NEW YORK — The dearth of new mass market fragrance launches inspired Walgreen Co. to do something radical— seek out a resource to create an exclusive scent for its 4,227 doors.

Starting this month, Walgreens is selling a fragrance from Firmenich made exclusively for Walgreens called C’est Moi — It’s Me. Although there are some major launches, Walgreens is ready for more. “We had to help ourselves,” said Steve Lubin, divisional merchandise manager. The chain expects C’est Moi to grab and keep a spot among its top 10 selling fragrances.

Neither Walgreens nor Firmenich sources would provide a number, but industry sources estimate the fragrance could achieve sales of $3 million to $5 million.

A stale mass fragrance business has scared off most vendors from new launches; many fragrance houses of the Seventies and Eighties have vanished. According to ACNielsen, women’s fragrance sales are down almost 16 percent to $471 million for the 52-week period, ended Oct. 28, 2003 versus the same period last year. Men’s scent sales are down 6.4 percent to $171 million during that same period. The data excludes Wal-Mart.

Twenty years ago, buyers’ offices were filled with new scents from the likes of Faberge, Revlon, Max Factor, Jovan, Houbigant and Charles of the Ritz. Today, New Dana continues to labor under many management shifts leaving Coty Inc. as the only true mass fragrance house. There are other players such as Parfums de Coeur, diverted suppliers and a plethora of bath brands — but these companies are not known for major fragrance launches.

Despite the decline in mass scent sales, Walgreens has seen its business flourish, thanks, in part, to the chain’s unwavering support of fragrances. The chain has increased its share of the fragrance market in regard to both drug outlets and mass marketers, according to manufacturers’ statistics.

Stores have at least 12 feet of fragrance plus counter space, and the retailer never cut back on the department as many of its contemporaries did when sales started to slip.

The Deerfield, Ill.-based chain is one of the few in the business with beauty advisors in the department as well as department store-style counters. With few new brands to keep the momentum going, Walgreens took matters into its own hands.Rather than slap a Walgreens logo on a bottle of fragrance, Walgreens sought out a reputable fragrance house to create the scent. After scrutinizing the efforts of several, Walgreens’ executives selected Firmenich. New York-based Firmenich is behind award-winning scents such as those for Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani and Dior. Virtue Development Co. created the bottle and packaging.

“We didn’t think a big fragrance house would get excited about working with a drug chain,” said Lubin during an interview at Firmenich’s headquarters. That comment brought a smile to Theo E. Spilka’s face. Spilka, vice president fine fragrances for Firmenich, added, “With 4,000-some doors and a growing business, who wouldn’t want to work with them?”

Other retail chains such as CVS with Perennials, Wal-Mart with Mary-Kate and Ashley and Target with Sonia Kashuk have launched proprietary fragrances with modest results. The Walgreens and Firmenich team believe C’est Moi is very different because it is a classic rather than a trendy launch.

C’est Moi is designed to be more of a classic in the spirit of Chanel No. 5. Its bottle, coloration and box are all designed to appeal to Walgreens shoppers who may, or may not, currently be buying fragrance at its stores. “This is a woman comfortable in her own skin. She doesn’t need the latest scent,” said Kristen Abreu, category manager for fashion and beauty at Walgreens.

“We had looked at the scents that were being debuted 18 months ago and we saw a lot of pinks and blues,” said Spilka. “Walgreens really wanted something elegant and classic that women would be proud to wear.”

Eighteen months in the making, C’est Moi underwent several formulations and rigorous testing before all parties agreed on the final version, a floral blend of clementine, berries, peonies, orchids, tuberose and hydrangea petals with a dry down marked with Brazilian mahogany. Firmenich perfumer Jean Claude Delville led the creation of the scent.

The gold box features a holographic effect to help it stand out in the store. “We took nothing for granted. This scent was designed for success,” said Lubin.

To ensure that, Walgreens is turning to its highly regarded network of 10,000 trained beauty advisors. They’ll provide free trials of C’est Moi and educate shoppers about Firmenich and its successes. The counter display also features testers.To help C’est Moi stand out among the prestige fragrances sold at Walgreens, pricing is maintained under the $20 mark. The 1.7-oz. eau de toilette retails for $19.99, while the 1-oz. is priced at $14.99 and a .5-ounce costs $9.99. C’est Moi will be featured in Walgreens circulars, which have a 55 million circulation rate.

With the launch of C’est Moi, Walgreens hopes to return its stores to the glamour days of fragrances before shoppers were lured away with inexpensive forms of fragrance such as bath.

Walgreens remains one of the industry’s healthiest retailers. When the books are closed on 2003, it is estimated the chain will have added a new store a day. Goals call for the chain to reach 7,000 units by 2010. And that’s an impressive store count for any mass market fragrance.

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