By  on March 25, 1994

NEW YORK -- Mass market retailers have been grumbling lately when presented with a bevy of new products.Space is at a premium, they've been saying, and it's costly to reset the shelves to make room for a range of introductions.But that's not the case with the host of new fragrances due in 1994. After a four-year dearth of launches in the mass arena, buyers are welcoming the burst of activity.Among this year's launches are L'Oreal's V by Vanderbilt, Procter & Gamble's Navy White, Lady in Red's Beautiful Lady, Revlon's Fire & Ice, a Bonjour fragrance and two unnamed scents from Coty.Even with this stepped-up schedule, retailers wish there were more new entries to help spark sales, which have been relatively quiet."We need a recommitment by major manufacturers to put the pizzazz back into advertising and product launches," said Steve Lubin, divisional merchandise manager for Walgreen Co. in Deerfield, Ill.Speaking at a Fragrance Foundation dinner in January, J.C. Penney's merchandise manager for cosmetics Ann Gravseth encouraged fragrance marketers to "give the top sellers more competition."Manufacturers, however, continue to bemoan the exorbitant cost of launching a new fragrance. The stakes are high -- retailers concurred they would ideally like to see spending of well over $10 million -- and the risks are many.Buyers are clamoring for more mass market scents in the wake of a good, but not great, Christmas where they started to see the erosion of some of the allure of diverted prestige brands.Although some chains had a terrific year because it was the first time they added upscale fragrances, most mass market outlets have carried prestige products for at least three years and were not able to enjoy the incremental sales increases.Because new contenders like specialty stores T.J. Maxx and Marshall's entered the designer fragrance fray last Christmas, the pie was merely broken up into even more pieces, according to Lubin at Walgreens."Now I know how many department store retailers felt when we entered the market," said Lubin.Mass merchants were also pressed to compete with extremely strong value pricing at department stores during Christmas 1993."I was amazed at some of the prices and promotions at department stores. It was tough for us to compete," said Gina Russo, cosmetics and fragrance buyer for The Rx Place in Manhattan.Although buyers said they'll continue to stress prestige fragrances, many hope the brigade of new mass products will bolster overall fragrance volume. The beauty of building mass sales, buyers added, is that they get full margin on mass fragrances.With prestige, retailers have to sacrifice a few margin points to pay the distributors who secure the products.Many manufacturers are ready to tackle the mass fragrance business again after holding off for several years. Despite a lackluster performance by Vanderbilt's Glorious in the late Eighties, L'Oreal is ready to try to expand on the success of the original Vanderbilt with V."V looks like a winner. It has a nice package and L'Oreal will be spending behind it," said Jo Ann O'Connor, buyer for Gordon's Deep Discount in Newark, N.J. Russo at The Rx Place agreed and added that she thinks V brings a prestige approach to the mass market.Based on the strength of P&G's Navy, buyers are also excited about Navy White, a cream application."This type of product has been strong in department stores and we think customers will look for it at drugstores," said one Florida-based executive.Retailers are also looking forward to learning more about Revlon's Fire & Ice and Coty's new items for 1994. Revlon had readied and scrapped plans for Fire & Ice two years ago, and the firm has struggled with its fragrance launches over the last few years. Still, buyers are hoping Fire & Ice will be a winner.Meanwhile, alternative designer fragrance manufacturers continue to fill the scent void. Lady in Red Ltd. of East Norwich, N.Y., is launching Beautiful Lady, an alternative version of EstÄe Lauder's Beautiful.Last year Lubin at Walgreens singled out Lady in Red as one of his bestsellers.Fragrance Impressions is hoping to tap into the tremendous following behind Davidoff's Cool Water with its own version. The item will be launched in time for this Father's Day, according to Karen Freeman, vice president of marketing.Buyers are also hoping some old favorites will have a new life in 1994. Parfums de Coeur is dusting off the Prince Matchabelli fragrances it bought last August. A big push will be put behind three brands -- Aviance Night Musk, Wind Song and Cachet -- starting at Mother's Day."After so many years of ignoring these brands, it is refreshing to see somebody do something with them," said Sheri Ralston, buyer for Pay Less Drug Stores Inc. "The category sure can use it." Richard Barrie, president of Richard Barrie Fragrances Inc., is putting muscle behind Priscilla Presley's Moments and 4711.But the manufacturers better move fast to build the business, according to retailers, who are editing space devoted to mass fragrances to increase other categories such as prestige scents and bath.Drug Emporium, for example, has reduced mass fragrance footage in its new prototype in Heath, Ohio, to expand its prestige fragrance assortment. The Rx Place, which has a huge mass fragrance department, is also looking to find additional space for prestige scents and cosmetics.Except for Lauder and Calvin Klein scents, mass marketers say they've secured just about every prestige item they want.Elizabeth Arden's Sunflowers, in fact, has become one of the top sellers for drugstores, buyers noted.Raley's Supermarkets in Sacramento, Calif., recently created room to enlarge bath departments in two stores by reducing men's and women's mass fragrances."We have the technology to find out what is selling and what's not. We reduced men's and women's fragrances because they weren't performing," said Raley's cosmetics buyer Bill Roatch.

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