By  on September 23, 1994

PRAGUE -- The Estee Lauder Cos. opened its first boutique in the Czech Republic here this week, bringing along some new ideas about marketing to East Europeans.

Smart move, since Lauder is coming late to a city that is already chockablock with prestige cosmetics shops. And despite an advertising blitz heralding Lauder's arrival, local beauty editors say it won't be easy to match the name recognition Christian Dior enjoys in the Czech Republic.

Dior has had a retail presence in the region for 30 years. It opened its own boutique in 1986, three years before the Communists were forced to step aside. Elizabeth Arden, Lancôme, Nina Ricci and Guerlain all have shops now in the same neighborhood.

Lauder's competitors, including the pace-setting Dior, have an advantage beyond being first to land here: They have developed wider distribution patterns in the Republic, while the new Lauder store represents that company's first step into this market.

The nearly 2,500-square-foot Lauder store, which carries the Lauder and Aramis brands in a landmark building just off the heavily trafficked Old Town Square, rang up $4,342 in sales on Wednesday, its first day, according to company executives.

That's higher than opening day at its stores in Budapest, Moscow and Warsaw. Because entry prices are unusually low for Lauder, the average sale per customer in Prague was only $20.

For the first time in any of its doors worldwide, Lauder is offering miniature fragrances for $10 (280 crowns) and accessories, including a lipstick pin, for $3.60 (100 crowns), a pouch with three samples for $5.35 (150 crowns) and a mirror for $1.80 (50 crowns).

"We think this will be one of the slowest places to take off. We'll have things available at lower entry prices here than anywhere else in the world," said Leonard Lauder, president and chief executive officer of the cosmetics group.

Lauder, his brother, Ronald, and Ronald's wife and two daughters traveled to Prague for the opening. Leonard Lauder noted that, as a group, Czechs were less style-conscious than Hungarians and Poles and explained that the company had set a sales goal of $500,000 for the first full year, only half the target of the Warsaw store that opened in November 1993.

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