By  on March 11, 2005

NEW YORK — Sephora president and chief executive officer David Suliteanu is a self-professed “ampoules addict.” He divulged that GoSmile ampoules — little vials filled with tooth-whitening solution — are “everywhere but the dashboard of my car.”

Suliteanu’s fondness for whitening on the go, coupled with the explosive growth of the category, has prompted Sephora to officially name the “smile” its fifth retail pillar. “Smile beauty,” as it’s also known, joins Sephora’s established retail categories of makeup, skin care, fragrance (the heart of the business) and hair care, which it added to the mix two years ago.

Sephora’s embrace of “smile beauty” — or at-home tooth whitening as it’s known outside the doors of the cosmetics and fragrance retailer — comes as consumers have begun to show a fascination with pearly white teeth (a prerequisite of megawatt Hollywood smiles). Approximately 100 million Americans have already latched on to the trend, according to a study by financial services firm Morgan Stanley. They are seeking out treatments in dentist offices, in drugstores and, more recently, in specialty shops and upscale department stores. All tolled, Americans shelled out over $1 billion dollars on tooth-whitening services and products in 2003, up from $50 million in 2001. Morgan Stanley projects the niche business will reach $15 billion in sales by 2010.

Brands such as Crest, Colgate and Rembrandt carved out the category in drugstore chains and discount stores nearly three years ago. But Suliteanu credits GoSmile, a tooth-whitening system developed by New York City dentist Jonathan Levine, with evolving whitening products into beauty tools, at home next to lip gloss and mascara.

“Our business is focused on the face,” said Suliteanu, adding, “Our customer is serious about all things beauty, and for Sephora not to focus on the smile was a big miss for us.” Sephora first dabbled in the category several years ago, clearing room for oral care items on a bottom shelf next to dermatologist-created skin care brands. Other brands in the slim assortment include Supersmile and Darphin DenBlan toothpaste. Suliteanu acknowledged shoppers had trouble finding the section, and that GoSmile had to work hard to convince Sephora to give its brand visibility in its stores.For its part, GoSmile glammed up its image — ditching any hint of its clinical beginnings — by packaging its “cool and chic” whitening ampoules in a silver compact, and changing the semantics used to describe the category from “tooth whitening” to “smile beauty,” explained GoSmile president Stacey Levine, Dr.  Levine’s wife who oversees the retail side of the business. Dr. Levine developed the products seven years ago for his patients, and launched them in stores two years ago. “We felt the beauty industry was missing another category,” said  Stacey Levine.

Last summer, Sephora and GoSmile began working together in earnest to build a merchandising concept for the brand. The pair developed a permanent GoSmile endcap, which rolled out to all Sephora stores last October. “The moment GoSmile left the bottom shelf [in the skin care department], our brand took a whole new position in beauty,” said Stacey Levine. The endcap is stocked with GoSmile’s entire product line — which ranges in price from a $16 toothpaste to $98 for its Go All Out Starter Kit, a Sephora exclusive. It also spotlights other exclusives, such as the GoSparkle Daily Compact, which contains five ampoules and a Sephora Super Shimmer Lip Gloss in Think Pink for $30.

“It’s a big deal for us to dedicate an endcap to a brand,” noted Suliteanu, explaining that most of Sephora endcaps are flexible fixtures that rotate throughout the store to draw attention to new products. Suliteanu made clear that the beauty retailer’s partnership with GoSmile goes beyond the display. The pair poured energy into training Sephora’s sales staff on how to use, demo and sell the tooth-whitening system. Each Sephora salesperson  is outfitted with a white wristlet of whitening ampoules, or “Shera” bracelet, as one store associate referred to it. The band makes it easy for salespeople to demo GoSmile in the middle of a makeover or lipstick application. GoSmile will soon provide black wristlets, better suited for Sephora’s black uniforms.

The retailer upped its commitment to the category last month by creating a permanent “smile” tab on its Web site. The “smile” store also includes lip exfoliators, plumpers and balms.Since bowing in 50 doors two years ago in stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Nordstrom, GoSmile has set up shop in some 400 doors, including Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman and a handful of spas and beauty shops. The company plans to be in 900 doors by year’s end. The privately held company, which had just under $1 million in retail sales for 2003, has generated doubled-digit growth each year since its inception.

Stacey Levine credits the growth to the company’s ability to offer consumers a simple and downright chic solution to tooth whitening.

While Suliteanu would not comment on the percentage of sales oral care accounts for he declared:  “I think the business potential for smile beauty is terrific.” GoSmile will launch in Sephora’s French doors in May.

“What I believe is going to happen is that you will see more product diversity,” said Suliteanu. Dr. Levine is already brimming with ideas, mentioning sprays, lip balms and a more powerful version of GoSmile’s current system.

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