasant surprise.

The buyers said P&G has put together a lucrative, comprehensive program that includes markdown money, return agreements and a discount program to help retailers wean out the Clarion inventory.

Based on how aggressive the plan is, buyers believe P&G has a huge inventory of product it must move.

"I was very surprised at how lucrative it can be," noted Gardocki.

Many other phaseout programs in the beauty industry have not been as well executed, buyers said. The plans have resulted in empty pegs on the wall or a patchwork of products that detract from the overall appearance of the department, as well as deep discounts that erode gross margins.

A P&G spokeswoman would not comment on the specifics of the program other than to confirm that a plan is in place.

The only catch: Retailers must retain their space commitment to P&G brands until 1995 in order to get the full benefit of the phaseout program.

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