NEW YORK -- Products created to thin thighs could also fatten profits.
Inspired by the success in department stores of anti-cellulite items like Christian Dior's Dior Svelte, which is expected to move 500,000 units in its first year, manufacturers are rushing lower-priced thigh creams to drug and discount stores.
The introduction of less-expensive thigh creams may be just another example of mass knocking off class to catch a hot trend, but according to industry estimates, mass market sales of thigh creams could top $90 million this year.
Major chains like Thrifty Drug Stores of Los Angeles, PayLess Drug Stores of Wilsonville, Ore., and Eckerd Drug Stores of Largo, Fla., have already begun or will soon start stocking the products.
At the recent Exclusively HBA show in Chicago, Wal-Mart cosmetics buyer Jeanne Hess called thigh creams "a hot new category."
Although priced lower than those in the prestige market, the mass market items tend to carry relatively lofty retail tags. One of the cheapest, Rebeka's New-Thigh Contouring Creme, costs $16.95 for 3.4 ounces, as compared to Svelte's $48 for 6.8 ounces.
But retailers cited the success of alpha-hydroxy acid-based treatment as proof that drugstore customers are willing to pay more for high-tech products that mimic department store lines.
In return, mass marketers are getting gross margins in the 45 percent range on thigh creams, versus traditional beauty margins of 35 percent.
Among the major thigh cream contenders are Rebeka's item, ATC Thigh Cream from An-Kar Products, Beautiful Thigh from Cosmania, Slimmer U by Crystal Springs and Lisee's Aromatherapy Cellulite Control for Thighs.
ATC and Slimmer U each contain aminophylline, an ingredient touted as a remedy for cellulite.
There is some debate, however, as to the shelf life of aminophylline. Some sources have said it becomes inactive in six weeks unless it is mixed in the right base. Manufacturers say their products have the proper formula, won't turn color and are not limited in their shelf life.
According to Rebeka, New-Thigh Contouring Creme's formula contains botanical extracts to combat the appearance of cellulite. The company is currently engaging in eight weeks of medical-clinical tests to provide data showing its product really works, according to general manager Barry Barr, who estimated that New-Thigh's volume could surpass $1 million in 1994.Initial sales results from retailers carrying the creams are generally positive. Westerman Drug of Ozona, Tex., has sold 60 units of Slimmer U, priced at $22.95 for 8 ounces, in two months in just one store.
Pharmacist Laura Parker, manager of the store, said she goes the full route in acting as a pitchwoman for the product.
"I put it on myself before I put it on the shelf. It worked, and I bring customers back and show them my thighs if they want proof," she said.
Despite Parker's vivid testimonial, many retailers are taking a cautious stand on thigh creams. Some are also concerned over long-term claims the creams can make, especially if the FDA gets involved with the product category.
"We're looking at it, but I want to make sure it is not a fad," said Marsha Springer, buyer for Taylor Drug Stores in Louisville, Ky.
Carol Allman, category manager for Eckerd, said the chain is adding a thigh cream. "It's going to be a high-visibility item, but I don't know how long it will last," she admitted.
Support behind the lines will also make a difference, Springer said. She credited Dior with creating a strong campaign.
"The model looks so good in the ad, who wouldn't try it?" she said.
What appears to work well for the mass market, buyers concurred, is radio advertising. Both Rebeka and ATC are airing heavy radio campaigns in major markets.
While a fast-growing new category is always welcome, retailers and manufacturers alike are hoping the flood of new thigh creams doesn't dilute the market.
"Everyone is fighting with price to get space and it can hurt the category," said Barr at Rebeka, noting that manufacturers are already cutting wholesale prices to insure a spot on the shelves.
Due to the dearth of space, choosing the proper merchandising location has been an obstacle for mass marketers, and chains are taking a variety of approaches.
Liss Drug, a retailer with stores in Summit, Madison and Berkeley Heights, N.J., has opted for skin care as the spot for Slimmer U. Since skin care is not near the in-store cosmetician, literature is affixed to the shelf to educate customers about the product. Liss also advertises Slimmer U via signs in its front windows.Parker at Westerman said she prefers situating thigh creams in the cosmetics department.
"People here have read about thigh creams and we really don't have a department store nearby," she said. "They come to the cosmetics department looking for it."
According to Howard Kay, executive vice president for An-Kar Products, some retailers are merchandising thigh creams alongside diet aids. To promote the products, An-Kar provides a variety of displays, including a 24-piece floor display and a 24-piece shelf display.
Rebeka is doing its part by offering a 12-pack point-of-purchase display, a 24-piece wing rack and a 36-piece floor display.
"The manufacturers are making it easy to jump onto thigh creams," concluded one merchandise manager for a top-10 drug chain. "I don't think you'll see too many people put them in planograms, but if we can get some fast sales while it is hot, we'll take it."
The consolidation in the chain drugstore industry continues. The Rite Aid Corp., based in Camp Hill, Pa., announced it will acquire LaVerdiere's Super Drug Stores of Waterville, Maine. Rite Aid, which operates 2,684 stores in 23 states, will take over LaVerdiere's 62 stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
LaVerdiere's was one of a few remaining strong regional chains in the industry that had not been snapped up by a major power. Terms of the deal, to be completed in June, were not disclosed.
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