SOME CALIFORNIA SUNSHINE IN A CLOUDY RETAIL SCENE

Byline: MICHAEL MARLOW

LOS ANGELES — There’s no stopping the treatment boom for California retailers.
Stores here continue to fight a tough economy and competitive retail environment, but skin care is one bright spot many of them share. It remains the hottest beauty category, outpacing both fragrance and color.
The aging baby boomer is getting much of the credit for boosting treatment sales. As more boomers reach their 50s, many seek help at the counter to deal with wrinkles and other signs of aging, retailers noted. The California sun also has customers grabbing for moisturizers and sunscreen.
At Macy’s West, based in San Francisco, treatment is experiencing a strong early spring, although precise comparable figures were unavailable because of recent changes in the division. This spring, the retailer will be converting 40 Broadway Stores units to Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s.
Margo Scavarda, the former cosmetics chief at Broadway, has moved to Macy’s West as senior vice president and general merchandise manager for cosmetics and fragrance, and she said treatment was strong in both the Macy’s and Broadway stores. “We’re outpacing our spring plan,” said Scavarda.
Estee Lauder, Lancome and Clinique continue as bestsellers, and each line’s alpha-hydroxy acid-based products are the hottest items. Elizabeth Arden also has scored an early spring splash with its Visible Difference and Ceramide skin care regimens. Scavarda expects self-tanning products to show growth this summer. She added that the entire treatment area is well-merchandised and poised for gains as new customers come to the fold.
“It’s a whole culture of selling product,” Scavarda said. “The customer continues to grow.”
At Harris, a nine-unit department store based in San Bernardino, treatment sales are projected to jump 10 percent this year, matching gains posted in 1995. Debby Jones, cosmetics department manager, said the growth is coming from several areas, notably AHAs.
The three top-selling lines, in order, are Lauder, Lancome and Clinique. Other brands with significant treatment business are Chanel, Prescriptives, Shiseido and Fashion Fair. Clarins has been on the rise lately with a succession of launches, and Princess Marcella Borghese has boosted sales with its spa mask.
Jones attributed part of the sales surge to customer service. With the proliferation of new products, consumers need even more guidance in determining which regimen is right for them.
“Every woman’s skin is different,” she said. “When you buy over the counter at a drugstore, you’re taking potluck. The trained consultants are very important.”
Harris recently introduced Yuth, a treatment line from Spain that includes vitamins as well as traditional skin care products. Jones said consumers are responding to the line because it treats skin “from the inside out.” But in following the trends of the store’s heavy-hitters, Yuth’s most popular items are an alpha-hydroxy item, a moisturizer and a sunscreen.
“A lot of women now are going back to the basics,” Jones said. “They want to know how to actually cleanse, moisturize and protect their face — and not do it in 15 steps.”
At Gottschalks, the 34-unit department store based in Fresno, treatment sales jumped 18 percent in 1995, and store officials project similar gains this year.
“I expect double-digit growth to continue this year as more women become aware of the fabulous benefits of these products,” said Robert Wiser, divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics. “It’s going to be explosive as baby boomers enter that age of worrying about wrinkles.”
Alpha-hydroxy products still generate the most interest in the skin care category at Gottschalks, Wiser said. The AHAs are drawing new consumers, who soon become part of the legions of loyal, repeat customers.
“People simply want to reduce the appearance of lines on their face,” Wiser said. “That’s the bulk of the business.”
The major players — Lauder’s Fruition, Lancome’s Primordiale and Clinique’s Turnaround Cream — continue to rack up sales gains of more than 10 percent each.
Regular moisturizers also are strong at Gottschalks, with bestsellers including Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair and Lancome’s Renergie. Another popular moisturizer is Lancome’s Expressive, an under-eye product.
Gottschalks has had success pairing products together to increase sales. One of the most popular dual purchases has been Estee Lauder’s “franchise” combination of Fruition and Advanced Night Repair.

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