Byline: Julie L. Belcove

NEW YORK — Cosmair Inc. is giving Biotherm another shot at the U.S. market by rolling out the line slowly, beginning in California and Texas.
The French facial and body treatment line was launched in the U.S. a decade ago, but by the early Nineties Biotherm’s failure to ignite was clear.
In 1992, Cosmair pulled Biotherm back from a distribution of a little more than 300 doors at its height to one account — Burdines, Miami.
Since then, Biotherm has been regrouping. To ready the line for a second U.S. debut, Cosmair repositioned Biotherm, cutting prices about 20 percent. Now Biotherm stands at the low end of department store lines, competing in price with Clinique.
In the first two weeks in April, Biotherm will be relaunched at 13 doors of Bullock’s, Los Angeles, and 23 units of Foley’s, Houston.
“They’re really the determining factor in how we do moving forward,” said Robert Cassou, senior vice president and general manager of Cosmair’s European Fragrances and Biotherm. “We want to make sure it works in these stores before we go anywhere else.”
Cassou said Bullock’s and Foley’s were logical choices for the rollout because they were the biggest accounts in Biotherm’s top-performing markets before its retreat. Based on direct marketing information, Cassou said a loyal clientele still exists in those markets.
“Now it becomes even more interesting,” said Cassou, who took the helm of Biotherm last year. “Now we’ve got to draw the customer back.”
He said Biotherm opted for a gradual national rollout with exclusive accounts to develop each door and to get the most attention from the retailer.
In the past, Cassou explained, Biotherm may have rushed expansion to the detriment of long-term growth.
“I think there was a lack of focus on the accounts,” Cassou said. “Perhaps Biotherm went too fast on distribution.”
But Biotherm’s problems went beyond speed.
“Pricing relative to the presence of the line may not have been entirely appropriate,” Cassou said.
“Everyone forgot the story,” added Tony Michaels, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, referring to thermal plankton, Biotherm’s main treatment ingredient.
Michaels, who helped build Biotherm’s sister company Lancôme into a top U.S. brand, joined Biotherm last fall.
Michaels said the company may have erred in the U.S. market by concentrating on heavier formulations. To compensate, he said, Biotherm has added lighter products, including rinse-off cleansers and an oil-free regimen.
Another mistake, Michaels said, was the U.S. packaging, which differed from the European. The company has repackaged the line in a white box with a single blue wave, giving Biotherm a consistent worldwide image.
Cassou and Michaels declined to discuss volume projections, but industry sources estimated Biotherm would do about $7 million in retail sales this year.
Cassou said he hopes to achieve a number six or seven ranking in each of Biotherm’s accounts. “This is the beginning of a bigger story,” he said.
Biotherm’s advertising will remain regional, according to Michaels; print ads will appear in Texas Monthly, L.A. Times Magazine and the California edition of Allure. The Allure and Texas Monthly issues will include tear-out cards offering deluxe samples of Biojeunesse Skin Refining Day Cream, a new moisturizer Biotherm expects to become its number one product.
The back of the card requests the customer’s name and address and asks whether she is a first-time user of Biotherm.
Michaels said 64 percent of customers responding to a similar Biotherm campaign in Florida were new to the line.
On Biotherm’s spring calendar, in addition to co-op newspaper ads, mailed referral cards and sampling:
In the two weeks prior to the relaunch, the company will give away a big blue tote bag with the purchase of any two Biotherm products. The reintroduction will coincide with the launch of Biojeunesse.
In May, Biotherm will introduce a new sun care line to replace its existing sun products, which are several years old.
Most of the new products contain biotechnological thermal plankton, a high concentration of a microorganism found in hot springs. The company claims the plankton calms skin inflamed by overexposure to the sun and helps slow the sun’s aging effects.
The sun products also contain Vitamin E, commonly used as an antioxidant.
The new packaging is leak-proof to appeal to beach-goers, and price points begin at $13.50 each for four of the sunblock products and go to $20 for each of two after-sun treatments. The sunblock ratings range from SPF 8 to SPF 30, and the line includes a self-tanner.
Also in May, Biotherm will offer a gift-with-purchase of several day and night products, which Michaels said are “generic” enough for almost every skin type.
In June, Biotherm will promote its anticellulite product, Minceur Beauté Express, launched last year and now Biotherm’s best-selling item, with a bonus gift of a blue mesh sponge and three body treatment products, all in a clear plastic bag.
Michaels noted the body category accounts for about 25 percent of Biotherm’s sales.
Michelle Williams, divisional merchandise manager of cosmetics and fragrance at Federated-Macy’s, parent of both Burdines and Bullock’s, said the timing is right for a relaunch of Biotherm, which she called a high-quality line.
“It looks fresh and clean and new and simple,” she said, adding that Biotherm has had double-digit increases at Burdines year-to-date.

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