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Critical Mass: CVS Adds Derm Items to Healthy Centers

NEW YORK — CVS is on the cutting edge — again.

Inspired by European apothecaries, CVS is proving it wants to take drugstore beauty beyond the status quo. The latest move is the exclusive distribution of two lines from Princeton,...

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NEW YORK — CVS is on the cutting edge — again.

Inspired by European apothecaries, CVS is proving it wants to take drugstore beauty beyond the status quo. The latest move is the exclusive distribution of two lines from Princeton, N.J.-based NeoStrata Co. Inc.

Within the next few weeks, CVS will start selling CoverBlend by Exuviance MultiFunction Concealer SPF 15 in all 5,400 CVS stores coast to coast. The 125 Healthy Skincare Centers in select CVS stores also will be privy to the NeoCeuticals skin treatment collection, which will augment lines such as Vichy and Avène at these upscale departments.

CVS, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, has been at the forefront of courting new lines to mass. In addition to the brands sold in the Healthy Skincare Centers, CVS enticed Finland’s Lumene to its stores. CVS is also among the first U.S. retailers to sell select Boots products. With the addition of NeoStrata, the chain is offering products only available in department or specialty stores, such as Nordstrom, as well as items that were limited to sale in physicians’ offices.

“CoverBlend by Exuviance MultiFunction Concealer SPF 15 provides CVS customers with leading-edge, physician-recommended skin care. Offering CoverBlend by Exuviance products is one of the many ways we ensure that CVS is the easiest and most important beauty destination in the retail pharmacy industry,” said Cheryl Mahoney, vice president, beauty care, at CVS.

Founded by two physicians, NeoStrata is a privately held dermatological company with rights to more than 80 patents in alpha hydroxy acid technology. The firm’s work in AHAs dates back to the early Seventies. Today, NeoStrata manufactures a comprehensive line of skin care products sold to dermatologists, plastic surgeons and spas. In 1996, to make AHAs more accessible to the public, the company introduced the Exuviance line, which has been available in department stores including Nordstrom and specialty retailers such as Ulta. 

Sensing the blurring of lines between mass and class combined with a more educated consumer, NeoStrata deemed the time was right for expansion. The company doesn’t rule out making its products available to other mass merchants after its initial limited launch with CVS. The company thinks consumers are more concerned with buying products to solve problems, versus where they buy them.

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“We have a unique position because we are not a cosmetic company, we are a derm company,” said Lynda Farrington Wilson, vice president of marketing for NeoStrata. “Our philosophy is to improve life by making market need-based products and we are excited about expansion into CVS. It affords an opportunity to deliver this unprecedented physician-recommended treatment concealer to a wider audience. We know people are time-starved and appreciate the ease of buying in a drugstore,” she said.

CVS was a perfect choice, especially for the NeoCeutical collection, because the Healthy SkinCare centers offer beauty advisers who can educate consumers, she added. “And as far as CoverBlend, CVS will have the one item, and if people like it, they can go to a department store for the full offering,” she explained, pointing out that this scenario pleases upscale merchants.

For CVS, the products provide items not offered by most mass market companies. The CoverBlend concealer is said to be noncreasing and noncaking, producing a lightweight, natural-looking, luminous finish. Sold in four shades, it retails for $16.99. NeoCeuticals consists of nine products designed to treat three special problems — dry skin, scalp and nails; oil and acne prone skin, and hyperpigmentation. Prices range from $13.50 to $38.

When redesigning the packaging for a mass audience, NeoStrata included more information on the box. This also has been embraced by physicians and premium merchants. “CVS told us that their customers pick up the box and read it, and that’s just what we think will happen,” said Farrington Wilson. “At mass, you have to be more self-selling, but we found all of our partners like more education.”

CVS will support the line in circulars, via its Extra Care loyalty program and in its national beauty magazine. NeoStrata will continue its marketing efforts to physicians who can now recommend the local CVS as the outlet for the products.

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NeoStrata has unique products catching the eyes of retailers, and that’s just what it takes to survive in today’s marketplace. Just ask Myra Solomon. When Solomon closed her beauty factory last year, she mourned the fact that her belongings, rather than her merchandise, were being shipped out of the site.

The creator of several beauty lines such as Sweet Georgia Brown and Petunia shut her manufacturing doors when she found she couldn’t compete against companies who were outsourcing.

Solomon is not alone — many small U.S. manufacturers struggle to get their wares on the shelves at the local CVS, Wal-Mart or Kroger, but are thwarted with low-price competitors.

“I was waving the American flag and thinking we could compete. I found out I was wrong,” recalled Solomon. Rather than throw in the towel, Solomon got savvy and revamped her strategy.

“There is no way to compete with the bigger companies. But the bigger the companies get, the more they leave opportunities,” said the intrepid Solomon. She had hit success early in the growing teen market with Sweet Georgia Brown, considered by many to be one of the first to come up with the notion that young girls wanted brands of their own.

Following the sale of the brand, she created Petunia, another youth brand — this time for tweens. Although retailers thought the products were cute, Solomon said they forgot to “tell the customers.” Retailers started editing tween lines in favor of skin care and other up-and-coming categories. “When the tween market down-ploded, I looked at ideas that no one else had. Retailers said they needed something unique.”

Her answer was to form SMS Labs, a company dedicated to finding holes in the market. Her first entry was a gently moisturizing nail polish remover that brushed on. Called Once Removed, the remover carved out a niche in the market. Solomon said users find the back-and-forth motion of brushing the polish off to be relaxing.

She followed that up with Thicker Healthier Nails, which stimulates nail growth. Recently, SMS Labs launched the Polish Remover Pen and the Cuticle Pusher Pen. The Polish Remover Pen is unique because it has no acetone and is safe for people with allergies or respiratory problems. The Cuticle Pusher Pen has a patented nib that is padded for extra comfort and dispenses a natural jojoba oil for moisturizing. “And I have some other unique items in the pipeline,” Solomon said.

Nail care is a smart move for Solomon. The business is dominated by a handful of strong players, but there’s room for innovation as shown by the acceptance of SMS products.

Linda Rothstein-Sosnick hopes there is consumer acceptance for new ideas, too. This weekend, she is showing her new concept — facial blotting papers with aromatherapy — at Live Well New York, a consumer event focused on healthy lifestyles that will be held at the Jacob K. Javits Center here. Her experience in the mass beauty business convinced her that the route to getting into chains is too costly and lengthy. This time, Rothstein-Sosnick is bypassing the retail world in favor of kicking off sales on the Internet. She’ll be sampling people at the show and directing them to the Web site for purchase.