ZIRH ON INTERNATIONAL COURSE

Byline: Matthew W. Evans

NEW YORK — Zirh has spread its wings.
By yearend, the brand will have touched down in numerous overseas markets for the first time. At least that’s what Zirh executives are planning — the most dramatic expansion initiative in the brand’s seven year history.
Zirh’s total distribution is seen reaching 30 countries and doubling to 2,300 doors here and abroad by the end of this year. “Abroad” is no doubt the operative word. Plans call for tripling the number of international points of sale to 1,700 this year, with that figure leveling off somewhere around 4,500 to 5,000 locations over the next three to five years. Not too shabby for a line of seven men’s skin care and shave products that launched in 13 Barneys New York doors in 1995. Currently, the 30-stockkeeping- unit line is found in 500 U.S. doors.
But what the brand lacks in seniority it makes up in ambition.”This is unprecedented for any brand,” said Zirh president Brian Robinson.
“We see a unique opportunity in the development of men’s skin care as it exists worldwide right now,” he continued. “We think the [men’s skin care] category will grow, so we want to get to as many countries as fast as possible and be — if not the first — then one of the first [brands] there.”
Negotiations are under way with distributors for 15 additional countries, setting the stage for a potential distribution list of 45 countries. This is right on track with plans set forth when Shiseido purchased 58.3 percent of Zirh two years ago and announced a plan to enter as many as 40 countries by 2002.
Shiseido will provide financial resources and research and development for the campaign while Zirh will handle brand management and concept and marketing, said Robinson, who has been guiding the vision of the brand. Before being elevated to president last October, Robinson served as executive vice president of sales and marketing. He joined Zirh in 1998 after serving as a management consultant for the firm.
The current overseas initiative technically began last August. That’s when former Adipar executive Nicholas Ratut was hired as international sales director. October marked the start of the actual push abroad, a rollout that’s scheduled to progress monthly. For instance, Zirh went into 90 doors in Sweden and Denmark last month, is entering 240 doors in Norway, Ecuador, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong this month, and will go into more than 400 doors in the Netherlands, Brazil and the Middle East next month.
Retailers in Italy, France and South Africa will start selling Zirh in September — the busiest month of the effort as Zirh enters nearly 800 doors. At least 300 of those will be in Germany, which, along with Scandinavia, is seen as the strongest of the new markets.
Business is booming in the midst of this expansion campaign. Robinson expects U.S. comp-store sales to increase anywhere from 45 percent to 300 percent this year. Though he refused to discuss dollar figures, Robinson is expecting triple-digit gains in total sales volume this year. Industry sources project that this kind of sales growth will send retail volume for the brand past the $20 million mark, with the business abroad accounting for 35 percent of that figure.
Meanwhile, Robinson considers the domestic business as important as ever. He cited recent changes at the corporate level of Shiseido as a boon for Zirh’s U.S. business. “The promotion of Heidi Manheimer to Shiseido group president is going to further accelerate Zirh’s presence and brand positioning in major U.S. department store accounts,” he said.
Robinson expects the U.S. distribution base to reach 600 by yearend, eventually maxing out at 750 doors over the next two years.
Also changing the face of the U.S. business is a new counter concept. Billed as a “store within a store,” it’s part of a plan to “substantially increase per-door activity” that includes in-store visuals and sampling, said Robinson. The counter opened last week in Bloomingdale’s Beverly Center in Beverly Hills.
Christina Maybaum, men’s skin care and fragrance buyer for Bloomingdale’s noted, “The Beverly Center business represents the largest Zirh door at Bloomingdale’s as well as the largest branch door business of any line within our [men’s fragrance] assortment.”
The new counter, which is planned to be in four more doors by yearend, is not the only news on the retail front. Zirh also is opening a freestanding men’s spa in Brazil in conjunction with the distributor there.
If this seems like a plan to further associate Zirh with retail operations, that’s exactly the point. A freestanding Zirh store in the U.S. is something Robinson has been evaluating. He feels it’s simply a matter of timing and could be a reality as early as next year.

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