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LimoniBest: Is Bigger Better?

MILAN — Sometimes a new retail concept is slow to start, despite all the bells and whistles a crisp new format, slick architecture and a grand advertising budget can promise. Such is the case with a new retail concept by Italian perfumery chain...

MILAN — Sometimes a new retail concept is slow to start, despite all the bells and whistles a crisp new format, slick architecture and a grand advertising budget can promise. Such is the case with a new retail concept by Italian perfumery chain Gruppo Limoni SpA.

The chain’s latest project is its new superstore here, which opened in November 2001. At 2,642 square feet, the LimoniBest superstore has three floors and is located in a side gallery off the bustling, pedestrians-only shopping zone of Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

But bigger isn’t always better. Despite a $307,000 ad campaign billing it as “the newest, biggest and most beautiful perfumery in Italy,” industry sources and Limoni alike seemed sworn to a code of silence when asked about sales results.

Still, the chain is banking on the branding power of these LimoniBest stores to pave the way for their anticipated entry into the Milan stock exchange by spring 2003. Limoni sales director Alberto Miani confirmed that Limoni hopes to be quoted on the exchange based on its Dec. 31, 2002, consolidated earnings.

Limoni executives would not return phone calls or e-mails as to the store’s performance. L’Oréal mentioned the opening of a new corner in the store, but declined further comment.

But several industry sources wishing to remain anonymous said the superstore scored negative points due to poor sales, little consumer traffic and the general lack of perfumery know-how by Limoni head honcho Piofrancesco Borghetti.

“He knows finance, not perfumeries,” said one.

Aveda, which has a 200-square-foot corner on the store’s upper level, was satisfied with sales, but acknowledged a lack of customers. For example, on a Thursday afternoon two weeks before Christmas, not one customer was found shopping on the upper floor.

“For us, things have absolutely not gone badly; we are basically doing what we expected,” said Andrea Bragato, Aveda Italia’s business manager. “It is true that there are very few people [in the store], and I must say that I am a little worried about that. Yet you need to consider that Limoni is a perfumery, not a department store, and there is always less traffic.”

Despite initial lackluster reviews, additional LimoniBest locations are expected to open in Italy’s urban centers, with the next one slated for Rome. The company’s goal is to have at least one LimoniBest in every major Italian city, and to that end, the company is in the advanced negotiation stages for a prestigious Roman location of nearly 6,560 square feet, said Miani in January.

A bright spot for the retailer may lie in the store’s design and architecture, which seeks to create a powerful LimoniBest brand identity, said Miguel Sal, Limoni’s architect and communication consultant for the project. Noting Sephora as an exception, the LimoniBest strategy contrasts that of traditional perfumeries, he said, which promote not the store but the prominent brands of the individual products.

In doing so, the company believes that a branding “trickle effect” will stretch to all Limoni perfumeries, said Sal. “As with wine, when you come up with that rare vintage, it sheds light on the others,” he said. “We want to be the point of reference, a strong personality, instead of falling into the trap that perfumeries usually propose, where the brands are stronger than the retailers. That’s the main idea: Give LimoniBest a stronger identity than Chanel, Lancôme, etc.”

Limoni hired Sal’s firm, Miguel Sal & C Srl, to tackle the advertising and PR that consisted of regional ads throughout Lombardia. Included were poster-size ads in the Metropolitana stations, tram wraps and inserts in dailies La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. The colorful and sexy imagery includes a fork with pieces of red lipstick on its tines, or a toucan next to a fanned-out turquoise-and-yellow makeup brush.

“Yes, it’s a very expensive toucan,” said Sal, looking at his supersize creations from outside the store. The images are in lightboxes, which prevent passers-by from seeing what is inside the store. “This was part of the trick, the images in the lightboxes inside and outside: to give a real personality to the brand with distinct imagery that belongs only to LimoniBest.”

But the trick hasn’t yet turned to magic. The store, although just meters away from jam-packed Corso Vittorio Emanuele, is relatively quiet.

To help drive traffic into the store, Miani said the company’s current marketing plan for the year includes LimoniBest-specific external communication, including PR with trade and consumer media, internal and external animation and promotions managed by Limoni in conjunction with their suppliers.

While no two regular Limoni perfumeries are alike in size or layout, LimoniBest stands apart through its unusual layout that allows the LimoniBest brand to shine instead of the individual beauty brands.

“The other stores have a vertical organization,” said Sal. “The main thing is that its organization is not a slave to the logic of the houses. LimoniBest imposes its own logic and identity.”

LimoniBest is divided into one emotion per floor. The ground floor, for instance, is meant to evoke “passion, sin and seduction,” according to Sal. It is accented with deep red curtains and soft lighting. Here, consumers explore impulse purchases such as gift sets, new makeup or fragrance arrivals, and browse women’s fragrances.

From there, customers have two choices: upstairs or downstairs. The upper floor emphasizes “well-being and purity” and holds skin care brands such as Shiseido, Christian Dior and Sisley, as well as the Aveda corner. Here, salespeople indulge customers with “mini-rituals” such as tea, hand massages or the “sensory journey,” in which they choose aromatherapy essence.

“The average receipt has doubled compared with sales in the [former] Rinascente corner. It goes to show that when these rituals are offered, the customer buys more,” said Bragato, adding that the company phased out the brand’s La Rinascente department store corners starting at the end of January. “The whole brand image [there] was very poor. This was a great opportunity.”

The lower level holds a men’s-specific section, personal hygiene products and “trend zone” — with brands like Deborah, Pupa and Prestige — for teens.

The company, which closed 2001 with $151.7 million in sales, predicts a whopping 52 percent year-on-year growth in 2002. Industry sources estimate that LimoniBest will ring up close to $5.2 million in sales for 2002.

German beauty firm Marbert AG acquired Limoni in 1998, and the company was handed over to Marbert’s holding company, Scent SA, in December 1999. All figures were converted from euros at the current exchange rate.

The company estimates ending 2002 with $231 million in sales, followed by $242.43 million in 2003 and closing 2004 with $250.24 million. Additionally, Limoni expects to have 300 doors by the end of 2002 and 400 in 2003.

“It is a different kind of place and experience,” added Bragato, as a salesperson offered a cup of peppermint-licorice caffeine-free tea to a customer. “The idea here is to create a store-in-store environment. Aveda is ‘experience-retail.’ All our rituals are quite peculiar for regular distribution channels.”