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Sarah Michaels Targets Lifestyles

NEW YORK — Sarah Michaels, the brand that for some people brings to mind grandma poking through a cellophane-wrapped basket of floral mists on Mother’s Day, will all but be forgotten. At least that’s what the brand’s owners are...

NEW YORK — Sarah Michaels, the brand that for some people brings to mind grandma poking through a cellophane-wrapped basket of floral mists on Mother’s Day, will all but be forgotten. At least that’s what the brand’s owners are hoping.

Beginning in January, a more contemporary Sarah Michaels incarnation begins shipping to retailers nationwide. New packaging, new formulas and eight new gift-set ideas have been modeled after a modern woman’s lifestyle, rather than a fragrance, the basis for Sarah Michaels’ past existence. The new line looks to bump sales up 40 percent in 2003 to $150 million.

“The previous Sarah Michaels had become very old in its appeal,” said Kathy Alaama, vice president of marketing for Sarah Michaels LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Hathi Group of Chicago. The Hathi Group acquired Sarah Michaels and Freeman Cosmetics from The Dial Corp. in August 2001. The Sarah Michaels relaunch marks the company’s efforts for the outdated bath brand.

But while Sarah Michaels may have dropped off the innovators list, Alaama said that the brand still had wide appeal in focus groups. The new Sarah Michaels should target this wide demographic range, Alaama said, which is now coming back to mass stores for their bath products, since prestige and specialty stores are not providing the “experience” shoppers are seeking. “If you look at market research, shoppers are slowly leaving higher-end specialty shops because of this glaring [experience] miss. This provides a platform for Sarah Michaels at mass.”

Eight different flavors have been tailored to target a particular personality or lifestyle, with a different female icon representing each profile. The original graphic designer of Sarah Michaels, Jessica Godbey, was tapped to design the products’ new packaging. “Although I wanted to give Sarah Michaels her next life, I needed to maintain her soul,” Alaama said of seeking out Godbey.

Ginger Citrus targets an active, energetic and exotic woman and contains ginger root. Cucumber Honeydew looks to appeal to a woman who’s cool and calm and contains cucumber. Marine Spa targets the adventurous woman and contains sea kelp. Jasmine & Waterlily goes after a sweet and innocent woman and contains angelica root, a skin smoothing ingredient. Rose Silk targets the romantic and contains essence of rose and passion flower. Sun-Ripe Pear should appeal to a spirited sort and contains fruit extracts. Vanilla Sugar looks to appeal to indulgent types and contains vanilla bean and sugar cane. Milk & Honey looks to warm hearts and contains milk and honey. Each scent offers a themed gift set, as well as five core products: a body lotion, a body mist, a body wash, a shower scrub and extra-thick body cream. Despite the upgrade, prices will drop to $5.99 from $6.99. Gift sets will start at $9.99. With special touches, such as peach-shaped loofahs and beauty recipe cards, the gift sets look to evoke the “oohs” and “ahhs” the brand became famous for in the Nineties.

This story first appeared in the August 30, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Inarguably, Sarah Michaels single-handedly established the bath-and-body category in mass with innovative delivery systems (mists) and multidimensional flavors (fruity-florals). It’s also credited with introducing a true bath-and-body merchandising concept in one section of the store, allowing the customer for the first time to have the same shopping mind-set in mass as she did in specialty stores, such as Crabtree & Evelyn. Whether Sarah Michaels can reinvent itself well enough for customers who still appreciate the brand remains to be seen, especially since an influx of private label and nationally branded bath-and-body products continues to flood the category.