SLEEPERS SEEN WAKING UP YULE SALES

Byline: Faye Brookman

NEW YORK--As mass market retailers start to set up for the holiday season, they are hoping enough unsung items will rise from obscurity to boost this Christmas over last year's mediocre showing.
Many buyers said this year's only sure winners in the fragrance category are two scents from Coty: Longing and Vanilla Musk. But they think they have uncovered some items that will inspire impulse Christmas gift sales and keep customers from wandering to department stores.
With these potential sleepers in mind, retailers plan for sales gains of 8 to 9 percent through the holiday period. Buyers hope the one extra selling day prior to Christmas will provide an extra kick.
Although it is not yet Halloween, many stores are setting up promotional units with Christmas merchandise and holiday gift sets. Even Christmas trees are starting to appear in the aisles.
"We get some complaints for putting it out early, but we think it is important to get the stores ready," said James LeBlanc, president of K&B Inc. of New Orleans.
With the heavy promotional season shifting into gear, one of the unexpected bright spots has been the early acceptance of Revlon's Fire & Ice. Although Revlon is hardly a small player in the beauty world, its past fragrance launches, such as Unforgettable and Uptown Girl, haven't done much.
Buyers said Fire & Ice gave Revlon another chance to launch a fragrance that would click. As it turned out, the item has paid off.
"Fire & Ice is one of three fragrances we think will be big for Christmas," said Lorraine Coyle, buyer for Kmart Corp., whose other picks were Longing and Vanilla Musk. "We're already seeing interest in Fire & Ice and we just put it out on display."
Many retailers credited an aggressive advertising campaign, which stars Cindy Crawford, with the scent's early sales.
"The ad is hot," said Ari Rodriguez, cosmetics buyer for Gresham Drugs Inc., based in Gainesville, Fla. "I expect Fire & Ice to be one of our best fragrances this Christmas."
She also hopes to attract Christmas shoppers with alternative designer scents from Delagar, a division of Bellcam Inc. The company's women's fragrances are called Mystic Impressions; the men's are named Classic Match.
"We do a really good business with these items and expect they'll be hits for us this year," Rodriguez said.
Paul Bellm, brand manager for Delagar, based in St. Jean, Quebec, said the company created a new display for this Christmas season that merchandises Delagar's knockoffs in one place.
For example, the company's versions of Calvin Klein's Escape, Eternity and Obsession are packaged together in a 15-piece display. The Elizabeth Taylor's Jewel Collection imitations are also together.
Bellm said the company's research has shown consumers are purchasing knockoffs as gifts and for personal use, and the proliferation of diverted merchandise in the mass market hasn't diminished the allure of knockoffs.
"Even with the real thing in the store, people want the value of our products," he said. "We've repacked and expect double-digit gains for Christmas."
Without spending millions of dollars on advertising, Art' Fleurs, another niche fragrance brand, is getting some unexpected attention for Christmas.
"We've already sold through our first prepack of it," said Agatha Thomas, a cosmetician for the Love's Store at 1203 Broadway in Manhattan. "People notice it because of the flower in the bottle."
She said Art' Fleurs was the only mass market fragrance she thought would do well for her stores through the holidays. The other brands she is bullish about are secondarily sourced products such as Christian Dior's Dune, Givenchy's Amarige and Lancôme's Trésor.
Art' Fleurs, which includes women's and men's scents, is offering a special collection of gift miniatures for Christmas.
"It offers retailers a chance to sell something that not everyone has," said Tony Fulton, distributor for Art' Fleurs in the U.S.
Retailers said they'll look to non-traditional fragrance products to provide an extra sales boost this Christmas. For the past three years, bath items have augmented fragrance sales, but with sales in that area sagging a bit, buyers are hoping the home fragrance category will pick up the slack.
LaLoren's Sarah Michaels division has introduced a line of home fragrances that are being stocked by retailers such as CVS, Walgreen Co., Osco Drug and Eckerd Corp.
"I believe the new line from Sarah Michaels will make a positive contribution to the business," said Carol Allman, director of beauty merchandising for Eckerd. "It is attractive."
Mark Kaplan, president of LaLoren, said home fragrances fill a profitable niche in the gift-giving business.
"There's a real void in the market. Mass marketers have to sell something other than Coty fragrances," he said. "It could turn out to be even bigger than the bath category."

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