Beauty Retailers, Manufacturers Defy Italian Downturn

The are sailing into the headwinds of the country’s roiled economy with new retail formats and marketing strategies to seduce customers.

View Slideshow

MILAN — Italian cosmetics retailers and manufacturers are sailing into the headwinds of the country’s roiled economy with new retail formats and marketing strategies to seduce customers.

Collistar, the midmarket cosmetics brand that has been Italy’s top seller for a decade, saw flat sales for the first time in its 30-year history in 2012. This year, said chief executive officer Daniela Sacerdote, the company is rolling out monthly promotions, such as an anticellulite cream with a massage roller for 45 euros, or $58 at current exchange, that comes with a gift mascara worth 21 euros, or $27.

“We are lucky that we are growing in the international markets,” said Sacerdote, referring to the brand’s expansion in China and Germany.

Euroitalia, the luxury fragrance manufacturer founded by Giovanni Sgariboldi, has been actively promoting its blockbuster Versace men’s eau de toilette, Eros.

“This was very important for the Versace brand, which was already strong for women’s lines,” said Sgariboldi. “Eros completes the offering and pushes the brand to another level.”

RELATED STORY: italian Beauty Execs Eye Exports >>

Advertising investments on the home front were huge: Eros billboards were placed in high-profile locations such as the duomo in Milan, Rome’s Piazza di Spagna and Venice’s Piazza San Marco. Euroitalia also took out double-page spreads in the country’s top three daily newspapers: the Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica and La Gazzetta dello Sport. Though Sgariboldi refused to discuss figures, industry sources estimated that at the completion of its international rollout this year, Eros could bring in between 120 and 130 million euros in retail volume, or $153 million to $166 million at current exchange.

At Excelsior Milano, Simone Destefanis, head of beauty for Gruppo Coin, highlighted drastic changes under way on the ground floor: Big brands such as Ladurée, Tiffany & Co. and Aveda, which are performing well, will maintain their own spaces along the perimeter, while niche fragrances and cosmetics fill the center and back, with sales staff from the brands on hand to explain products and build relationships with consumers.

“This isn’t a department store. We are a concept store. We have to create a different atmosphere,” stressed Destefanis. “The concept is that at Excelsior you can find all the brands you couldn’t find in Milan before.”

Excelsior’s strategy at the newly opened store in Verona differs: There, the focus for beauty is on major luxury players such as Chanel, Dior, Tom Ford and Guerlain.

At La Rinascente by the duomo cathedral, where a third of sales are from tourists — especially Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian and Middle Eastern — the beauty floor was strong in 2012, reaching 28.6 million euros in sales, or about $37 million at current exchange.

Cinzia Baldelli, head of beauty, children’s wear and toys at the store, said top performers included MAC Cosmetics, Dior and Chanel. She also said La Rinascente had removed a large fragrance bar from the center of the ground floor, and improved the niche area by training staff to better explain products to clients. “We received very important results with the niche area,” she said.

La Rinascente will soon open a second Rome flagship near Piazza di Spagna and a new flagship designed by Rem Koolhaas in Venice near the Ponte Rialto. “I think it will be the best store in Italy,” said Baldelli, noting the flagship will carry a wide array of luxury brands — a new concept for Venice, which has numerous designer shops but no high-end department store.

Orna Nofarber, manager director at Estée Lauder Italy, confirmed MAC’s strong performance nationally, adding a new, roughly 1,300 square foot MAC flagship opened March 5 on Rome’s Via Del Corso.

She said Lauder has made a point of hiring Chinese and Russian sales staff in Italy and invested heavily in digital advertising.

“We have a 360-degree approach to customer service,” she said. “We use all touchpoints with the consumer.”

Augusto Mazzolari, founder of the Mazzolari beauty chain, has spent the past several years developing the roughly 8,000-square-foot section of his San Babila store that is dedicated to luxury fragrances and scented candles. Many of his clients, he said, “no longer just want an eau de cologne or eau de toilette. They want something that not everybody has on.”

He cited brands such as Clive Christian — a 30-ml. bottle retails for about 3,900 euros, or about $4,980 at current exchange — and Amouage, a fragrance line created by the Sultan of Oman’s son, as examples of specialty scents. “Clients like to feel they are the only ones with the fragrance,” Mazzolari said.

He has noticed a drop in spending among many customers, however: “I would say those who used to come in and spend 100 euros are now spending 80,” he said. “You have to be very professional and have high-quality products. You also need good salespeople who can explain products to clients. The little money people have, they want to spend well.”

View Slideshow