BEAUTY’S MAC ATTACK: A FLAGSHIP IN SOHO, AN INTERNATIONAL PUSH
Byline: Jenny B. Fine
NEW YORK — MAC Cosmetics, the company most often credited with starting the makeup artist trend, is out to reassert itself as the dominant force in the category.
It’s doing it with new stores, a global push and such unorthodox marketing strategies as naming outspoken singer k.d. lang its spokesmodel.
After seeing brands like Bobbi Brown and Trish McEvoy steal some of its thunder, the 10-year-old firm opened a Manhattan flagship Wednesday, its second freestanding store here. The 1,000-square-foot store is in SoHo, at 113 Spring St., between Greene and Mercer Streets.
Last week, it opened a London store, its third in that city.
And MAC has set its sights on several distant locations — Paris, Milan, and a second Hong Kong location this year, and Berlin and Tokyo — provided certain legal issues are met — in 1997.
According to Frank Angelo, chairman and a founder of the Canadian-based company, the New York store did more than $5,000 in its first day of business and projects volume at $5 million this year.
Underscoring the cutting-edge image it has worked for, MAC announced it had signed singer lang — as candid about her lesbianism as she is about her vegetarianism — as the newest face for its Viva Glam lipstick and MAC AIDS Fund promotional campaign.
The company continues to extend its roster of products; an expanded hair care line is to be launched this year, and a fragrance is slated for a late 1997 introduction, according to creative director and co-founder Frank Toskan.
The Estee Lauder Cos., which acquired 51 percent of MAC in December 1994, is working with the firm to expand global distribution, which currently numbers 115 doors, 80 in the U.S. Lauder is handling business operations outside North America.
About 10 new MAC doors — freestanding units and department store counters — will open abroad, and another 20 to 30 are planned for the U.S. this year.
MAC products are available in the U.S., Canada, England and Hong Kong, not only in the company’s stores, but in accounts such as Henri Bendel, Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall Field’s, Liberty House, Harvey Nichols in London and Seibu in Hong Kong.
William Lauder, president of Lauder’s Origins division and the Lauder executive in charge of MAC, said the ultimate goal is to “make it one of the largest brands in the prestige cosmetics industry in the world.”
But not too quickly.
“We are growing internationally but not by 1,000 doors,” said Toskan. “We choose sites based on where the product is in demand and that will allow a large portion of people who are looking for it access to it. We’re making sure that we don’t exceed demand, and that there is more of a demand than we are able to meet, because otherwise there is an excess of product.”
“We’re going slow with MAC,” agreed Leonard Lauder, president and chief executive officer of the Estee Lauder Cos., who said that sales at the MAC counter at Seibu average about $85,000 a week. “The philosophy is centered on service, and we don’t want to have the supply outrun the ability to service the customer.”
Despite the conservative pace, the company’s sales are reportedly increasing at a much quicker rate. While MAC executives declined to reveal figures, Frank Angelo said he projects 1996 sales at about 70 percent above 1995’s numbers.
According to sources, that would give MAC a global retail volume of about $250 million this year. Cosmetics and related accessories such as brushes and makeup cases account for 97.3 percent of the company’s business, and lipsticks account for 40 percent of that number. Skin care rings in at 2.3 percent and hair care accounts for less than 1 percent.
Instrumental to MAC’s overseas growth is its partnership with Lauder, because that allows Toskan and Angelo to concentrate on the creative end of the business, both men said. Lauder handles the technicalities associated with international distribution.
“Working with Lauder allows us to draw on resources that as a smaller company, we didn’t have before,” said Toskan. “They have experience in dealing with issues such as importing, shipping and distributing that would have taken us years to develop.”
Lauder does not, however, interfere with the creative doings at MAC.
“Lauder is a business expertise and advisory network that never gets involved in our culture,” said Angelo. “We’re not merging our cultures, we’re merging the business end of our company. Frank [Toskan] and I are creative people. The business strength for expansion will come from the more talented business people.”
The opening of the New York store gave the firm an opportunity to introduce lang, who joins transvestite singer RuPaul as spokeswoman for the MAC AIDS Fund.
All proceeds from the sale of Viva Glam lipsticks are donated to organizations that provide home care services for people with AIDS.
According to Angelo, $5 million was raised for the fund last year, a figure the company hopes to double this year.
By choosing lang, MAC has made an unorthodox choice — one that reflects the philosophy of the company, according to Toskan.
“k.d. lang has achieved success in an alternative way without having to conform to everything the industry expected of her, and that’s what we’ve done,” he said. “We’ve proved you can be successful without doing things in the traditional way.”