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NEW YORK — The Limited Brands wants to throw more of its weight around in the beauty world.

The retailer, which already has sales of more than $3 billion, has formed a new division to speed its product development and get better terms from suppliers. The Columbus, Ohio-based retail conglomerate’s in-house organization, called Beauty Avenue, will create personal care and beauty brands for all of the company’s major retail platforms, giving Limited much greater throw weight in dealing with the market.

An “industry leader commercialization juggernaut” is how the venture was described by Meade Rudasill, the Limited Brands executive vice president and general manager who will lead the new team of an estimated 250 staffers based in Columbus.

A “commercialization juggernaut” is how the venture was described by Meade Rudasill, the Limited Brands executive vice president and general manager who will lead the new team of an estimated 250 staffers based in Columbus.

Beauty Avenue will supply brands to The Limited’s two main beauty chains, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret Beauty, plus Pink and the new Henri Bendel concept, which are both in gestation. Previously, each retail division would pursue brand development separately, meaning that the individual projects and orders were considerably smaller than if a central organization was doing the work.

Rudasill will report to Len Schlesinger, chief operating officer and vice chairman. The retail divisions will be his clients. And they promise to be demanding. Victoria’s Secret Beauty first put itself on the map with private label promotionally priced personal care brands, then traded up into a constellation of prestige priced fragrances, mostly allied with Victoria’s Secret lingerie brands. According to industry estimates, the Victoria’s Secret Beauty business generated $850 million in sales in 2004.

BBW took product development a step further by graduating from purely in-house conceived proprietary brands to product development marriages. BBW chief executive Neil Fiske recruited stars from the industry, such as dermatologist diva Dr. Patricia Wexler, makeup punk princess Dineh Mohajer and apothecary guru Ian Ginsberg of Bigelow. Each of them was given the freedom and resources to produce their own line within BBW, a 1,600-store chain with sales running in excess of $2.5 billion, with an ultimate goal, industry sources said, of $5 billion to $6 billion.

This story first appeared in the October 21, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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Rudasill said his goal is to produce a balance of proprietary and “open sourcing” brands with the intention of improving development speed and efficacy — “filling the pipeline with expanded breadth and depth.” One of his tools is a library of fragrances that Rudasill sees emerging from the Limited’s projects. “We have 1,500 new fragrances in flight,” he noted.

Rudasill’s argument is that between BBW and VSB, the chains represent a combined 2,600 stores, roughly the size of the department store universe for a vendor. This gives the Limited a huge edge. That heft theoretically would give Beauty Avenue the power to win “not only a pricing advantage but an advantage in selecting the best perfumer” when working with a fragrance supplier, Rudasill said, adding “it will give us the pick of the litter.”

He also envisions being able to win exclusives on the best of technology, plus other advantages. In one hypothetical situation, Rudasill said if Beauty Avenue was working with a supplier on a project and the formula at hand all of a sudden seemed more suitable for another project, the formula might be able to be kept on a shelf away from the competition until needed, which the company doesn’t have the leeway to do now.

Opening doors to the best talent and technology also could draw some of the best minds in brand development, such as Wexler, to work with Beauty Avenue as “a one-stop center for commercialization.” This not only “gives us share of mind,” but all of the advantages, when combined to work together, will result in faster development time. “I would like to take a couple of months out of the process,” he said, noting that two or three years ago, a typical project would take two years to complete. Now the time frame is six to 14 months. “I would like to go to four months to under a year.”

By compressing the production time, it will allow the Limited “to spend more time on the merchant side,” he said, “getting to know the customer.”

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