After a four-year incubation period at Wal-Mart, Coty is readying its color cosmetics brand Rimmel London for a national debut in the U.S. market this fall. And, while the average U.S. consumer — Wal-Mart cosmetics shoppers excluded — may not be familiar with the 168-year-old beauty brand, Coty plans to quickly make Rimmel as ubiquitous as Revlon.

The company’s first-year goal for the London-born brand is an aggressive one: to rank within the top five cosmetics brands in its retail accounts by the end of its first year of national distribution.

“The category has been dominated by the same four or five players — nobody has cracked the top five in literally 20 years,” noted John Galantic, president of Coty Beauty U.S. “We’ve done it in Canada and we’ll do it in the U.S.” The company plans to roll out Rimmel to 9,000 stores by spring 2005.

If its international track record is any indication, Rimmel could very well succeed in shifting the balance of power along the beauty wall. It is the number five brand in Canada, and it generally ranks among the top three in markets throughout Europe.

Industry sources predict the sassy, value-priced cosmetics brand could eventually ring up annual retail sales of $80 million to $100 million in the U.S. Estimates indicate Rimmel does about $40 million to $50 million in 2,983 Wal-Mart doors.

Price points in the line typically fall under $6, just below those of Cover Girl, and products include innovations such as Extreme Definition Comb Mascara and Lycra Wear Nail Polish. As part of its national rollout, Coty will also relaunch the line’s fragrance, Beat by Rimmel, with new packaging.

Ousting a brand from the top five list within the beauty establishment — namely Cover Girl, Maybelline, Revlon, L’Oréal or Almay — will require herculean merchandising and marketing might.

Any new entry will drive the category, even if it simply grabs share from a lesser brand, noted industry consultant Suzanne Grayson. “Obviously, they have already done very well at Wal-Mart, and so there is plenty of prior awareness for the brand. It’s not like it’s just coming out of the box.”On the merchandising end, Coty has grabbed in-line display space for Rimmel in each of the brand’s new retail accounts. “Our strategy was to only expand to places where we have a strong partnership and to retailers that are very committed to growing the category through the Rimmel launch,” Galantic said, adding, “We don’t have any intention of launching Rimmel promotionally.”

Coty has also created a new in-store fixture for its new retail partners, spotlighting the brand’s megawatt spokeswoman, model Kate Moss. The displays, designed to highlight shade offerings, can be customized to fit the needs of individual accounts. “One of the keys of success for Rimmel was partnering with Wal-Mart to come up with a solution that would work well for Wal-Mart,” Galantic said, “and that’s exactly what we are going to do with our rollout partners.”

Expanded distribution allows Coty to beef up its marketing support for Rimmel. Coty will sharply increase its investment in print advertising and will launch a TV campaign for the first time, according to Galantic. The media budget is estimated to be $20 million.

At a time when drugstores are embarking on scavenger hunts across the globe to scout out new beauty brands, Rimmel offers retailers an authentic European cachet. The paradox here is that drugstores have recruited European beauty brands, namely Lumene at CVS, to differentiate themselves from Wal-Mart. But, as Grayson pointed out, some drugstores will likely appreciate Rimmel’s built-in awareness.

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