DARIEN, Conn. -- Parfums de Coeur is cleaning the rust off a trio of fragrances that used to be mass market stars.
Last August, Parfums de Coeur president Mark Laracy purchased the rights to three Prince Matchabelli brands: Wind Song, which made its debut in 1952; Cachet, introduced in 1970, and Aviance Night Musk, launched in 1975.
All had been owned by the Matchabelli division of Chesebrough-Pond's.
Now Laracy has unveiled a two-year plan to "re-establish the brands as the powerhouses they once were."
The strategy includes beefed-up advertising behind Wind Song and Aviance, as well as fresh packaging for all three brands.
Collectively, annual sales of the three fragrances have dropped to about $30 million at wholesale, according to Laracy. He said Wind Song alone generated a yearly volume of $35 million during its peak in the early Seventies, and he believes the brand can return to that level of turnover within a few years.
He declined to make a projection for Cachet and Aviance, but sources estimate that each should eventually generate a volume about half that of Wind Song.
Retailers concurred that the fragrances have suffered of late from a complete lack of advertising and support. But despite the absence of backing, Laracy claimed the fragrances have high consumer recognition, especially among older women who recall earlier advertising campaigns.
The most highly recognized name was Wind Song, which has a 70 percent consumer awareness level, according to Laracy. The Prince Matchabelli name was recognized by 61 percent of those surveyed.
Luckily for Parfums de Coeur, retailers never bothered to drop the fragrances from their mix, mainly because they have few other mass brands to put in their place.
"It is nice to see the brands are still in wide distribution, which means we don't have to rebuild them," said Roy E. Sowers, vice president of sales for Parfums de Coeur.
The company's goal is to shore up the fragrances' dwindling customer base, while attracting new, younger users.
Body sprays, which will have a suggested price of $4 for a 2.5-ounce bottle, will be added to each brand in April. To create a more accessible entry price point, the company will offer a trial shipment of 0.5-ounce body sprays for 99 cents.A 0.5-ounce spray cologne of Wind Song sells for $9.75, a price typical of all three brands.
To make room for the new body sprays, Parfums de Coeur has removed slower-moving items, such as 0.3-ounce cologne sprays and 2.9-ounce pumps, from all three brands.
"We're trying to improve the basic stock rate of sale and improve sell-through for our promotions and during Christmas," said Laracy.
"The line has been rationalized," he added, referring to the deletion of unneeded products.
A promotion called the Royals, which will offer small, $5 spray colognes in each fragrance, will be launched for Mother's Day.
Laracy said the company will not raise the prices of the scents and has no plan for hikes for several years.
"Nothing in the line is over $15," he said, noting that this puts Prince Matchabelli's pricing under most Coty and Procter & Gamble fragrances.
"That's important," said a buyer for a New York-based chain, "because high price points hurt [P&G's] Incognito."
Parfums de Coeur plans to spend $5 million on national print and TV advertising for Wind Song, beginning this summer. The TV campaign will bring back the old Wind Song jingle -- "I can't seem to forget you; your Wind Song stays on my mind" -- and the image of a man who loves the scent.
For Aviance, Parfums de Coeur is borrowing from the brand's old TV campaign. Laracy describes the new spot as racy: "You see a woman at work. She sees a station wagon drive up outside her office. She slips out of her suit and she has sexy lingerie on. She puts her coat on and goes to the car, where a man says, 'We're going to have an Aviance night."'
The campaign will be supported with an ad budget of $1.25 million for the Christmas selling period.
The first shipment of the new packaging is set for March 15. Revamped boxes, featuring a Prince Matchabelli logo on the bottom, will replace the sleeves of products already on the shelves.
Redesigned bottles will be introduced as existing stock sells through."There's terrific brand equity that hadn't been capitalized on," said Laracy, referring to the name awareness of Prince Matchabelli.
Laracy is no stranger to Prince Matchabelli's fragrances. He worked for the firm for 10 years as group product manager and was responsible for marketing Wind Song for eight years. He also helped create and introduce both Cachet and Aviance.
He left Prince Matchabelli in 1976 and founded Parfums de Coeur in 1981. He is credited as the pioneer of the alternative designer fragrance craze, which is still strong today.
In fact, Consumer Reports recently gave Parfums de Coeur's Ninja higher marks than Yves Saint Laurent's Opium, which the Ninja scent mimics.
Laracy said he hopes he can work the magic again with the Matchabelli scents.
"They are wonderful brands," he said. "But after the acquisition of Chesebrough by Unilever, these fragrances were never a priority."
Retailers so far have been impressed with Parfums de Coeur's efforts to restore luster to the three brands, especially at a time when mass market fragrance sales have been hurt by a lack of quality launches.
"After so many years of ignoring those brands, it is refreshing to see somebody take them, clean them up, streamline the assortment and add gorgeous packaging," said Sheri Ralston, buyer for PayLess Drug Stores in Wilsonville, Ore. "It's great to see someone other than Coty do something exciting, especially when the category is so soft."
However, the Matchabelli scents will lock horns with several new contenders for Christmas 1994, including L'OrÄal's V from the Vanderbilt brand.
The fragrances will also compete with increasingly popular bath sets, which Laracy said have grown because of a dearth of mass fragrance launches.
"Bath sets all look the same and there's no national advertising behind them," said Laracy. "This is something new and affordable that offers value."
With the addition of the Prince Matchabelli scents, Parfums de Coeur has become the second largest mass fragrance company, behind Coty, with a wholesale volume of $100 million, according to Laracy.
He added that the firm is financially sound with no debt, and is able to invest in new products and packaging.Although the same sales force will handle both lines, the alternative designer fragrances will never be advertised with the Matchabelli scents, and salespeople will not present them together.
"There will be no commingling of brands," Laracy stressed. "Aviance, Cachet and Wind Song are more upscale and have higher price points."