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Maesa’s Bid to Reinvent Private Labels

French company aims to help U.S. retailers crack proprietary beauty business.

Items from Laura Ashley’s private label collection.

NEW YORK -— At a time when many U.S. retailers are importing European products to provide a point of competitive difference, a French-based company has arrived on America’s shores with a turnkey private label program.

This story first appeared in the September 12, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Gregory Mager, chief executive officer of Maesa in the U.S., has seen many private label programs succumb to market conditions in America, and he hopes his company and its business model will help retailers in all channels finally crack the proprietary beauty business.

To help oversee the corporate brand structure and primary brand message, Maesa linked up with New York branding agency CO-OP. Four components of the company were identified: turnkey manufacturing solutions, creative vision, complete customization and manufacturing excellence. The company’s offerings are also divided into four divisions, namely beauty, home fragrances, promotions and packaging. CO-OP helped form the branding of Maesa by examining its attributes versus the competition. “We decided to convey that they are beauty engineers, where art meets science,” said Paul Newman, co-founder of CO-OP. Added Jim Moran, also a co-founder, the goal was to present to clients the fact that Maesa can help proprietary lines succeed where others have faltered.

There are, of course, success models of retailers building successful private labels, such as Victoria’s Secret Beauty, Target’s Sonia Kashuk and Ulta’s house brand. But there are also programs that have been a slow build, often a victim of retailers trying to behave too much like marketers versus merchants. For the most part, the invasion of European skin care has been slow, most cosmetics lines from Europe haven’t hit full potential and some lines, such as Duane Reade’s Apt. 5, have been eliminated.

But Mager sees huge potential for private label and even cites how major chains have succeeded with Boots the Chemists from the U.K. even though it has limited recognition in America. But retailers, he suggested, have to turn the process over to experts and focus on what they do best — in-store presentation and promotion.

His firm expanded in the U.S. two years ago and added to its New York office with the acquisition of a home fragrance company in Los Angeles. Headquarters are in Paris with offices in London and a facility in Shanghai. The acquisition added home fragrances to the portfolio including fragrance, color cosmetics and bath and body. “We really are a turnkey operation,” said Mager. Too often, retailers get mired in the marketing and conceptualization of house brands. That can be detrimental to success.”

Each customer needs a different approach, he added. For example, specialty apparel chains need to change the offer frequently and treat the category like accessories. These shoppers aren’t necessarily looking for something they’ll come back and buy. They want a one-time unique product. To that end, his firm can handle small quantities. “We have more than 3,000 products — none are the same,” he added about customization.

The cross-category function of Maesa is also key. The company can carry out a theme across everything from a beauty product to a home fragrance to a holiday gift assortment. He said the company will even work to secure an endorsement for the brand — a factor that can certainly make a hit item in today’s celebrity-driven market.

Recently, Maesa has been very involved in developing organic lines. In fact, the company created a line for Lloyd’s a United Kingdom drug chain called Your Organics.

Among Maesa’s clients are Laura Ashley, Super Drug, Galeries Lafayette, Asda, Carrefour, Pier One, Williams-Sonoma and West Elm. Mager believes there is huge potential in the mass market, even for home centers with house brand home fragrances. “I could see a Home Depot brand,” he added. “Imagine it with a famous designer as the spokesman. There’s so much that can be done.”