By  on September 23, 1994

NEW YORK -- To expand a prestige fragrance business that is largely dependent on seasonal surges, mass market retailers are out to remove the glass barrier between shoppers and scents.

Prestige items have been a boon since their advent in the mass market a few years ago. But early on, it became apparent that much of the movement of pricier scents wasn't due to sales; instead, scan data helped reveal, many of the bottles were being pilfered.

The result was the securing of more expensive fragrances under lock and key, a situation that has all but eliminated impulse buying. For the last two seasons, the vast majority of prestige sales were done during the Christmas period, retailers noted.

Now some of these retailers are looking for safer ways to bring the fragrances back out from under glass in the hope that greater accessibility will create a year-round market.

"We need a fixture or a way to inspire sales of prestige scents throughout the year, rather than just at the holidays," said Naomi Germano, a buyer for Harmon Discount Stores of Cedar Grove, N.J.

Target Stores, based in Minneapolis, is experimenting with putting small groups of prestige fragrances in countertop displays. PayLess Stores, based in Wilsonville, Ore., promotes a "fragrance of the month" with a tester and a few boxes on the counter.

Genovese Drug Stores of Melville, N.Y., also has unlocked some higher-end fragrances -- including its own fragrance of the week -- to encourage sales.

"With roughly 40 percent of purchases in the chain drug business being impulse, putting fragrances under glass drastically cuts the sales potential," said Gretchen Cuzydlo, senior vice president of marketing for the Miami-based French Fragrances Inc., a distributor of scents such as Salvador Dali.

Still, while buyers agreed that moving fragrances out in the open can drive sales, some feared that the risk of shrinkage was too high.

"We have to keep fragrances under glass because of theft," maintained Steele Balkunas, buyer for Ike's in Memphis.

Retailers like Ike's are searching for ways to keep scents out of reach while taking steps to encourage more customers to buy them.

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