NEW YORK — Aura Science, the joint venture between The Limited Inc.’s Intimate Beauty Corp. and Shiseido Co. Ltd., is shifting gears for the next phase. With its newest introduction Activate, this relatively young brand is putting a wrinkle in the lineup.

Since its inception, the company has always concentrated on the skin’s daily needs with the Aura 3 System — a trio of basic skin care products comprised of four phases that correspond to the four stages of skin condition in a woman’s lifespan. Now, Activate Skin Builder for Wrinkle Reduction, which will retail for $50 for 1.7 oz., is set to debut in September. It will join Advanced Solutions, a line comprised of products formulated to address issues such as puffiness, deep lines, wrinkles and dullness.

Activate is a lotion with a creamy texture that’s formulated to absorb almost immediately into skin to rebuild it inside and out, as well as to improve its inner support structure. “What sets Activate apart is that it delivers substantial, measurable, and truly consumer-visible results in terms of wrinkle reduction in four weeks,” said Rashida Poorman, director of marketing for Aura Science. She added that most new products in the industry require at least a six week window to provide a scorecard.

Though executives declined to comment on first-year projections for Activate, industry sources expect it to garner about $700,000 in freestanding Aura Science stores.

When Aura Science launched in April 2002, Erase Retinol Eye Cream for a Renewed Appearance and Aura Sense Relaxation Treatment for Destressing Skin were its only products for mature skin. The brand has since expanded its offerings. Recoup — an antiaging gel cream that contains Jayuka extract and caffeine to reduce puffiness, and vitamin E to protect skin and prevent it from premature aging — was introduced last November. Aura Surge Vitamin Treatment for Revitalizing Skin, a multivitamin treatment to provide antioxidant protection to help keep wrinkles at bay, debuted in January 2003 and Aura Lume Brightening Treatment for Illuminating Skin, which contains high levels of TMG, a beet extract, to help normalize skin and promote cell turnover, launched in February 2003. All of the products in the Advanced Solutions line retail for $50.Lynn Emmolo, executive vice president, general manager of Aura Science, noted that the brand continues to generate skin care and color sales, each comprising about 45 percent of the business. In color, Sheer Protect, a liquid makeup, was added in March. It comes in 15 shades, retailing for $22 for 1 oz., and contains SPF 10 and antioxidants to protect skin. Enigmagic, its fall 2003 color collection, will debut in August. Though fragrance, which was launched for holiday 2002, is the smallest category, there are plans in the works to increase its presence.

In addition to expanding the brand’s product offerings, management has found it another home. “We have a new channel of distribution,” said Robin Burns, president and chief executive officer of Aura Science, Victoria’s Secret Beauty and the Intimate Beauty Corp. parent, “which is inside of Victoria Secret Beauty — as Victoria’s Secret’s latest beauty secret.”

Burns explained that since mid-April, the Aura Science assortment has been merchandised in five Victoria’s Secret Beauty stores located inside malls, as well as in the Herald Square store, where the brand’s skin care and color take over the first room of the store. The strategy behind placing the brand in VSB is to build consumer awareness and encourage product trial by consumers, and at the same time pave the way for eventually opening a freestanding store.Burns pointed out that starting with freestanding stores “is an expensive proposition.” Since the opening of the first store in April 2002, executives have decided that the optimum store size is 1,000 square feet with an A location.

Another test was placing Aura Science color inside of VSB to see if it would cannibalize the existing color line or if it would show incremental growth. Burns noted she is pleased with the results, which have shown “significant incrementality on both fronts,” and added this was without launching any new products or doing any marketing or sampling.

As a result of this success, Aura Science will roll out to an additional 15 VSB doors — including all the way to the West Coast — by November. The six stores that currently host Aura Science are in markets where freestanding stores already exist. “We want to get trial and awareness faster than you’re going to get at a freestanding store and a new market where nobody has ever heard of it, ” said Burns.In past years, several beauty brands have tested their brands in multiple channels of distribution that allowed them to quickly build awareness rather than waiting and depending specifically on freestanding stores. Victoria Secret Beauty started out in the lingerie stores and now has freestanding stores and niches inside of lingerie stores. Bath & Body Works started as its own stores and incubated inside Express. In addition, brands such as MAC and Origins started with freestanding stores, as well as department store distribution.

The brand has also developed merchandising tools that have been tested — in two VSB stores and three Aura Science stores — and are ready to roll out. The tools are in the form of signs, contained in clear Lucite folders, that are about the same size as the products. Each category is represented by a different color and for each product, the sign contains the name of the product, a question and answer about how it works within three weeks. “We’ve really worked on merchandising the brand,” said Burns, and added that “what you want your skin care to do is to be something that a beauty specialist could easily explain and demonstrate to a customer.” She explained that this also allows customers to walk up to any section of the store and understand the products.

“We really try to make our environment how the customer wants to shop versus predetermining how she should shop,” said Emmolo. While Aura Science had about 20,000 customers in its database in November 2002, that number has quadrupled to about 86,000 who have either purchased or been sampled.

“Direct mail campaigns are playing a significant role in encouraging repeat purchase,” said Nance Dickinson, vice president and chief marketing officer of Aura Science. An offer to receive 40 percent off was sent out to both purchasers and nonpurchasers, for which it got a 5 percent response rate. This offer will be extended twice a year in January and June when, as Burns noted, malls are into clearance sales and it’s an effective way to get a share of them, as well as an opportune time to launch a product. “What we did differently this year is we studied the traffic pattern of retail and looked at when the traffic was in the mall and designed promotional programs around the high traffic period,” said Emmolo.Taking a page from the playbook used by MAC Cosmetics and some other brands,Aura Science is also using local public relations in each market to build awareness. “The events are actually making those connections one to one with both leaders and women in the community,” noted Dickinson.Aura Science focuses on organizations that help women and children and makes contributions to those organizations. “And that’s what really makes the difference. Making those connections very deeply in the community, that’s going to pay off for us in the long run and is already starting to in the shorter term.”

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