SARAH MICHAELS’ THERAPY
Byline: Faye Brookman
NEW YORK — Sarah Michaels, the company most retailers credit with cracking the mass bath market, is expanding into aromatherapy.
The company is also repackaging its original bath assortment to distance itself from the flock of competitors who have mimicked the eight-year-old line.
Sarah Michaels Aromatherapy will consist of lotions, gels, bath grains, essential oils, potpourri and candles. The varieties include peppermint, jasmine, citrus and lavender. Prices range from $2 for the bath grains to $6.50 for the 7-oz. gel. The products will begin shipping in October.
Although Sarah Michaels, based in Stoughton, Mass., isn’t the first mass market player to launch aromatherapy products, company president Mark Kaplan believes the line will have instant credibility thanks to the following Sarah Michaels has developed with retailers and consumers.
Sarah Michaels is carried by most major mass and chain drugstore operators, many of which use the firm’s trademark fixture that creates an in-store bath boutique.
The company has, according to estimates, at least a 5 percent share of the total $1 billion market that encompasses traditional fragrances, body sprays, fragranced bath products and home fragrances.
It does a substantial business — estimated at $20 million to $30 million — in bath accessories and gift sets.
With traditional eau de cologne growth slowing in mass market doors, retailers have been expanding into other fragrances products such as bath.
Sarah Michaels follows other niche players like Sinclair & Valentine and Kneipp, as well as major companies such as Coty — which made a big push into aromatherapy last year with The Healing Garden — and Naturistics. The Healing Garden has been the most successful, with fourth-quarter 1997 retail sales reportedly exceeding $25 million.
Although Kaplan believes these brands have helped pave the way, he says the time is ripe for mass shoppers to discover aromatherapy — especially since they’ve accepted fragranced bath products.
“We believe that right now aromatherapy is a growing category. I don’t believe mass and chain customers have been as knowledgeable about it as specialty stores’. We will have a booklet explaining the products. It is the perfect addition under the Sarah Michaels umbrella,” said Kaplan. “We’re raising the level of mass aromatherapy.”
Kaplan expects Sarah Michaels aromatherapy to reach a customer who may not already purchase his firm’s items.
“We believe there is the original Sarah Michaels user who likes things that are floral. There is also a group which prefers products that are more fragrant or want something with homeopathic qualities,” he said.
Kenneth Kaplan, vice president of sales and Mark Kaplan’s brother, said retailer response has been positive because the aromatherapy products will bring incremental sales gains.
“This won’t cannibalize from the existing business. There’s room for both,” he said.
One retailer who had previewed the line thinks it has a broader positioning than existing lines like The Healing Garden. He thinks The Healing Garden’s name limits users to those looking for homeopathic solutions.
Industry experts predict the aromatherapy extension could ultimately add another $35 million to $40 million a year to Sarah Michaels’ coffers.
The company also hopes to boost sales of the traditional Sarah Michaels line at least 25 percent, thanks to the updated package. The look of all 100 stockkeeping units of the original line is more contemporary, said Kaplan. The backgrounds have been removed and more emphasis has been placed on the flowers that represent each scent.
The product description is also more prominent.
The new packaging will be shipped beginning in the fourth quarter.
The company has begun a program where retailers can mark down existing stock and rotate it out so that all of the old product is out of inventory as the new version is shipped in. “A lot of people are coming out with bath or aromatherapy in metal cans,” said Kaplan. “That’s already dated. We thought we needed a change and a fresh new face.”
Retailers report they’ll be looking for unusual items at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Marketplace meeting, which starts Sunday in Philadelphia.
One innovative product from Advanced Enterprises — a leading supplier of makeup accessories such as remover pads and application wedges — is called the Wonder Cloth.
Wonder Cloth is the newest entry in makeup removers, a small, but profitable, wedge of the market. Although category sales are less than $50 million, eye makeup removers and pads are extremely profitable, with gross margins exceeding 40 percent.
Resembling a wash cloth, Wonder Cloth is used wet without soap, and can be rinsed out without staining, then used again. According to Fred Kamis, executive vice president of Advanced Enterprises in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., Wonder Cloth is made of Japanese plant pulp and cotton fibers and is hypo-allergenic.
He claims that it “lasts twice as long as standard wash cloths,” which generally last four to six months.
Removing makeup has become an especially critical issue for consumers, according to retailers, since the advent of transfer-proof product formulas.
Wonder Cloth has a suggested retail of $14.95 and will ship in August. It will be available in a 12-piece introductory display. According to Kamis, the cloths can be merchandised with cosmetics, with cosmetics removers and in the bath department.