MARKWINS POLISHES THE COSMETICS CASE

Byline: Faye Brookman

NEW YORK — Mass retailers are finding sales are in the bag. In the cosmetics bag, that is.
Buyers have always lamented the paltry inventory turns of the stockkeeping unit-intensive color cosmetics business that hover below two times a year. But, many chains are finding a way to boost inventory turnover by adding cosmetics kits such as cosmetics bags or train cases brimming with beauty items from Markwins International Corporation of LaVerne, Calif.
Markwins designs and manufactures the beauty products that go into its unique packages, which can double as carrying cases. The company is especially known for its train cases filled with beauty items such as eye shadows and lipsticks that retail for a fraction of the price of comparable department store offerings. According to Bill George, senior vice president and brand manager, Markwins items turn in excess of four times a year. Interest in the product line has helped push Markwins worldwide sales to $176 million, according to the company.
At chains such as the Walgreen Co. of Deerfield, Ill., and Eckerd in Clearwater, Fla., Markwins’s cases were among the bestsellers for Christmas 2000. Especially hot was a $4.99 case called the Classic Series. While many fragrance firms will be lucky to hit 50 percent sell-through for Yule, George is counting on 80 percent sell-throughs on the Markwins merchandise. Now the company is casting an eye on Yule 2001.
“We’ll be doing more cases in fabric as we did this year, but we’ll be adding bright colors such as an ostrich bag in fuchsia,” said George. To help keep the company on the edge of trends, Markwins hired Bunke Mar late in 2000 as marketing and product design manager. Mar has vast experience in designing for the teen and tween market. Her imprint is on the spring 2001 offering. One of her first designs, the Lil’ Daisy Bowler, is just shipping into accounts now. She expects the bowling bag silhouette to score big for spring 2001 in mass doors. The bag, filled with beauty items, retails for less than $7. It is part of an overall theme inspired by styles of the Sixties and Seventies that is set to hit shelves for spring 2001. “As a designer, it is my challenge to know colors and trends and interpret the looks before the competition,” said Mar. Markwins faces competition from a swelling number of suppliers chasing the youth market.
Markwins got its start in the early Eighties as a private label producer for the upscale market. The firm retains a separate division called Color Institute devoted to the prestige market. However, experience with trends in the upscale world of department stores yields Markwins the knowledge to create kits geared toward mass consumers. Markwins distributes in more than 15,000 mass, drug and food stores under the ACT and Color Workshop logos. Additional retailers sell the Color Institute collections.
ACT actually is a spinoff of the line, which was created around 1998 to target younger shoppers. ACT items have become cornerstones of youth presentations at retailers such as Wegmans and Meijers. The company believes ACT is especially popular with shoppers in their tween years — six to 14. Color Workshop spans preteens to mature women, said George, who added that Markwins is working on a line to reach teens that will bow in 2002. “Obviously, we feel there is a portion of the market we are missing,” he noted.
Although most retailers use Markwins items as seasonal traffic drivers, there are some chains creating year-round departments on the peg wall. “We can do inline programs for chains and still deliver beauty, fashion and value,” George said. The track record Markwins has established over the past two years has changed many retailers’ views on what price levels they can hit. “No one could imagine a few years ago that they could sell a train case at $39.99,” said George. Going forward, George said the firm is working more closely with retailers to put promotional programs together earlier. He also advised retailers to take shipments, such as Christmas promotions, earlier. He said some chains produced 10 percent of their sales in September. “That’s a good way to drive early sales and boost overall sell-through,” he said.
Even George admitted there’s ample competition for pocketbooks of the core young customers. He feels that’s putting more attention on Markwins’s lineup. And, as more retailers like CVS develop teen departments such as Grl Lab, he sees more potential for Markwins. The mixed reviews of new launches such as Olay cosmetics, he added, has freed up space in beauty departments for retailers to add more Markwins kits. For those not putting space on beauty walls, George encouraged programs such as Kmart’s pallet promotion. During Christmas 2000, Kmart had huge pallet displays of Markwins’s merchandise piled high. A spokeswoman for the Troy, Mich.-based chain confirmed that it was a big seller for the holiday season.
Although Markwins has worked with category killers such as Hot Topics, its major thrust remains its prestige doors, mass and the growing global arena. The company also is fostering growth on U.S. soil by working with major clients on exclusive beauty kit promotions.

Showing its commitment to expansion in England, Wal-Mart said it would invest $675 million to build 13 Asda supermarkets in Britain. Wal-Mart’s Asda chain purchased J. Sainsbury last month, making it the second-largest supermarket chain in Britain behind Tesco.

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