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NEW YORK — Mass-market retailers want value and products not offered at the chain next door.

This story first appeared in the February 7, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That was the clarion message emerging from this week’s ECRM Efficient Program Planning Session dedicated to cosmetics, fragrances and bath at the Hyatt Regency in Denver.

It was a sentiment was reinforced by TPG Growth’s acquisition of a majority stake in E.l.f. Cosmetics last week. E.l.f.’s value pricing strikes a sweet spot with consumers, buyers said. It also hit the mark with TPG.

“TPG appreciated E.l.f.’s growth trajectory and understood the opportunity for fresh and innovative offerings in the value channel” said Vennette Ho, managing director and head of beauty and personal care at Financo, which advised on the sale of E.l.f. “Through its creative products and unique digital marketing strategy, E.l.f. is infusing new excitement in the cosmetics aisle,” she added.

After a softer than expected Christmas that “shell shocked” merchants, inventories had to be cleaned out at drastic markdowns.

“The strategy needs to evolve with a keen focus on consumer sentiment,” suggested Shawn Haynes, vice president of sales for E.l.f. “It is essential that we provide the consumer with an engaging retail experience that includes high-quality products at extreme value price points.” We have to look after the consumer so they feel they are getting a good deal every day, not just at holiday.”

Retailers and industry observers added E.l.f. and other up-and-coming brands could shake consumers out of their slumber.

“It is a good idea as E.l.f. is hot and retailers are sick and tired of established makeup vendors. It is properly priced for this economy and I would imagine discounters and dollar stores would like more merchandise and displays,” said industry expert Allan Mottus.

E.l.f. wasn’t the only newcomer at the show garnering a buzz. First-time exhibitor Glimmer Body Art had a bustling room with buyers looking to body art to follow the success of nail art. In particular, the company showed lip stencils to create an ombré look or adorn lips with glitter. “Even though the [Denver] Broncos lost, people are upbeat and leave our room smiling,” said company cofounder Macky Samco.

Honeybee Gardens displayed a range of gluten-free, natural products, while LeParfait offered apple stem cell antiaging items for mass. QVS Global introduced a new collection of beauty tools. With a directive from executives to expand multicultural offerings, retailers also were receptive to palettes from Milani.

There was also chatter in regard to more exclusives inspired by CVS’ Nuance and Wal-Mart’s Flower. “Mass retailers have struggled for years to curate exclusive or unique product assortments because they have all had to carry the same big national brands,” said Ben Bennett, creative director and managing partner of Hatch Beauty, which has launched many exclusives. “After seeing specialty and prestige beauty retailers successfully launch trend and innovations, mass retailers are aggressively focusing on buying and building unique brands to attract new consumers, especially those excited by compelling value offerings. For a small brand, the opportunity to launch at a major mass retailer now has unquestionable appeal.”

While buyers looked for unique items, they also had to follow mandates from corporate offices to boost turns.

Suppliers did their best to present programs to inspire sales. Markwins announced monthly freestanding inserts behind Wet ‘n’ Wild. “That’s three times what we’ve been doing,” said Eric Weeks, Markwins’ vice president of sales.

Retailers also had their eyes peeled for brands they could tap for quick fill in when majors can’t deliver. Last Christmas, several chains did not get shipments on some key price points leaving them left to turn to smaller suppliers who can turn on a dime and ship products. “We benefited from that at Christmas,” said one vendor who asked to not be named.

At the other end of the spectrum, manufacturers said retailers are tightening the screws on inventory to the point they fear out-of-stocks. “They are looking for more week-to-week and even day-to-day inventory,” said one source. “One problem is that when management tells a retailer to cut 10 percent of their [stockkeeping units], they do it across the board as opposed to taking it from slower turners,” he added.

The broad swath of retailers attending proved there is interest in the category beyond traditional mass doors. In addition to drug chains such as Walgreens, London and Bartell and grocery merchants including Wegmans and HEB, the roster sported Bed Bath & Beyond, TJX, Tuesday Morning and Glossy Box. “These are all retailers getting more aggressive with beauty,” said Mottus.

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