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Like the young women it caters to, the teen beauty market can be a fickle business.
Since Jane Cosmetics hit the drugstore scene in 1994, formally declaring there was a youth market to be had, a succession of brands and retailers have plied the teen waters with pots of glitter and scented lip glosses.
Yet just as new players enter, like the recently opened She She brand boutique at Macy’s Herald Square and the Mary-Kate and Ashley collection at Wal-Mart, others are exiting. In the past few months, specialty chains Wet Seal and H&M have disbanded their cosmetics programs. And beauty retailer Skinmarket, which mixed private label cosmetics with music and magazines, quietly went out of business in August.
These failures, though, have not diminished the beauty industry’s fixation with the teen market. For, on the flip side, there are the success stories, like Bonne Bell and Caboodles, whose sales continue to grow, and the lure of billions of dollars these young women possess in discretionary income. In 2000, there were some 14 million teenage girls in the U.S, according to the U.S. Census. That same year, teens spent, on average, $84 a week. Everyone is still interested in a piece of the action.
Some marketers, such as Avon, are willing to go to the drawing board more than once to try to get their hand into the teen pocketbook. In 1998, Avon had introduced the teen brand ColorTrend only to withdraw it the following year. Next year, it will debut a new brand — mark — in an aggressive program intended to recruit teen sales associates as well. The Fetish brand, which had signed and then lost pop star Christina Aguilera as a partner, is now being revamped in a licensing agreement with Manhattan-based Designs by Skaffles. And Jane Cosmetics, now a division of The Estée Lauder Cos., which helped define the teen market, has seen its sales slipping double digits — and has installed new leadership and is retooling. Jane has also begun to reposition itself as a fashion brand, and has provided beauty looks at fashion shows. Even Wet Seal executives said they might put a new spin on their color line and try for a comeback at some point.
K. MacDonald Paris, associate director at Bonne Bell, currently the best-selling teen brand in the mass market, said he thinks the spotlight on teens is here to stay.
“I don’t think others will start losing interest any time soon,” said Paris. For retailers though, “the trick with anything is to be mindful of how many different players you bring in,” he remarked. “At some point you get saturation and diminishing returns.”
One of the greatest challenges for marketers has been that teens are always on the hunt for something new. “They love something today and they hate something today,” quipped Paris. Another conventional wisdom is that teens are willing to buy beauty anywhere.
With direct sellers, department stores, specialty chains and mass retailers all vying with teen beauty offerings, marketers are likely to be disappointed if they expect any one venue to emerge as the dominant teen shopping arena.
As noted Gary Schofield, president of Caboodles, “Teens will shop at Target as quickly as they will shop at Macy’s.” Caboodles has attempted to cover most bases by offering the Caboodles brand at mass and the She She and C Me brands in department stores and maybe specialty chains in the future.
“Teens are definitely being heavily targeted, but they love it,” said Janis Gaudelli, senior manager of TrendSpotter marketing for Teen People, the overseer of the magazine’s 12,000-member teen consumer group. “They are going to continue to not show favorites. There is not going to be one place that they go. They know the places that acknowledge their presence and make them feel welcome.”
And while a flurry of niche youth brands have flooded the mass market, power players like Cover Girl and Maybelline, traditional teen favorites, have fought back with novelty items of their own, usually in the form of seasonal promotions. Marc Pritchard, vice president of cosmetics and personal care at Procter & Gamble, Cover Girl’s parent, suggests brands must win the hearts of teens.
“Teens are smart, they’re skeptical of marketing claims and many really enjoy trying new products and shades,” said Pritchard. “We’ve established this ‘emotional bond’ with teens through multiple touch points: in our marketing, in store and with our products.”
P&G also has a new research program called Tremor, which connects it to teen consumers through a Web site.
“Cosmetics consumers — and especially teens — are always trying new products,” said Pritchard.
Speaking of new, Bill McMenemy, executive vice president of marketing at Del Labs, said that its recent NYC New York Color promotion featuring items based on New York City icons like the subway system and Statue of Liberty, had a clean sell through. And Lotta Luv, a new division of Designs by Skaffles has achieved broad distribution with a collection of licensed cosmetics based on candy lines including Bubble Yum Bubble Gum and Junior Mints.
Vicki Williams, president of Signature Sales, a product development consultant, suggests that anybody can have a shot at winning the teen consumer.
“The consumer is not as brand conscious as she used to be. Young people are much more confident, and it doesn’t have to be a hot brand. There are so many niche brands that are doing neat things.”