Byline: Faye Brookman

NEW YORK — Where it concerns the fragrance business this holiday season, mass retailers are hoping less will be more.
After two years of dismal holiday scent sales, discounters and drugstores have pared back dramatically on the number of gift sets they have purchased. They also are stressing the new wave of light body sprays and bath products as gift alternatives. Beyond that, retailers are looking for the strong sales in color cosmetics to carry on through December.
When the sales are tabulated, buyers said, the hope is for gains of 6 to 8 percent over last holiday, aided somewhat by one more selling day than last year.
The wish lists include hitting at least an 85 percent sell-through of holiday merchandise. Last year, holiday sales declined in the fragrance category by about 2 percent and sell-throughs were in the 65 percent range, buyers noted.
“Retailers bought down for Christmas. The lower buy-in should result in a clean sell-through,” said Mark Laracy, president of Parfums de Coeur Ltd., Darien, Conn.
Peggy Williams, cosmetics buyer for Snyder’s Drug Stores in Minnetonka, Minn., said slicing the gift set selection was a necessity. “The gift sets just haven’t been selling, so we took our selection and our advertising on sets down.”
Another chain buyer said last year’s holiday season was so bad that she sold only two gift sets per door.
Manufacturers have adjusted to retailers’ request for fewer — but better — promotional sets.
“Retailers are more cautious following the disappointing sell-through of last year,” said Jean-Andre Rougeot, president of the Coty division of the Coty Inc. holding company. “We are, however, satisfied with [this year’s offerings] because our items are more ‘giftable’ and we think that will make the difference.”
He cited examples such as a coffee mug packaged with Vanilla Musk, at $14.95, and a Vanilla Fields keepsake tin with shower gel, body lotion and cologne spray, at $22.
Buyers agreed the Coty products are more than just fragrances dropped into a holiday box.
“We’re doing well with the gift-with-purchase type items,” confirmed Williams at Snyder, “like the White Musk with the coffee mug. It is great for our displays.”
The reduction of gift sets has resulted in a quandary for retailers — without as many sets, how can they make the stores look festive?
“It is very obvious that volume for gift sets is down. The problem in the store is, what do you do without gift sets?” asked Susan Swartz, director of sales and marketing for Vance-Sikes Sales in Birmingham, Ala.
Judging from the reports of the company’s network of associates who provide in-store support, Swartz said, many retailers are opting to create boutiques of fragrances and novelty items like candles to set the holiday tone.
Retailers said they expect their staffs to spend more time on presentation.
Lorraine Coyle, director of beauty for Eckerd Corp. in Clearwater, Fla., said the role of the beauty consultant has changed to include building more eye-appealing displays on the selling floor.
Rougeot at Coty said his company has a team of merchandisers in the field, setting up displays to deck the aisles.
Laracy thinks the absence of gift sets actually will help retailers present a better image for the holidays.
“Since they didn’t overbuy, they should have more room to really merchandise the department,” he said.
He hopes his line of Body Fantasy products will receive prominent position in holiday displays. Laracy said he feels the colorful sprays will be critical as discount stores and drugstore chains attempt to compete against specialty stores such as Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.
Body Fantasy and other new fragrance sprays, such as Calgon’s Body Mists, are positioned to compete against similar products offered at those specialty marketers.
“[Mass] retailers have to realize they are competing against Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, who have almost a theatrical presentation,” Laracy said. “Drugstores in particular need to improve their presentation.”
Buyers agreed that products such as body sprays offer them a way to keep shoppers from venturing into other specialty stores. The sprays provide color — since they are tinted and in clear bottles — at an accessible price.
“A lot of people are buying because of the price point. They can buy for themselves or as a gift,” said Laracy. He is offering value-priced combinations for holiday, such as a 4-oz. stocking stuffer for $3.95 and a set of three flavors in 2-oz. editions for $6.75.
Coty’s Rougeot agreed the body mist category has a lot of potential for mass merchants. “The price points allow people to experience fragrance as an impulse item. They also find the colors and flavors tremendously appealing, making them want to try them all,” he said, noting retailers have been enjoying multiple sales of the sprays.
Buyers said they welcome the sales lift because they are cautious about this year’s crop of traditional fragrances. To date, buyers are pleased with Coty’s Nokomis, but are waiting to be convinced about Gossip and Avatar.
Rougeot said he is very pleased with the publicity Gossip is receiving — the brand is the first from gossip columnist Cindy Adams — and believes it will have a positive impact on sales. Revlon’s She, retailers said, has not garnered tremendous consumer interest at this early point in the holiday selling season.
A more positive launch, however, has been Coty’s Healing Garden, a collection of aromatherapy products. Retailers such as Target and Walgreen’s are putting emphasis behind Healing Garden — a testament to the buyers’ belief that mass market consumers are ready for aromatherapy.
“We are getting very exciting results,” said Rougeot. “Well-being is [a priority] for everyone. This is another way to surround yourself in fragrance.”
Beyond the fragrance business, buyers said they hope shoppers will be persuaded to choose from an array of new holiday-oriented cosmetics. The bevy of new hair mascaras, according to Tom Winarick, vice president of marketing for Prestige Cosmetics, is expected to have a strong holiday sell-through.
“Chains such as Ulta3 are doing great with it,” said Winarick. “It isn’t just for kids. You have kids using the fantasy colors, but older women are using it to highlight their hair.”
Winarick said retailers are also enthusiastic about shimmery colors offered by suppliers for the holiday season.
“Retailers know color is doing well right now, so why not take it into Christmas?” he asked.
Retailers agreed and cited a strong season for Halloween makeup.
“Halloween continues to become a bigger season for cosmetics,” said Karen Durham, divisional merchandise manager for Duane Reade, earlier this year.
Drug chains erected displays of black and orange nail color and spray-in hair color. Even 7-Eleven stocked nail color from Ferity to get into the spirit.
The increased interest in color products for fall and Halloween, Swartz added, prohibited retailers from setting up holiday displays earlier than last year — a ploy some have used in the past to get seasonal sales started quickly.
“Some are even creating Thanksgiving displays with gold and orange colors,” she said.
The emphasis on other holidays as well as the spring launch season comes into play as Christmas holds less of a role. Christmas used to account for as much as 75 percent of the year’s fragrance sales, but the figure has come down to below 60 percent, retailers have estimated.

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