Byline: Laura Klepacki / Matthew Evans

NEW YORK — It was either a hit or a miss fragrance holiday for mass market retailers.
Manufacturers of traditional fragrance and bath and body gift sets remain optimistic that when the final counts are in, their returns will be few. However, to hear retailers tell it, it was a tale of two seasons. While some chains reported strong sales and increases over last year, including CVS and Kerr Drug, many others characterized December as “unexciting.”
Kmart, for one, said it did not meet pre-holiday projections for fragrance sales this year, but saw promise in new launches.
“Overall, as with holiday sales in general this year, our fragrance sales were disappointing,” said spokeswoman Julie Fracker. “If it wasn’t new or different, it really didn’t do well this holiday season,” she commented, declining to provide specific brand names or sales figures.
Kathy Steirly, vice president, beauty merchandising at Eckerd, pointed out theories on why there was a lack of shopper enthusiasm. “There were more weekends in between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year’s, or maybe people are worried about the economy,” said Steirly. On the bright side, Steirly said New Dana Perfumes showed signs of a comeback and Adidas Moves fragrances did well.
Wal-Mart Stores reported that health and beauty aids was among its best-selling categories for the holiday selling period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The retailer acknowledged in a statement, however, that overall, it was a “weaker-than-hoped-for Christmas season.” A reason cited was the several weeks of severe winter weather that preceded Dec. 25. The company declined to break out beauty, but said overall comp-store sales for the five weeks ended Dec. 29 came in flat at 0.5 percent.
As for last-minute promotions or advertising shifts, Weber said, Wal-Mart used its low-price positioning to appeal to holiday shoppers en masse. “We relied on year-round low prices, which includes the holiday,” said spokeswoman Sharon Weber. She said there was no augmentation from new product launches and did not address specific products driving sales.
At CVS, Larry Zigerelli, executive vice president, corporate development, said that skin care, including bath and body collections, was up over last year, and cosmetics also saw gains over the year-ago period.
The chain’s new Essence of Beauty bath and body collection “also closed out the year well,” according to Zigerelli.
The chain beefed up its Essence presentation for the holidays with plush toys and even wooden snowman doorknob decorations coupled with bottles of bath gel. It also added candy cane, cranberry and snowflake [which smells like cinnamon] items to its candle collection.
And Kristen Heinz, category manager of cosmetics at Kerr Drug, a Durham, N.C.-based chain with over 150 units, said, “We did have a good year.”
Heinz said she was expecting a 75 percent sell-through and ended up with closer to 81 percent. “I was very excited,” she said, noting standards like Sand and Sable and Jovan Musk moved well, along with Adidas Moves in both men’s and women’s versions. Last year, said Heinz, Adidas for Men did not do well at all, so “that was probably the biggest surprise.”
On bath and body sets, the chain had an 85 percent sell-through, which was consistent with last year, said Heinz.
Valerie Cheyney, cosmetics buyer for Happy Harry’s of Newark, Del., like many other retailers, said post-Thanksgiving sales were slow, and they waited for a last-minute rush. Revlon’s new Skinlights collection, which includes a promotional fragrance, had a strong showing there.
Walt Rubel, director of government and community affairs, Acme Markets, Malvern, Pa., said the supermarket chain’s holiday presentation was not extensive, but said, “We sold little gift sets from Stetson and Aqua Velva, among others. We had substantially complete sell-through of those kinds of gifts.”
“The buyers are happy,” Rubel said. “We exceeded our projections.”
This came without an 11th-hour promotional push during the week preceding the Christmas holiday. “It was just part of our regular direct mail program at that point,” he said. “We started the ads after Thanksgiving and continued to hammer away with our normal routine ads.”
A snow scare just prior to Dec. 25 sent more traffic into the stores, and that helped boost sales as well, said Rubel.
But at Drug Emporium, a Powell, Ohio-based chain, the holiday wasn’t the cheeriest. Layana Palmore, category manager of cosmetics, said “sales were down compared to last year.”
Palmore suggested there may be a shift in interest among consumers toward the array of novelty electronics and software products on the market as gift-giving items instead. “Perhaps the mind-set has changed,” said Palmore. “My ads this year were good if not better [than previous seasons].”
Fruth Pharmacy of Point Pleasant, W. Va., also had a disappointing season. “My sales were lower than expected,” reported Amy Seiders, cosmetics buyer. “Coty always does the best, and that was the same as last year. But the other mass fragrances were way down. That includes Dana and Parfums de Coeur.”
D’Agostino Supermarkets in New York City, which offered two gift packs — one Olay and one Pantene — reported mixed results at its stores. “I’d say it was about 50-50,” said Donna Crist, nonfood category manager. She speculated that “people may not have expected to see it in a supermarket.”
And Judy Trenary, cosmetics manager, Osborn Drugs, Miami, Okla., said fragrance seemed to be the last choice of a lot of people. The holiday home stretch brought a sales revival to movement that was only meeting about 50% of projections, according to Trenary, who blamed severe winter weather in the Midwest for the deficiencies.
Still, sales finished “pretty good, considering,” she said. “We had a lot of ice and snow, and people just didn’t get out.” Eventually, sales topped off at about 75 percent of projections. “I would have liked to get to 100 percent,” Trenary said.
Manufacturers said they will be getting final retailer results in about one to two weeks. From anecdotal reports, most felt their sales will meet expectations.
Al Cowger, vice president and general counsel for New Dana Perfumes, said the company expanded its selection this year with combination gift sets and gift-with-purchase offers. Freebies included a purse with the purchase of Chantilly, a sports watch with Canoe and a “funky purple” watch with Love’s Baby Soft.
“We went a little more out than the average manufacturer. We’ve been trying to revitalize these brands and have made an extra effort to get them noticed by the public,” said Cowger.
At Parfums de Coeur which markets the Body Fantasies, Prince Matchabelli and Bod Man brands, president Mark Laracy said all indications pointed to a good sell-through.
“The last weekend seems to have pulled it out,” remarked Laracy. He said buying followed the previous pattern. “The lower-priced things sold earlier. Gift sets sold later.” Specifically, Body Fantasies glitter sprays sold out early and a three-piece set of Bod Man also was a good seller, he added.
A spokesman for Coty remarked that the company did well, but was still awaiting final sell-through numbers from retailers.

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