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Target Feeling a Little Blue

NEW YORK — Todd Oldham, Sonia Kashuk, Philippe Starck — now Blue Q?<br><br>Bath-and-body care marketer Blue Q, known for its kitschy, cartoonish creations like Dirty Girl, Virgin/Slut and Total Bitch, is the latest firm to be illuminated...

NEW YORK — Todd Oldham, Sonia Kashuk, Philippe Starck — now Blue Q?

This story first appeared in the August 16, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Bath-and-body care marketer Blue Q, known for its kitschy, cartoonish creations like Dirty Girl, Virgin/Slut and Total Bitch, is the latest firm to be illuminated by the designer haven that is Target.

The Minneapolis-based retailer is rolling out two new Blue Q collections called Me Me Me and Smart Cookie — albeit more reverential than previous Blue Q offerings, but just as whimsical. Seven stockkeeping units from each brand initially launched at Target several weeks ago, and they are expected to reach the retailer’s full complement of 1,148 stores by Oct. 28.

“It happened because of their appetite for creative brands,” Blue Q cofounder Mitch Nash said of the Target agreement, which allows Blue Q to sell the brands in other mass distribution outlets.

It all started when a Target buyer approached Mitch Nash and his brother, fellow founder Seth Nash, at a trade show last year. The buyer expressed interest in Dirty Girl, but other avenues were explored because the Nashes wanted to keep the brand in the company’s traditional specialty store distribution. Still, Target “wanted a character-driven brand like Dirty Girl,” said Mitch Nash. Dirty Girl is only one of 12 Blue Q brands, but the three-year-old collection is the company’s bread and butter, accounting for nearly 35 percent of net sales.

While ideas for new brands were presented to Target using little more than storyboards, the retailer ran a five-week test of 10 existing Blue Q products in 50 stores around the U.S. The tests were considered “successful,” and the retailer “stuck with us through the whole nasty process of brand development,” said Mitch Nash, a process that yielded Me Me Me and Smart Cookie. The body washes, creams and lip balms are priced for retail from $4 to $7.

Target could not be reached for comment, and Nash would not discuss numbers, but industry sources expect combined sales of both Me Me Me and Smart Cookie to reach $1 million by yearend.

For Target, the move is seen by some sources as a step in building up the beauty department for a redesign slated for March 2003.

For Blue Q, a 14-year-old company that oversees distribution of existing brands to nearly 4,000 specialty store and boutique doors, the move is a departure from business as usual. Retailers from Nordstrom and Ulta to Henri Bendel and Fred Segal Essentials carry Blue Q products, depending on the brand. Nordstrom, for instance, doesn’t carry Virgin/Slut.

But in order to pull off the extensive Target project, “we wanted to get a partner to do it,” acknowledged Mitch Nash.

The retailer put Blue Q in touch with Enchante, a supplier already doing business in Target with Belle Maison body care products and home fragrances. Enchante now handles logistics for Me Me Me and Smart Cookie, including manufacturing, distribution and replenishment. “Where Me Me Me and Smart Cookie are geared toward the younger customer, Belle Maison is geared toward a more mature audience,” observed Bob Greening, Enchante’s president of Personal Care.

Citing logistics demands, Seth Nash said, “All those things are a very big job. It’s a daunting task for a company of our size at this point.” With 45 employees, Pittsfield, Mass.-based Blue Q had retail sales of $16 million last year, according to industry sources, including some overseas distribution.

Blue Q, which established a new division of the company to handle the Me Me Me and Smart Cookie businesses called Make It Snappy, holds the creative reins for the two brands. Sources indicated Blue Q is paid royalties through a licensing agreement with Enchante, which is based here.