Byline: Pete Born

NEW YORK--Etienne Aigner Cosmetics GmbH, the Munich-based fragrance licensee of the German apparel and accessory house, is taking a crack at the American market.
Next week, the company will introduce Private Number and Private Number for Men. While it is not uncommon to give men's and women's scents the same name, it is highly unusual to launch them simultaneously. The fragrances will make their entrance in a highly focused distribution of only 300 department store doors. All of them do a strong business in Aigner shoes, handbags and leather goods and the strategy is to cash in on the consumer awareness of the name.
A lot is riding on this launch. While executives would not discuss dollars, industry sources said Aigner is hoping for U.S. retail sales of $40 million to $50 million within two or three years.
For Aigner Cosmetics, which has been marketing fragrances in other parts of the world since 1975, the American launch has been a long time coming.
A fragrance license for the American market was worked out in an agreement with the New York-based Etienne Aigner Inc. six years ago and next week's introduction has been planned for the last three years.
"We wanted to wait until we could do our homework," said Werner Negges, chief executive officer of Etienne Aigner Cosmetics.
Negges, who described the U.S. as the "toughest and most competitive market in the world," said, "To work here, we felt we better be very proper." Three years ago, Negges and his executives traveled the country and talked "to all the major buyers," Negges said.
In spring 1993, Aigner executives also talked with Byron Donics and Peter Zegras, who had just formed their Khepra Beauty Group. Khepra subsequently became Aigner's Western Hemisphere distributor.
What emerged was a launch plan predicated on the buzzwords of synergy and value. The synergy was in focusing on retail accounts with strong Aigner accessory franchises--largely divisions of May Department Store Co. and Mercantile Stores Co.--instead of following the trail of the typical fragrance rollout through the biggest department store chains and the top markets.
Negges noted that Aigner does $120 million in U.S. stores.
"The awareness is extremely high," he said.
The fall launch stores include the Bon Ton of York, Pa.; Filene's in Boston; Famous-Barr in St. Louis; Foley's in Houston; Hecht Co. in Washington; Castner Knott Co. in Nashville; the Jones Store Co. in Kansas City; Gafers/J.B. White of Montgomery, Ala.; Kaufmann's, Pittsburgh; Gafers/Maison Blanche groups of Mobile, Ala.; Bacon's of Louisville, Ky., and Meier & Frank in Portland, Ore.
Zegras said 90 percent of that rollout will take place in the next three weeks. A second wave is scheduled for next spring, with the addition of 200 doors, covering markets like New York and Los Angeles and including major chains like Federated Department Stores and Belk's.
The fall lineup was composed with an eye toward maximizing impact, primarily with store exclusives. There will be periods when Aigner will be the only introduction on the selling floor, or as Zegras put it, "at least 10 clean days in each store."
"If you can't get the kind of exclusive you want when you launch, you'd rather not do it at all," he added.
Aigner took pains not only in picking stores, but in tailoring the product for U.S. tastes and sizing up price points to fit American wallets.
The women's Private Number was launched in Germany in 1991 and the men's counterpart followed a year later. While both sold well in Europe, Aigner Cosmetics executives decided that a more updated women's fragrance was needed for the American market.
So a new floriental scent was developed by Firmenich and a new bottle was designed by Pierre Dinand, who also did the men's bottle.
The new scent was more floral than the original women's fragrance, which also was aldehydic. The formulas for the two men's and women's fragrances contain a total of 200 natural ingredients, which Donics described as "an unusually high" proportion of naturals.
The company also cast a stern eye on the pricing. The opening price point of the seven-item women's line is $35 for a 1.7-oz. eau de toilette spray. A 3.4-oz. eau de toilette spray is $47.50.
The line also features a 1/2-oz. perfume for $75, an item Donics estimated would typically be priced $90 to $100 throughout the industry.
"What we don't want to do is price ourselves out of the market," Zegras said, adding that the pricing was calculated to spur sales. "It was a very conscious decision. It's a great fragrance and we want people to be able to afford it and buy it."
The eight-item men's line opens with a 1.7-oz. eau de toilette pour for $30.
A total of four million scented pieces, inserted into various vehicles, such as a store's shoe catalog, will be used to promote the fragrances, along with newspaper advertising. The company also will count on strong visual presentations in the stores, and Donics said there will be a major emphasis on in-store demonstration.
There also will be a value set and Christmas offer for each fragrance.
Joanne P. Hickey, merchandise manager of Mercantile Stores Co., predicted the combination of Aigner accessories and fragrances will be powerful, particularly during the holiday gift-giving season.
"The synergies of the two at that time of year," she said, "will make an impact."

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