Byline: Laura Klepacki

NEW YORK — It will be a pivotal turn in the 115-year history of Avon Products when the company unveils its first Avon Centers in select Sears, Roebuck & Co. and J.C. Penney Co. stores this August. The advent of BeComing, a more upscale 350-stockkeeping-unit beauty collection, will signal the beauty giant’s first major step toward adding a distinct new retail business to attract a younger, more mall-driven consumer on top of its $5.2 billion direct-selling business.
Already, Avon’s president and chief executive officer Andrea Jung has expressed her intent to expand the concept to Mexico and the U.K. next year. “This is the beginning of a very strong global brand,” noted Avon retail president Steve Bock, formerly of Sephora, who joined the company in January to help create the retail branch.
Jung has said that the launch of BeComing, which offers six product groups, will enable Avon to capture sales from younger and more upscale consumers than it draws with its core collection, which is sold door-to-door. Prices for BeComing cosmetics and skin care items are up to twice that of Avon products sold through representatives. A BeComing lipstick is $9.50, compared to $6.50 for Avon. And a BeComing nail polish is $7 versus $3.95 for Avon NailWear. