By  on September 22, 2011

NEW YORK — Retailers are faced with a conundrum this holiday season. Worried about shoppers’ moods, they want to keep inventories tight to cut back on excess merchandise left over to be marked down.

At the same time, buyers have noticed an uptick in interest in cosmetics — especially trend nail colors. That leads them to stock shelves with hot promotions with alacrity.

The confluence of these two trends benefits Almar Sales Company, which for more than 45 years has been a go-to firm for sales, marketing and merchandising in the fashion hair, jewelry, cosmetics and children’s toys-novelty business. More retailers are turning to Almar to provide a fashion-forward look without long lead times and bloated inventories.

The pundits predict holiday sales gains are shaping up to be modest at best with consumers making fewer trips to stores and doing more research to zero in on the stores and products they’ve researched online and want to buy at the best price.

ShopperTrak reported in a new forecast that national retail sales would rise by just 3 percent during November and December. The company predicts foot traffic will be 2.2 percent less than a year ago. Those in stores are also expected to make beelines for bargains.

Drug chains and discounters want to put a strong message forward in the beauty department and that’s where Almar comes in, said Allen Ash, vice president of sales.

“We’ve always specialized in providing retailers with closer-to-need merchandise, but we’re seeing an even bigger need now,” said Ash. He believes this is crucial in nail color because of a constant consumer demand for new. “Nail polish has been on a constant uptrend for the last 18 months.”

In fact, Ash sees nail polish as the new must-have accessory, supplanting jewelry. “We used to find that in a down economy, women updated looks with jewelry. Now it is nail,” he said, adding that his firm is able to provide retailers with the “crackly” look popular now. “Now, nail polish is the feel-good purchase and the right nail colors complete an outfit.”

He also was able to outfit retailers with glow in the dark and other holiday looks for Halloween. Pricing is keen with prepacks with four different colors of nail and matching lip gloss priced under $5. The majority of Almar’s items are under the Expressions logo.

The order-to-delivery time is compressed versus buying from larger firms with retailers able to secure merchandise in less than two weeks.

Where Almar’s business was driven by smaller merchants in years gone by, Ash said even the big chains are seeking closer-to-need orders. “Everything in cosmetics right now is based on newness and the buzz created,” Ash said, adding Almar is also working on licenses and up-to-the-moment technologies, such as wipes for beauty products. In novelties, Almar has deals with candy licenses such as Nerds and Laffy Taffy.

Almar has helped retailers such as Toys “R” Us garner sales in kids’ beauty products, but has also expanded to serve the likes of Justice, Burlington Coat Factory, J.C. Penney and Ulta. With retailers casting an eye on inventory and turns, he said many chains are cutting into planogrammed lines to find more promotional and off-shelf space for trend merchandise.

One regional chain buyer said, “We are expecting a decent Christmas for beauty, but we know overall our traffic could be down so we shifted more dollars to promotions from companies like Almar. This could be something that saves our Christmas.”

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