By  on January 25, 2002

NEW YORK -- Mass beauty is tuning into the tube.

Beyond the success of all-day beauty promotions at QVC, there's a growing cadre of infomercials and direct TV spots touting beauty products ranging from Norstar's Sweet Spa, a sugar-based exfoliator, to Igia's Twist-A-Braid.

In order to lure shoppers into retail doors, start-up manufacturers are using direct TV spots as marketing tools. Without the advantage of sales consultants to push items in self-serve mass stores, suppliers are educating consumers with TV demonstrations. Infomercials, according to Sue Ismiel, the creator of Aussie Nad's hair removal -- an item that got its start by promoting on TV -- are a cost-effective way to introduce unique products. "When you have an item that needs explanation and you don't have a large advertising budget, it is the way to go," she said. Nad's finished 2001 as the 67th-most-broadcast Direct TV spot, according to the Jordan Whitney Green Sheet.

Direct market campaigns are hardly new; they've been the formula behind the success of products such as hair care hawked by Cher, skin care from Murad and exercise equipment demonstrated by Suzanne Somers. This month, a new skin care line promoted by Christie Brinkley hit the air.

Beauty is gaining in popularity via direct marketing. Research from AfterMarket Co. reveals that 5 percent of direct shoppers used to have interest in beauty. In the most recent research for 2001, that climbed to 18 percent.

What is new to beauty is that the direct campaigns are often used as the launching pad to get into retail doors. Once the items are proven winners via direct fulfillment, many manufacturers look for in-store opportunities. Retailer risk in buying the new item is reduced since the direct sales demonstrate consumer demand. When Nad's was picked up by Walgreens, for example, the chain moved more than 39,000 units in one month.

The sluggish economy has opened up media buys making advertising time for TV spots more economical than ever for As Seen on TV campaigns. At the same time, retailers are hungry for impulse merchandise to invigorate front-end sales. Chains such as Walgreens, CVS and Eckerd have stocked up on As Seen on TV merchandise to help make registers ring. The items are merchandising on visible end of aisle displays. Since shoppers don't have to pay shipping fees, they don't mind shelling out the traditional high retails for As Seen on TV goods.According to estimates, As Seen on TV sales exceed $400 million, with sales up 17.6 percent in 2001 over 2000. Drugstores are estimated to produce about 20 percent of sales; supermarkets, 30 percent, and mass marketers, 50 percent.

Norstar's Sweet Spa is an item making the leap from tube to shelf. "We started out with a direct As Seen on TV campaign, but have now gone in the direction of tagging retail stores," said David Swenson, vice president of sales and marketing for Norstar, based in Kenosha, Wis. Walgreens is carrying Sweet Spa and promoting it via advertising airing during "Roots" on the Hallmark channel.

The spot, which explains the instant manicure, has helped retailers move more than 2.8 million units of the product per week. A 10-oz. jar costs $19.99 and delivers gross margins exceeding 40 percent.

To reinforce the message at store level, Walgreens stores have the infomercial playing near the counter display. At a store in New Jersey, the cosmetician was even touting trial sizes of the salon-inspired item.

Based on the initial success of Sweet Spa, Norstar hopes to branch into pedicure products, softening creams and night cooling gels.

Sweet Spa isn't the only brand using the power of TV to jolt shoppers out of the doldrums. During the holiday season, Igia touted its Twist-A-Braid, a contraption that helps make funky braids, as a "must-have" for young girls. A mall kiosk retailer in Bridgewater, N.J., says he sold more than 10 units per day at close to $30. Several drugstore retailers grabbed another hot beauty item touted on TV: Wrap, Snap and Go, a set of soft hair curlers.

Even though Walgreens didn't carry Twist-A-Braid during the holiday shopping season, a sharp cosmetician at a store in New Jersey directed a customer to a similar product produced by Conair.

Beauty isn't the only category bringing shoppers into mass market doors; housewares and exercise equipment are also strong contenders. Among the current top 10 infomercials are the Turbo Cooker, the Ab Energizer, the Reliant Computer Showcase and Slimdown Solution, according to Jordan Whitney reports.

Consolidation in the banking industry has paved the way for drug chains to expand, especially in Manhattan. In September, Walgreens returned to the borough with a store on 14th Street in a former bank. In December, Duane Reade relocated its unit in the Empire State Building on 34th street to a building that had housed a bank directly across the street. Walgreens will move into the Empire State Building in the next few months as the battle of chains heats up in New York City. Duane Reade had the market cornered for years. In the past five years, chains such as Rite Aid, CVS and now Walgreens have started moving in on Duane Reade's turf. Manhattan is not totally foreign ground for Walgreens. The chain had a store in the Empire State Building from 1926 to 1970. It also maintained a unit in The Port Authority Terminal until the 1980s. "I think Walgreens can really make a mark in Manhattan," concluded Allan Mottus, an industry consultant who recently was impressed during a visit to the Union Square Walgreens store.

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