By  on January 11, 2002

NEW YORK -- Getting beauty products into the hands of consumers is easy if you're a manufacturing giant with longstanding retailer relationships and an ample demographic database. But for the little guys -- companies with limited distribution and annual sales of less than $1 million -- getting a buyer's approval and a consumer's attention requires a bit more ingenuity.

But many small companies are meeting the challenge. By being innovative, aggressive and aware of who their target customer is, small companies are learning that sales can be generated despite minimal marketing funds.

Valerie Bennis, founder and president of Essence of Vali, an aromatherapy company based in Manhattan, is taking the new year by the horns. She's busy drumming up new marketing ideas for her collection of plant essences, which are designed to help people with various stress, sleep and energy difficulties.

For example, Bennis is marketing Sleep, one of her best-selling scent concoctions, to numerous hotels, a ploy she thinks will appeal to their guests. "The [New York] Palace Hotel places [samples] on guests' pillows," Bennis said.

Bennis, whose one-year-old company lacks an advertising budget, last year generated $70,000 in wholesale sales, with distribution in stores such as Caswell-Massey. She sees 2002 sales even higher, in part by capitalizing on holidays that mesh with her fragrances, such as Valentine's Day. Currently, Bennis is sending out testers of Passion -- another top-selling fragrance blend -- to leading chocolatier Godiva. In one letter to a Godiva executive, Bennis writes about a potential promotion idea: "You could give these cards to your customers with a tag 'Find your passion at Godiva. Our way of thanking you for your passion for our chocolates."'

In-store promotions, like the one she's planning on Feb. 10 in Chelsea's Whole Foods Market, could also boost sales. This past December, a Whole Foods in-store stint produced sales of 14 bottles of Sleep massage oil, which retail for prices ranging from $15 to $18. That's comparable to receiving one small wholesale order.

"It also jump-starts our line," Bennis said.

Tracy Hollander, founder of Star, a bath and beauty care company based in Hollywood, Fla., believes the way to attain visibility is to get -- and stay -- in the spotlight. "I'm very active on all of the beauty and fashion message boards, which helps in getting my products in the hands of consumers," Hollander said.

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