ORLANDO — With the tween department busting at the seams, mass beauty marketers are setting their sights on much younger consumers with licenses such as Crayola and Spongebob Squarepants.

They are also taking advantage of retailers’ wishes to target diverse shoppers by adding beauty lines for women of color. A final trend spotted at the recent Efficient Promotion Planning Session, held here Feb. 23-27, was a flood of at-home spa items.

Buyers ranging from J.C. Penney Co. and Bed, Bath & Beyond to Target and Happy Harry’s met in 20-minute sessions with more than 90 vendors who showed off their latest items to try to rev up the mass-market beauty business, which saw meager gains last year. Most retailers were nailing down plans for the fourth-quarter of 2003, including Christmas, that they hope will be brighter this year than last.

One avenue is to court a very young consumer — children under seven. The hallways at the Orlando Renaissance Resort brimmed with licensed items aimed at children who have "begging" power over parents. For five years, many manufacturers have introduced lines for tweens and teens. With that market saturated, they are looking for new opportunities.

Schroeder & Tremayne, for example, unwrapped a new line of personal care items under the Crayola banner. The initial launch includes bubble bath, shower gel, soap, shampoo, conditioner, detanglers and accessories. "The flavors match the best-selling colors," said Alan Rodda, national account manager for the company. "All products are safe and the packages are easy-to-grip." The Crayola personal-care items will ship in July.

Crayola will be pitted against a host of characters, including Betty Spaghetty, Dora the Explorer, Spongebob Squarepants and Strawberry Shortcake, as well as products based on popular candy brands.

The Betty Spaghetty doll now has her own beauty products from Mountaintop Fashions. Targeted at children four to 12, the beauty products retail between $2.99 and $3.99 and can be merchandised in toys or beauty. The items will be available for back-to-school and include cosmetics, bath-and-body and hair-and-nail assortments.

MZB Personal Care, soaking up success with Spongebob, has extended the line, and also enlarged its offerings of Dora the Explorer. Now it is creating items based on Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Japanese animation hit. Yu-Gi-Oh! offers a way to engage more boys in personal care, according to Debbie Baker, president of MZB Personal Care.Making a comeback is Strawberry Shortcake, an icon from two decades ago, with a new television show and home videos. The delectable character has been updated for contemporary children and will be heavily supported at chains such as Wal-Mart, Toys "R" Us and Target. Target, in fact, already has apparel and cosmetics bearing Strawberry Shortcake and her friends. Townley has the cosmetics license for Strawberry Shortcake and presented retailers with a display bringing together its Powerpuff Girls, Hello Kitty and Strawberry Shortcake products.

Beyond character licensing, suppliers are sweetening the beauty business with licensed candy cosmetics. Lotta Luv has the rights to well-known names such as Hershey’s, Bubble Yum and S’Mores. Added Extras tempted customers with beauty items based on Popsicle, Mike & Ike and Bazooka. There are also seasonal candy promotions being added such as Peeps for Easter, according to Michael Kaplan, vice president for Added Extras. Also for youngsters, Buy Rite has FaceGraces, beauty appliqués in a book form — complete with a story line for preteens.

While retailers look to plump up sales with items for children, they are also adding more products to pamper women. The showrooms were filled with sugar and salt rubs, manicure kits, body butters, soufflés, facials and aromatherapy items.

The at-home spa category has become a bright spot in a lackluster market. With more and more shoppers looking for pampering items outside of salons, many of the marketers at EPPS were showing a high quality of spa-inspired products. Sunny Marketing, for example, touted its collection of items under the Earth Therapeutics logo. According to Henry Kang, president, the products are among the top producers at J.C. Penney. Penney’s recently ended its partnership with Avon to sell the BeComing beauty line in favor of adding more footage to the bath-and-body as well as accessories categories.

Alida Stevens, president of Sinclair & Valentine, whose business now is about one-third private label, said: "We all have fantasies about taking time to go to a spa, but most of us don’t."

Another upscale bath line vying for attention was from The Organic Bath Co. The company uses natural ingredients such as organically grown white tea, coconut and grapefruit. One unique item in the room was flower petals that foam in the bath. Unlike many small bath-and-body companies that do not advertise, The Organic Bath Co. has earmarked $1.5 million to initiate an advertising campaign.To differentiate themselves from the florals and natural ingredients, @mosphere showed its Infusions line that includes scents that are a bit different, such as Sugar & Spice or Mint Tea. "We don’t have your typical raspberries," said Allan Lever, vice president-brand developer. "We are seeing the mass market become more sophisticated and looking for things like tea tree oil."

