Byline: PETE BORN
NEW YORK — Having dared to kick the gift-with-purchase habit and survived the consequences, Aramis USA has now emerged more than a year later with an armload of ambitious plans.
A magazine ad campaign, designed to breathe new life into the classic Aramis men’s fragrance, makes its debut in the August issue of W. The campaign, which will appear in eight to 10 other magazines starting in the fall, also will be translated onto billboards. The specific magazines have not yet been chosen.
Aramis executives would not discuss budgets, but sources estimate the campaign’s cost at $5 million for the fiscal year that began this month.
Robert A. Nielsen, Aramis president, also has unfurled a plan to launch three more fragrances within the next 18 months.
Havana, a men’s fragrance originally scheduled for this past spring, has been moved to an October introduction that will be limited to New York, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Distribution will amount to 100 to 150 doors, according to Aramis executives. The scent will also be rolled out overseas this fall.
“This fragrance will be the number one best-selling men’s fragrance in its introductory doors within six months,” Nielsen declared. He declined to make a dollar prediction, but sources estimate the line could do $5 million to $10 million at wholesale.
Havana will consist of three stockkeeping units: 1.7-oz. and 3.4-oz. spray eaux de toilette, priced $37 and $52.50, respectively, and a 3.4-oz. aftershave, priced $34.
Nielsen said Havana’s international launch was originally slated for next year, but it was moved up to the fall so Aramis could concentrate its resources on the February introduction of the Tommy Hilfiger men’s scent, which has been hotly anticipated by department store retailers since the licensing deal was signed with the designer by the parent company, EstÄe Lauder, last December.
Nielsen expects Hilfiger to grow into a brand that will rival the core Aramis classic fragrance business.
Aramis also is developing another fragrance for a Christmas 1995 introduction, and Nielsen is working on three licensing deals, which he thinks may come to fruition within six months.
In addition, Aramis hopes to repeat the strong success of its Lift Off anti-aging exfoliator with the launch in late October of a new Aramis aftershave called A+, which, like Lift Off, contains alpha-hydroxy acid. Details are still being worked out, executives said.
Also in October, Aramis will introduce Tuscany Forte, a longer-lasting version of the Tuscany Uomo men’s fragrance, with a more sparkling top note.
Aramis executives point to a 10 percent gain in Aramis classic sales since the last gwp was eliminated in April, as an indication that the 1993 volume drop has not only bottomed out but reversed, with the company now on the upswing.
In an industry where gwp’s are keys to survival for many high-volume brands, Nielsen believes he has shown department stores that gift promotions do not have to be a way of life.
“Retailers did not believe us,” Nielsen said. “Now they believe us.”
In January 1993, when Nielsen unfurled his rescue plan aimed at energizing the brand, retailers were apprehensive. Despite efforts by the division to spark growth, retailers described the business as “tough” and “mature.”
Store executives had worried a year ago that if Nielsen kicked out the promotional props, the business would go into free fall.
Since then, he has eliminated seven of Aramis’s eight gwp’s. The remaining promotion is an umbrella giveaway that will be staged Nov. 10. David Nap, vice president of marketing for Aramis USA, said the promotion is being retained because after 21 years of giving away umbrellas, the event has become synonymous with Aramis in the consumer mind.
While slashing promotions, Aramis intensified its in-store effort by beefing up staff with swarms of selling specialists, who work in front of store counters.
According to Nap, the staff of Aramis selling specialists has mushroomed from 216 in October 1992 to 600. In describing the effect of the extra help, Pamela Baxter, vice president of sales at Aramis USA, said, “We can do in a weekend, with them in the store, what we used to do in a month.”
The 600 specialists are divided among 1,200 doors, Nap said. Distribution was also trimmed.
“In the past, what you would see in the store was a visual that said, ‘Get this six-piece gift,’ and all you listened to was talk about the gift,” Nielsen said. “All our time and energy was spent on the six-piece gift. Now we sell our products.”
Aramis also instituted for the first time a single product focus to its marketing with the launch of Lift Off, an anti-aging moisturizer with an environmental protection level of SPF 7. Priced at $27.50 for 2 ounces, Lift Off was projected to do 92,000 units in the first six months, ending July 1, and actually has done 150,000 pieces to date, according to Baxter. The goal for the year is now 200,000 units.
“We made the product the hero,” Nielsen said, adding that Lift Off has set a new launch standard, and proved that a men’s treatment market is finally emerging after a decade of failed attempts by the industry.
Every year, the division will launch two products capable of selling 200,000 units, Nielsen predicted. They will be attached to either the core Aramis classic fragrance line, or the Lab Series skin care group.
Although Aramis executives declined to discuss dollar figures, sources indicate that the core Aramis classic, or “tortoise,” business fell about 10 percent during the promotional rollback from a wholesale volume of $33 million to a lower plateau of $30 million.
The entire Aramis division does an estimated wholesale volume of more than $60 million.
The total includes Lab Series, with a volume estimated at $4.2 million, and Tuscany, which reportedly does $15 million.
There also are minor brands like New West, JHL and Devin.
Retailers are not as ebullient as company executives. But they agree the worst is over for Aramis and some see bright spots on the horizon, Lift Off in particular.
“It appears to level and hopefully it will begin to build again,” said Rita Burke, senior vice president of cosmetics at Macy’s East in New York.
“I understand why the company decided to pull back on the gwp promotions,” she added. “We did take a hit in business. Through the transition, Aramis lost its premium ranking at the men’s fragrance bar.”
Burke said Aramis dropped from the top five to the top 10. She noted that while Aramis was pulling back on promotions, the new introductions coming into the men’s market were extremely promotional, such as Davidoff Cool Water and Zino Davidoff and Ralph Lauren’s Polo Sport.
“The bright spot,” she continued, “is Lift Off, which brings a unique focus, not only for Aramis, but for the men’s market. Sales have been phenomenal.”
Burke, who praised the efforts of the selling specialists and the company’s training of beauty advisers behind the counter, said the new Aramis alpha-hydroxy aftershave, A+, could “‘bring new users to the counter or rejuvenate interest by classic Aramis users.”
Arnold Orlick, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of Bloomingdale’s, said, “It’s still not 100 percent, but it’s stabilizing.”
He noted that the elimination of gwp’s “hurt the business over the last two years,” but it was a decision, made on the basis of profitability, that will help in the long run.
“We are looking forward to the Hilfiger launch because we think that will be a home run,” said Orlick, who described Lift Off in the same terms.
Pat Joyce, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Rich’s in Atlanta, said volume dropped last year, but Aramis maintained its position within the top five men’s brands.
“We are achieving plan with slight growth. Lift Off really helped us in the first quarter,” she said.
Joyce speculated that A+ could outsell Lift Off because the older Aramis audience may be more apt to use skin care.
John Stabenau, vice president of Neiman Marcus, said Aramis has traditionally been a strong brand at Neiman’s, and the store has also done well with Lab Series, particularly with Lift Off meeting expectations.
That strength helped the brand through the transition period.
“It’s stabilized,” Stabenau said, “and making progress.”