SEATTLE -- Strong value-oriented offerings are enticing customers and helping to spark fragrance sales in a sluggish Pacific Northwest, according to local stores.
Sales compared with last year are ranging from flat to double-digit gains in some stores, and gift sets and gift-with-purchase promotions are more essential than ever to the business, the retailers reported.
"The customer is saying, 'What's in it for me?"' said Wayne Peterson, buyer of prestige fragrances for The Bay, a Toronto-based chain with 13 stores in British Columbia. "When they see a gift, they are more apt to buy it."
"Value sets and gifts are getting more important in women's fragrance," added Nancy Paynter, district cosmetics coordinator for J.C. Penney. "Women are looking for value and price points and still want the quality."
While overall sales of women's fragrances were up by double digits this year at The Bay, sales of the more expensive perfumes without gifts were down, Peterson noted.
He said customers were buying both the affordably priced fragrances -- such as Elizabeth's Arden's Sunflowers -- and the higher-priced lines that have added more value items, including limited edition sizes and ancillary products such as bath powder and talcum powder.
In addition to better value, Peterson credited The Bay's increases to launches such as Christian Dior's Tendre Poison and strong performances by existing brands, particularly Givenchy's Amarige and Ysatis and the Calvin Klein scents.
Tendre Poison, launched in February, has been "phenomenal," according to Peterson. "It did half the season's sales plan in the first month. It's fresh, subtle and feminine. The fresh, clean scents, such as Tendre and 360 by Perry Ellis [launched last fall] are very strong right now."
The Bay offered an "entry level," limited edition 30-ml. size of Tendre Poison, "which means that it's immediately affordable. Instead of spending $49, the lady can spend $30 and see how she likes it. It's a great little concept," said Peterson.
Mother's Day business was solid, with double-digit increases, Peterson noted.
"My business in the first week in April was flat compared with last year, and the second week was slow. But week three took off at 30 percent," he said.The list of top-selling women's brands at The Bay hasn't changed much over the past year, according to Peterson.
"It's still dominated by the standbys -- Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta. The designer image is still very important," he said. "Amarige and Ysatis have gained position, and we are seeing a return to the classics. Chanel No. 5 and L'Air du Temps remain there and show no signs of weakening."
On the horizon is Champagne from Yves Saint Laurent, which Peterson said "is going to be big, big. We are making it the priority launch of the season, and we are going to market it like there's no tomorrow. It will be a real celebration."
After Champagne, The Bay will launch Oh La La by Loris Azzaro, Tocade from Rochas and CK One, the new unisex scent from Calvin Klein.
"We're hearing a lot of buzz about CK One and it's pretty exciting," said Peterson.
At the eight Seattle-area Penney's stores, strong early Mother's Day sales in April helped the women's fragrance business to a 5 percent year-to-date increase, according to Paynter.
She said Penney's was helped by the spring launches of Rosebud by The Perfumer's Workshop, Moods by Krizia and Encore by Alfred Sung, which were all marketed with scented mailer inserts.
Last fall, Penney's Seattle/Portland market had a successful launch of Privilege by Parfums Privilege, which was the district's number three fragrance for both the holiday season and Mother's Day, Paynter noted.
She said that during high-traffic, peak gift-giving times, Penney's promotes fragrance sales with a customized gift-basket program. Rather than offering a prepacked set of items, Penney's allows the customer to choose from all the ancillary products in a particular line.
The top fragrances in Penney's Seattle area stores include Chanel No. 5, Elizabeth Taylor's Passion, White Shoulders, L'Air du Temps, Guess, Halston, Guerlain's Shalimar, Nude by Bill Blass and Privilege, according to Paynter.
"In the Nineties, I don't think women are looking for fragrances that are overpowering or glitzy," she said. "I think they are looking for something that is softer, more feminine, romantic, fresh, fruity. They want to buy the scent because it makes them feel good, not because it has a designer name on it."Upcoming launches will be led by Chloe Narcisse in September.
"That's going to be a big, big launch for us because it's a very nice, romantic fragrance," Paynter noted. "It will appeal to a large age group, from the young to up in the 40s."
She said she also expects big things from Ultima II's new Head Over Heels, to be launched in October.
At The Bon Marche, the Seattle-based division of Federated Stores, the fragrance business has been flat, according to Diane Gates, divisional merchandise manager.
Sales were down slightly over the Mother's Day weekend, due in part to some of the first nice weather of the spring, Gates said.
Since last fall, The Bon has had several launches, including Jil Sander No. 4, Tendre Poison, Tribu from Benetton, Nicole Miller and Venezia by Laura Biagiotti.
"We've had some great success with Tendre Poison, Tribu and Jil Sander," said Gates, adding that Nicole Miller and Venezia were too new to have a reading on them.
She listed The Bon's top performers, in no particular order, as Tendre Poison, Gio by Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein's Obsession, Eternity and Escape, White Diamonds, Jessica McClintock, Wings by Giorgio Beverly Hills and Design by Paul Sebastian.
Echoing the other retailers, Gates said The Bon has seen a greater concern for value on the part of consumers.
"Whenever there is something offered in a value set, that's the way we see the business happening -- it could run anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of the total business," said Gates. "In tough times, it is easier for customers to give up a luxury like a fragrance or a lotion, where they may not give up their lipstick or their foundation. By giving value to the customer with these offerings, they are more likely to make a purchase."
Elizabeth Arden's Sunflowers, which offered a gift-with-purchase tote bag, ranked in the top five through the spring.
"Sunflowers is going after a younger consumer who can't afford a Calvin Klein," noted Gates.
O de Lancome, which is new to The Bon, "seems to be performing very well. There is a movement toward the green fragrances and lighter fragrances, and O de Lancome is one of those. We do extremely well with florals and fresh scents. We don't do as well with spicier scents, although there are some that have done well for us."Gates said she is excited about the launches of Lancaster's Casmir by Chopard in mid-August, Champagne in early September, Karl Lagerfeld's Sun, Moon and Stars from Parfums International in late September and CK One in early October.
"I think CK One is going to be exciting," said Gates. "It's in that lower-price-point category like Sunflowers."
She said she hoped that CK One will help attract "the customer who has not shopped in the fragrance area."
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