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Bobbi Brown Sees Growth in India

The brand's first store in New Delhi has seen a surprising number of walk-throughs and a 50 percent conversion to sales.

Inside the Bobbi Brown store in New Delhi.

NEW DELHI — Since Bobbi Brown opened its first store in New Delhi this July, the activity here has puzzled beauty market analysts.

This story first appeared in the December 27, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Maureen Case, president, Bobbi Brown Worldwide at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., told WWD that the 538-square-foot freestanding store at Select City Walk mall in South Delhi has seen a surprising number of walk-throughs and a 50 percent conversion to sales.

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That’s unusual in the Indian market, where mass-market sales are the real winners, especially with the rupee rate sliding dramatically in recent months, losing more than 20 percent against the dollar since January. Beauty analysts described the upswing as a “complete surprise” despite the continuing growth of more than 20 percent in the premium color segment.

“We’re not surprised, we’re delighted to be successful,” Case said. “We’re very impressed with the footfall in the store. What was surprising was that there was such awareness about the brand, I think that was the biggest ‘aha’ for all of us here. This is an important market for us.”

She said India, China and Brazil are huge markets with an emerging middle class that always wants aspirational brands. Customers from these countries buy Bobbi Brown in the cities they live in or travel through, such as London or New York. “So it’s really important to enter these markets, to make a statement,” she observed.

Although it is the smallest brand in the Estée Lauder portfolio, with some 600 doors in the U.S., compared with 1,000 for MAC and 2,400 for Clinique and Estée Lauder, Bobbi Brown has set its expansion path, and has been growing its presence in Asia.

Last year, the first store opened in Vietnam, and China is experiencing a consolidated growth with 80 stores and an opening in Sephora, all in eight years. “We’re in tier-one cities in China, and now we’re just expanding to tier two,” said Case. “Our business really is gaining traction, even though in the Chinese market 67 percent of the consumers use only skin-care products.”

She explained that “with the globalization, it really is the age of communication in which young women want to look professional when they go to the office, which is something that their mothers didn’t care about. It is interesting that their mothers did not teach young women how to do makeup,” and it is something, she said, women are learning from brands like Bobbi Brown, which have a strong emphasis on makeup instruction.

Bobbi Brown has been growing its presence in Korea, as well, which Case describes as a “fantastic market,” but remarked that the economic environment there has been “quite challenging” recently. “But Bobbi has a tremendous awareness there at 72 percent, which is pretty significant. We have a good business in Japan and a strong business in Hong Kong; Taiwan; Singapore; Thailand; Malaysia; Vietnam, where we opened last calendar year; Indonesia, where we have a small business again, and the Philippines. It’s a big territory,” she said.

She noted, however, that as important as new markets are, it is equally important to make sure you can support growth and to keep it up organically “as fast as the market and your own resources allow.”

But why so late in India, when many other brands have already established market share?

“Not to be in India would be such a misstep! But we’re still relatively small,” Case explained. “We’re a big business to the outside world, but within our growth, we still have so many opportunities.” She said now is the time to take that opportunity in India.

Eliano Bou Assi, regional artistry and education manager for Bobbi Brown, traveled to New Delhi for the launch to educate consumers, as foreign brands have found education helps boost sales in India. The free beauty lessons and special-occasion makeup on offer for the initial months have also been big draws for the store.

Bobbi Brown cosmetics sell in 60 countries, with Sweden and Ukraine being among its new markets. The brand, which was launched in 1991 with 10 lipsticks, now has 1,000 stockkeeping units and 650 products.

“Well, what we’re inspired to do now is to really take a look at the market and make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the Indian woman with lip shades and textures. We know we have some, but we really want to get early learnings. There are such wonderful skin tones, and we will continue to look for inspiration for shade extensions and also in the foundation arena, and find ways to make her skin look like skin, which is what Bobbi believes in,” said Case.

Although other brands, including Chanel, MAC and Lancôme, dot the mall, in which beauty has shown double-digit growth over the last five years, the new entrant has caught the imagination of the customer, and analysts observe that the three-month mark for the store may be an indicator that Indian women are more ready to experiment with color and brands than ever.