THE OFFBEAT TOPS MARKETPLACE WISH LIST

Byline: Faye Brookman

NEW YORK — Offbeat beauty products and bath items top buyers’ hit lists as retailers head for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Marketplace meeting, slated for the Philadelphia Convention Center from June 28 to July 1.
The event, always the year’s biggest showcase for new mass market products, is expected to attract more than 5,000 visitors. Roughly 200 of the 700 manufacturers that have signed up as exhibitors are involved in the beauty business. According to NACDS, total attendance — exhibitors plus visiting retailers — is expected to be up about 15 percent over last year.
Several drug chain buyers said they will seek out the new and the exciting, especially because the show has always been viewed as an opportunity for fledgling firms to show their wares. Most buyers hope to find a cure for the market’s current malady of too many duplicate products.
“What we’ve mostly seen is the same old thing in a different package,” lamented Shirley Northorp, merchandise manager for cosmetics and fragrances at London Drugs Limited.
Although many buyers said they’ll visit market leaders like Revlon and Cover Girl, most said they feel they already know what these companies have to offer. Instead, they’ll prowl the massive floor for firms they aren’t currently stocking.
“I’ve made some appointments,” said Northorp, “but mostly I’ll look for new items. With the exchange rate [in Canada on U.S. imports], it will have to be something really good.”
Patricia Boster, Fruth Pharmacy’s cosmetics category manager, said she’s also scheduled appointments, but plans to walk the exhibit floor. She’ll be looking for items to fill out departments she has been expanding, such as cosmetics for teenagers and bath.
Those are also two categories that Marti Bentley, buyer for Hills Department Stores, hopes to zero in on.
“I’m hoping to see something rather than the sameness we’ve seen,” she said. “I’m especially interested in bath and body, which we are expanding in July and August.”
Bentley also expressed interest in products for teenagers. She’s already created a department by stocking Renaissance Cosmetics’ Fetish, a special display of Jane and Bonne Bell.
“Fetish looks great. The cosmetics are really selling,” said Bentley. Although she hopes to walk the show, Bentley has scheduled appointments for the first three days. “I don’t see how you can work it without appointments. If you just stop in, the people are often too busy.”
Although the meeting is sponsored by NACDS, it attracts companies outside the chain drug industry. Food retailers such as Ahold USA, Carr Gottstein and Giant Food are slated to attend. Discount chains ranging from Wal-Mart to Caldor are preregistered. There are even representatives from Home Shopping Network as well as the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES).
Bridget MacFawn, buyer for AAFES, said she’ll use Marketplace as a chance to see manufacturers who don’t call directly on her operation.
“We’re expanding our bath with products like The Healing Garden and body sprays. This will give us a good opportunity to see what other retailers are being offered and what they are doing,” she said. “We’re also trying to do more with trendy items.”
MacFawn is especially enthusiastic about the opening hours of the show, which have been set aside so retailers can preview the merchandise. During this 2 1/2-hour period, there will be no manufacturers in the booths, a move intended to give retailers privacy.
A spokesman for Walgreen Co. said the entire staff will use that time to locate as many new items as possible.
In addition to the trade show format, there will be several business sessions, including a look at products in the year 2005 and a report on a NACDS/American Greetings Research Council survey on drugstore shopping habits.
Despite the chance to see a multitude of items in one spot, some chain drug beauty executives want to see a separate forum for cosmetics products.
“Marketplace has gotten so big with all of the product categories, I miss the old days when we had just a cosmetics meeting,” said London Drugs’ Northorp.

When drug executives gather in Philadelphia for Marketplace, they’ll have a new foe to discuss — the new Wal-Mart food/drug combination store. Wal-Mart will open six to eight 40,000-square-foot food and drug combination stores this year and early next year.
Called Wal-Mart Food & Drug Express, the stores will be compressed versions of Wal-Mart’s Supercenters without the full apparel selection. The major departments will be perishables, grocery, pharmacy, health and beauty aids, cosmetics, photo and floral.
Plans show that Wal-Mart has adopted a traditional food/drug combo format with one side of the store featuring grocery items with gondolas parallel to the walls. The other side will offer drugstore merchandise, and the shelves will be perpendicular to the opening of the store. The aisles will lead to the pharmacy.
There is also a drive-through pharmacy — Wal-Mart’s first — planned for the combination format.
From a beauty standpoint, manufacturers said the new store will feature an expanded cosmetics department with a glassed-in area for upscale fragrances and cosmetics. Cosmetics will be near the front entrance.
Although Wal-Mart Super Centers — which range up to 100,000 square feet — have been successful, many consumers say the stores are too big, according to industry executives.
The combo-store is a way to bundle food and drugstore items together in an easy-to-shop format. Wal-Mart already has pharmacies in almost every store, making it the nation’s fifth-largest filler of prescriptions.
Wal-Mart made an ill-fated venture into drugstore retailing in the early Eighties with a deep-discount drugstore called Dot that was shut down after several years.
Wal-Mart’s entry into combination retailing comes at a pivotal point for the chain drug industry. Rampant consolidation among chains is leaving consumers with fewer drugstore choices, opening the door for Wal-Mart to grab not only the prescription business, but more of drugstore beauty volume, as well.

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