As the major color cosmetics brands in the mass-market rush to modernize, Wet ‘n’ Wild is quietly continuing its fast-paced growth trajectory.
In February, the brand will expand its presence in Ulta Beauty — after a limited-edition unicorn collection sold out almost immediately on the retailer’s web site last year, Wet ‘n’ Wild will roll out to two-thirds of Ulta’s 1,075 doors.
The move into Ulta is just another stop on the makeup brand’s hot streak, despite its primary distribution channels — mass and drug — experiencing low foot traffic and declining sales in the color cosmetics category. Wet ‘n’ Wild declined to talk financials, but industry sources estimate the brand’s year-over-year growth in 2017 will total 16 to 17 percent, which includes sales from the brand’s e-commerce web site, up 114 percent from last year, and double-digit growth at CVS. Compare this to the rest of the market — category sales for eye and lip products are each down 3 percent, and facial cosmetics grew only 2 percent, according to IRI data from late November.
This month, stalwart mass makeup brands like Cover Girl, Revlon and Almay will roll out splashy, celebrity-fueled re-branding campaigns and trendier product offerings. The success of these re-brands and whether they can drive category growth will be seen in sales figures later in the year. But Wet ‘n’ Wild is already ahead of the game, mimicking the nimble style of indies like E.l.f. Cosmetics and the now L’Oreal-owned NYX to be one of the only makeup brands driving growth in the mass market.
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Wet ‘n’ Wild is perhaps best known by older Millennials as a nostalgic Nineties-era drugstore staple offering glitter nail polish and $1 eyeliner in every color of the rainbow. But that legacy has faded. Over the past few years, the brand — which is owned by the California-based Markwins International Corp. — has shifted its focus from cheap beauty to “fast beauty,” churning out high-quality, trend-driven innovation at the quickest speed and lowest price possible.
Mega-influencers such as Jeffree Star, Laura Lee and Manny Mua have taken note of recent Wet ‘n’ Wild launches, touting products like the MegaGlo highlighter, Photo Focus foundation and Liquid Catsuit eyeliner as “dupes” for prestige and professional items by Chanel and Inglot. Wet ‘n’ Wild has no paid influencer marketing strategy, but it does regularly seed product to influencers.
“Ulta is looking to us to be a leader in this whole idea of fast beauty, and bringing trends in with nimbleness and speed at an affordable price,” said Evelyn Wang, senior vice president of marketing at Wet ‘n’ Wild. “Obviously, they have a higher-end reputation, so we fill that space for them of being affordable and having the mermaid and the unicorn [products].”
Wang, a beauty industry veteran who cut her teeth at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc and L’Oréal before joining Markwins, has been credited with driving much of the brand’s growth.
“We can play numerous roles in Ulta — we can be a basket filler for that consumer who is buying, say, a really high-end foundation. We can allow her to play with trend and color and it’s not going to break the bank. She can be like, “OK, here’s my investment products and here are my fun products.’”
The 114-sku assortment entering Ulta, said Wang, was designed to reflect the “best of the best” of Wet ‘n’ Wild’s offerings, including top sellers and the most prestige-inspired items. There will also be a slew of Ulta exclusive products, including the metallic Liquid Catsuit eye shadows and new shades of the Color Icon Rainbow Highlighter.
Exclusivity is a key component to Wet ‘n’ Wild’s retail strategy. Limited-edition collections are the most of-the-moment, trend-driven offerings in Wet ‘n’ Wild’s arsenal and they serve to move product quickly in-store and online. The brand will introduce themed collections — think Unicorn, Mermaid and Fantasy Makers for Halloween — and break the individual product distribution up between retailers, sending consumers on “treasure hunts” to find particular items in store or on retailer web sites. Full collections are often made available on Wet ‘n’ Wild’s e-commerce site — in August, the limited-edition Mermaid collection sold out within 14 hours of launch on wetnwildbeauty.com.
The brand entered Ulta in May with a limited-edition Unicorn Box — a $29.99 set composed of all products in the limited-edition Unicorn collection, including highlighters, loose pigment and a unicorn-inspired brush. The collection launched at BeautyCon on May 21 and the box set became available on Ulta’s web site a day later. Industry sources projected the Unicorn Box — which sold out within days — made up to $1 million in retail sales in the short time it was available.
Wet ‘n’ Wild is just one of several brands Ulta has recently added to its lower-priced stable. While the Manhattan store on East 86th Street is indicative of the retailer’s commitment to prestige makeup — nearly half the store’s 12,000 square feet is devoted to the category — there is an increasing focus on mass makeup, especially small, Instagram-born niche lines. In 2017, the retailer ushered in Beauty Revolution, Makeup Revolution and Morphe — to name a few. Monica Arnaudo, senior vice president of merchandising, told WWD at the Manhattan store opening that the retailer is constantly evaluating its assortment and what it is getting requests for. “We’re working on bringing a few other [mass] brands into the assortment next year. We’re seeing a lot of the midtier brands entering the space, and these fun younger brands coming in.”
At the core of these “midtier” brands like Morphe, NYX, E.l.f. Cosmetics and Wet ‘n’ Wild are their consistently low prices, for which consumers can get prestige-inspired products. Think of them as the H&Ms and Zaras of the beauty world.
“Value-price brands are driving growth — we are seeing this as a trend in the mass market,” said Wang.
The majority of Wet ‘n’ Wild’s items hover between $2.99 and $5.99.
“We don’t have a hard-and-fast rule on [pricing], but our strategy is to have the better price point for whatever category we’re going into,” Wang said. “For instance, our new cushion foundation is launching at $8.99 — it’s a high price point for Wet ‘n’ Wild, but it’s the lowest-price cushion foundation at mass. It doesn’t mean we have to be 99 cents all the time, but we’re offering value in terms of giving the consumer a super attractive price point she can’t find anywhere else.”
Millennials — not cheap, but “value-driven.”
“The consumer who is driving mass cosmetics in general is this makeup-enthusiast Millennial, and the interesting thing is that there are all these articles about Millennials spending money on extravagant things like avocado toast. But they actually crave value in their consumer products above all else,” said Wang. “That doesn’t mean they’re willing to buy cheap products with poor aesthetics — they’re looking for products that deliver that [quality] for their dollar. ”