By  on September 9, 1994

NEW YORK -- Mass market retailers are looking to their fragrance vendors to play Santa Claus this Christmas.

Many chain store executives hope promised spending by fragrance manufacturers will raise sales over last year's mediocre levels. Estimates are that more than $70 million will be spent to advertise and promote mass market fragrances this year, twice that allocated for 1993.

"It will be the first time in years that big money will be spent against fragrances," said Carol Allman, director of merchandising for Jack Eckerd Corp. of Clearwater, Fla.

Buyers said they are setting their goals for 10 percent increases, compared with increases of 6 to 8 percent last year.

Same-store sales, however, are expected to be held to 6 to 8 percent this year.

Retailers hope the Christmas spirit will lift fragrance sales out of the doldrums.

"There's no question there is a sluggishness out there," said Allen Nehman, senior vice president of merchandising for The Cosmetic Center Inc. in Savage, Md.

"There has been a lot of bad news, and the economy is impacted by attitudes," said Nehman.

Despite the parsimonious mood, Nehman is optimistic that purse strings will loosen as Christmas approaches.

Christmas falls on a Sunday, and he said he hopes the additional shopping day will push sales ahead of 1993's.

"There's something about Christmas that even if shoppers start late, they get in the mood -- you can't shirk giving to family and friends," Nehman said. "Christmas sales have come late the last few years, and we expect the same this year."

Mass market retailers' hopes of double-digit Christmas sales gains were dashed in 1993 by aggressive discounting at department stores, as well as stepped-up efforts by off-price retailers to sell prestige scents.

Sales gained 6 to 8 percent at most mass outlets.

After three years with few new fragrances, buyers have an arsenal of fresh mass scents this year.

Buyers singled out only one new contender as a sure bet, however.

"I think Coty's Longing will stand out this Christmas," said Penny Wade, category manager for Harco Drug in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

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