Byline: Rose-Marie Turk

LOS ANGELES — Retailers report West Coast consumers remain a savvy, trendy, nature-loving lot who are indulging in black nail polish, high tech lipsticks and aromatherapy products laced with old-fashioned lavender.
The interest in the latest trends and innovations is leading to a buoyant business in drugstore cosmetics departments.
“We’ve seen positive increases in all our categories,” said Sheri Marzolf, director of marketing for the Drug Emporium chain of franchised stores located in Washington and Oregon.
She said professional hair care by Sebastian and Joico, among others, “continues to be a growing category.”
“Cosmetics are doing very well for us,” noted Joan Zukor, the chain’s director of cosmetics. “It started with ColorStay from Revlon — and the addition of new technology to the cosmetics business. The benefit of new technology brought an awful lot of renewed interest in their products. That and the fact they are highly promoted.”
While L’Oreal, Almay, Cover Girl, Maybelline, Prestige and Lord & Berry have all jumped on the technology bandwagon, Zukor said Revlon remains the leader in the lip and nail category in her stores.
In fact, lipstick outsells anything else in the cosmetics area, and nail polish is performing better than anyone anticipated.
“With the advent of blue, purple, green, you name it — everybody seems to be having a ball. We’re always wondering, how many can we handle? And then whatever we put out is sold,” Zukor said, noting an age range “from very young to older than I would have thought.
“People are having fun,” she said. “If someone isn’t courageous enough to put it on her finger nails, she’ll put it on her toes.”
Noting that cosmetics and fragrances account for 11 percent of the chain’s total volume, Zukor added: “I credit a lot of that to the fact that we have a service department.”
Calling it “assisted self-service,” she said customers can simply ask to have an item rung up or seek more help from beauty advisers when they need it.
“Foundation, for example, is hard to find in a drugstore,” Zukor noted. “They can ask: ‘Is this the right color for me?”‘
The fine fragrance business is growing for the chain, with scents from Calvin Klein, Elizabeth Taylor and Oscar de la Renta, along with Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers and Fifth Avenue. But mass market “fragrances are losing ground,” Zukor explained.
With the exception of the newly launched Body Fantasies from Parfums du Coeur, she said the industry needs a boost from the same kind of new technology that has helped cosmetics.
In addition, the latest price hikes, which she feels are made to give mass-market fragrances a fine-fragrance snob appeal, haven’t been going down well with consumers. “When we can sell fine fragrance for a few dollars more, what is she going to buy?” asked Zukor, describing a touch of irony: “Revlon’s Ciara and Coty’s Emeraude were positioned as fine fragrances in department stores years ago. We still have a big following and do well with them, but it’s no help to us to just stick them on a gondola. The money to significantly promote them is not there.”
In another description of poor performance, Roy Hanna, merchandise manager for Horton & Converse’s 13 Southern California stores, said: “Hair color is very dead for our chain. You can go into Thrifty or Sav-On and they have 12 feet of hair color choices where I only had four feet max. It’s gone. I’m glad. I needed the space. We went into more prestigious hair items.”
The merchandise includes shampoos, conditioners, sprays and gels by Sebastian, Martix-Biolage and Joico. John Frieda’s Ready to Wear shampoo and conditioner are key players, along with Frieda’s Frizz-Ease, which Hanna describes as “last year’s hot thing.”
“Customers love it. It works and the advertising is beautiful,” Hanna said.
The stores no longer offer cosmetics or fragrances, because of competition from department stores. But sales of lipsticks and nail polishes remain strong.
And sales of aromatherapy-based bath and beauty care products “are increasing tremendously,” Hanna said.
At Rexall Drug, on the borders of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, sales associate Jacquel Mariscal said that although sales remain strong, they are down about two percent in all categories.
The store doesn’t have a licensed cosmetician, and Mariscal, an 11-year veteran, said that “it’s not necessary.”
“If someone asks me something, I tell the truth,” she said.
Mariscal said she is being let down in only one category: hair color. “It’s the only problem I have,” she admitted. “I don’t know how to do the colors, so I’ll call the 1-800 number for the customer.”
Within color cosmetics, she said, “nail polish is the hottest thing in town.”
Black is the biggest seller, followed by lavender and green, all three by Sinful. In addition, “Revlon is doing tremendous. They came out with these beautiful colors in January,” Mariscal noted.
Nail varnish sales account for only a small percentage of business at the Roxbury Pharmacy in Beverly Hills, according to cosmetics buyer Rosaura Zapata.
“Most of our clients get their nails done,” she explained.
The store stocks fragrances, such as top-performing Shalimar, but has reduced the inventory by 50 percent because of competition from a nearby discounter, Zapata said.
Having two cosmeticians on staff definitely helps sales, according to Zapata: “If you don’t know the product, you can’t sell it. But if you do, you can get people interested in it.”
Stocking mostly California products, Zapata said the store does very well with aromatherapy lines from companies such as Aromafolia, which has “soothing” body gels and lotions, including special formulas to relax muscles and induce sleep.
A line of essential oil products from E.O. is another strong performer, with customers buying foot oil, foot salts and foot powders containing peppermint, lavender and tea. Lavender, according to Zapata, is a favorite with consumers who like natural ingredients and buy products such as Kristal’s body lotions, which contain lavender, geranium and Dead Sea minerals.
“We love to carry California products,” explained Zapata. “We feel we’re helping the economy.”
The store has landed an exclusive with Ole Henriksen, whose own line of natural skin care has been sold only through his Sunset Plaza salon.
Henriksen’s lavender is combined with camomile and cucumbers in what Zapata described as “a wonderful, soothing, natural night cream” with a 12 percent alpha-hydroxy acid factor. “We try to have unique products,” she said.
Yet, Ultima II and Elizabeth Arden, she said “do great lipsticks,” Especially for the store’s clientele who like pastel pinks and cherry reds.
No black polish would be sold here, Zapata said, noting: “Our average client is 62 years old.”

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