LAUNCHES DRIVE SALES IN MIDWEST

Byline: ROBERT SHAROFF

CHICAGO — Midwest department stores say that treatment was a bright spot in the cosmetics area during a generally lackluster Christmas, adding that the spring season is off to a promising start with a number of new launches by key vendors such as Chanel and Lancome. “Skin care has been very strong for us, and I don’t see any reason why that won’t continue,” said Nancy Schmidt, divisional merchandise manager of cosmetics at Milwaukee-based Carson Pirie Scott.
“Treatment is one of the standouts in cosmetics right now. There’s a lot of interest there,” agreed Nancy Steeby-Smith, cosmetics buyer at Jacobson’s in Jackson, Mich.
Most retailers are predicting mid-to-high-single-digit increases for treatment in the coming year. The key to the category’s success, they say, is the industry’s new focus on problem-specific products. “Treatment today is all about fine-tuning,” says Steffenie Yates, treatment buyer at Halls in Kansas City. “Customers want to focus in on the areas they feel are most important for them. If it’s their eyes, they want a product just for that. What they don’t want is a seven-step regimen every night that may or may not take care of their needs.” The stores also say that the rapid pace of innovation — including last year’s alpha-hydroxy acid-based products and this year’s antioxidant entries — gives momentum to the business and is playing a key role in their marketing plans for the upcoming year. At Carson Pirie Scott, Schmidt said that the “big three” at the store continue to be Estee Lauder, Clinique and Lancome. “The launch of Lancome’s Primordiale has gone very well, and Lancome in general has been very strong for the last six to eight months. We’re also doing very well with Lauder’s DayWear.” Schmidt said that AHA products continue to perform well. “I think hydroxies are here to stay for the foreseeable future. I don’t see them as a one- or two-year fad. We’ve done very well with Lauder’s Fruition and Advanced Night Repair. Every store now has at least one case devoted to those two products,” she said. She added that AHA’s appear to have more of a young following, which makes them important for stores looking to establish a foothold with generation X customers. Schmidt also commented on the increasing specialization of treatment lines. “Companies are trying to be more focused, so we’re seeing a lot more products like Clinique’s All About Lips and Lauder’s Verite line for sensitive skin. Is it a good thing? If you’re a customer with sensitive skin, I think it is.” Price points have stayed about even this year, Schmidt said, with most of Carson’s treatment business taking place in the $42 to $70 range. She also said that larger sizes continue to be important. “Small sizes are important during a launch when customers are first trying a product,” she said. “But once they know and like a product, they want larger sizes, both for the convenience and added value. Right now, the large-size Fruition and the large-size Primordiale are outselling the smaller sizes.” Schmidt said that Carson’s plans to do more at-the-counter events in the coming year. “I want to do more mini-events that go on for a weekend and involve samples from the vendor and people to demonstrate color and treatment. It’s the best way I know of to develop customer loyalty,” she said. At Jacobson’s, Steeby-Smith said that the key lines are Clinique, Estee Lauder, Chanel and La Prairie, with Chanel having the best overall growth this year. “Outside of Detroit, we have the exclusive on Chanel in many markets, and that has proved to be a big advantage,” she said.
Jacobson’s made some major changes in the last few months by dropping several underperforming lines and adding Yves Saint Laurent, Guerlain and Benefit, according to Steeby-Smith. “These are changes that were long overdue,” she said. “We’re trying to get some excitement back into the department and also emphasize that we’re really more of a high-end specialty store than a department store.” She added that AHA’s appear to have peaked. “They ran their course and there is still some business to be done there, but the excitement level isn’t the same. The big push we’re seeing right now is for antioxidants like Chanel’s Hydra Serum. We introduced it in February and it’s been huge. She also singled out Lancome’s Primordiale and Clinique’s Moisture On-Call as new products that have performed well. Jacobson’s treatment advertising, said Steeby-Smith, is mainly a matter of direct mail. “Mailers tied to sampling events are really pulling people in. Sometimes there’s a gift incentive and sometimes not. These things really do make a difference.” Steeby-Smith also commented on the difficulty of attracting younger customers into the treatment area. “We’re got a few lines — like Trish McEvoy and Benefit — that have a young following. But as a group, the 20-somethings are hard to characterize. I don’t see any clear trends there.” At Halls, Yates said that the store continues to emphasize lines where it has either a total or partial exclusive. “We do very well with Chanel, Lancome, La Prairie, Erno Laszlo, Prescriptives and Givenchy,” she said. The key items this spring, she added, are Lancome’s Primordiale and several new introductions from Chanel. “Chanel’s Hydra Serum has been very strong. It’s a moisturizer that you use in addition to your regular moisturizer and customers like it.” She also said that AHA’s continue to be a strong business. “I think they will continue to be important,” Yates said. She added that product specialization has been key this year: “We do a very strong eye business here. I’ve been kind of surprised by how knowledgeable customers have become. They’ve all turned into scientists. They seem to know all about AHAs or whatever the latest thing is. It’s not like in the past where they didn’t know or care about ingredients.” Two companies — Chanel and La Prairie — have impressed Yates with the pace of their innovations. “They always seem to be one step ahead in terms of technology,” she said. When it comes to getting the word out, Halls does most of its promoting via direct mail. “We’re a specialty store, and mailers are a more efficient way of reaching our customers than newspapers,” Yates noted. “We do a very limited amount of newspaper advertising for a few lines — such as LancOme — but most of it is direct mail.”

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