MIDWEST FORECASTS ACID REIGN FOLLOWING UP A STRONG 1994

Byline: ROBERT SHAROFF

CHICAGO — Retailers at Midwest department stores say their treatment business was strong in 1994, and so far this year looks equally robust.
Overall sales gains were in the mid-single digit percentage range, with some individual items doing considerably better.
In terms of product innovation, alpha-hydroxy acid-based products are still the name of the game. The good news, say many stores, is that these products are now more widely accepted than ever.
“Women believe in them and use them regularly,” said Joanne Hickey, divisional merchandise manager at Mercantile Stores in Cincinnati.
Retailers agreed that, for better or worse, treatment has become a star product business.
“The treatment companies encourage this by stressing items in their advertising,” said Irene Price, buyer at Jacobson’s in Jackson, Mich.
At Mercantile, treatment was “one of the fastest growing categories in the store last year,” with sales gains in the high-single digits, said Hickey. The big winners, she added, were Estee Lauder, Lancome and Clinique.
Hickey said she thinks business will continue to be strong in the first half, ignited by products that broaden the alpha-hydroxy [AHA] category — such as Lancome’s Bienfait Total, a moisturizer with a low level of AHA — and by anti-cellulite treatment items.
“Cellulite looks like the next big thing,” Hickey said. “We’re doing well with [Christian Dior’s] Svelte and Lauder’s new ThighZone.”
She also said that vitamin-enriched products look promising. “They’re a growth area. It’s part of the whole natural products category,” Hickey said, adding, “The customer understands them. You don’t have to do a lot of explaining.”
At Halls in Kansas City, Mo., business is up about 10 percent so far in the first half after a “very good” 1994, said Cheryl Holland, divisional merchandise manager.
She added that in the last six months, the key lines have been Givenchy, Chanel, Lancome and La Prairie.
Steffenie Yates, the store’s treatment buyer, said that alpha-hydroxy products continue to do well. “Customers like them because they can really see a difference. They work,” she explained.
She added that the store brought in several new acid-based products for spring, as well as the non-acid collection Prescriptives PX.
“We’re getting a very good response to the Clarins Perfecting Cream Mask,” she said. “It’s gentle and good for women with sensitive skin.”
Yates said “the new buzz” is for vitamin-enriched products such as La Prairie’s Age Management Intensive and Chanel’s Formule Intensive Day Lift Plus, available in lotion, cream and oil-free versions.
“It’s starting to build,” Yates said. “But to a certain extent, it’s going to depend on whether the companies get behind them. In cosmetics, marketing drives consumer needs.”
Yates said that treatment marketing still favors baby boomers, but that companies such as Chanel and Clarins are starting to target younger customers by emphasizing oil-free products.
At Jacobson’s, Price said treatment was up in the mid-single digits last year and is doing “slightly better” so far this year. She added that the store’s “volume producers” are Lauder, Clinique, Chanel and Lancome. However, the big winners in terms of increases for the last six months are Dior, La Prairie and Chanel.
Key products, she said, are La Prairie’s Age Management series and Clinique’s Turnaround Cream.
Price said Jacobson’s is “putting a lot of emphasis on day-to-day business” by stressing workshops and direct-mail programs tied to sampling. An example is a Clinique promotion offering a gift with a visit that includes a computer imaging session.
“We have a consultation table set up and we make a big event out of it,” she explained. “Then we follow up in seven to 10 days to see how the customer is enjoying the sample.”
Price said that treatment cuts across all age lines. “There aren’t too many products that are just aimed at the young,” she noted. “Clinique is used by 20-year-olds and 60-year-olds.”