Village Naturals said its value offerings enabled it to buck the downward trend and improve its sales 12 percent last year. In addition to new promotional scents, it will unveil a collection to treat cold and flu symptoms called Therapy.

New Dana presented the final products for its spa-and-nail care collection called Frills. "What’s really cute are the kits which sell for $14.99 for about three applications. We’re getting great reaction to Frills," said Celeste Ward, vice president of sales for Barrington Sales Associated, which handles New Dana.

American Sales’ Kristen Heinz was impressed with Naterra International’s Skin Milk line. "It is nice and clean looking," she said. Chris McClain, president of Naterra, showed line extensions, including Milk Wipes priced less than $5 for a 30 count and a new Nut Butter and Mango Shea Butter aimed at the ethnic market.

With retailers such as Walgreens experimenting with store formats aimed at particular market demographics such as African-American shoppers, manufacturers are once again eyeing lines of beauty products for women of color. Diamond Cosmetics is introducing a collection called Jazz, with each item priced at $2.49. Cosmetic 2000 unveiled its line called Uptown Colors. Also Jordana expanded its Milani line of cosmetics to include women of Hispanic heritage.

With value a consumer mantra, buyers were on the prowl for imported sets. "We can work with buyers to create a set at the price point and margin they want," said Mickey Davidow, account executive for Atico.

Meanwhile, the nail category continues to grow, especially in drug chains that devote footage to specialty items such as artificial nails. American International, which acquired the Five Second Nail Glue company, brought a manicurist to the show who applied a new gel nail product that the company will introduce. According to David Woolf, executive vice president, the initial purchase includes a special ultraviolet light needed to "set" the gel. The starter kit will retail for about $35. Also new from American is Brow Wow Wow, a 14-stockkeeping-unit collection of eyebrow treatments and accessories such as brow mascara. And, the Fran Wilson company showed Instant Brows, an at-home kit. Cosmetics brushes, sponges and other implements also abounded, including presentations of a revised line from Upstage, while A.J. Sirius showed its new Sicara accessories line, which is extending into bags.And Sirius was not alone. Cosmetics cases and color kits were prevalent, with Living Things, Intercon Merchandising Source and GBW, among others, looking to gain an edge in the market. Intercon’s new president and chief operating officer, Vicki McClendon, formerly of Sears, showed a new makeup kit collection targeted at tweens called Girls [Eye] Q. As noted by Richard Lynch, vice president of sales at Living Things, sales of cosmetics cases have shifted from seasonal to year-round. "Our sales are 75 percent basic and 25 percent promotional," said Lynch.

Marti Bentley, category manager for Duane Reade, was happy to see some fragrance innovations. "We like the fragrances from Revelations including the new one called Loving," said Bentley.

First American Brands showed licensed scents like one with Chevrolet, that comes in a tire package and is paired with a model car; Coty marketers presented its new Celine Dion fragrance, which will ship to mass stores beginning August, and New Dana revealed its fourth-quarter gift sets with new package designs. Also, Jean Philippe Tri-Star is relaunching Tatiana.

Retailers also cited items as diverse as a new liquid-to-powder foundation from L’Oréal and a novelty hair accessory called Undee Banz, [it looks like a men’s underwear band], as potential hits.

Show scuttlebutt has shifted from the troubles of Revlon — which talked up its increased marketing plans for this year — to the expanding dominance of Wal-Mart in mass beauty. Attendees remarked that Wal-Mart typically accounts for 20 to 40 percent of a brand’s sales, if not more. Competitive retailers are starting to tell start-up vendors that if their line is in Wal-Mart, they won’t take it — because they can’t compete on price. It’s said that Wal-Mart is also investigating doing more direct sourcing for some beauty categories, cutting out smaller suppliers. Wal-Mart buyers did not attend the show. Although a former Target buyer, Maggie Parish, reappeared as head of her own company —Customized Strategies, a brand development firm in Minneapolis.

When they weren’t meeting about new items, retailers and suppliers took advantage of a night out at the House of Blues. Retailers always applaud the casual ambience of the EPPS show. To liven up the meeting-weary gang, jello shots were served on the bus ride to the club.However, EPPS is far from a party. Many on the buying and selling side said a great deal of work is accomplished during the show. Barry Bickel, sales manager North American Cosmetics for Procter & Gamble, praised the meeting for its efficient format. To make it even more efficient, some retailers carried about scanners where, with the swipe of a wand, they could get all product information that they could download into computers back at the office. Charlie Bowlus, president of ECRM, parent of the EPPS show, said, "We are fine-tuning the scanners," for the balance of ECRM’s shows for the year.

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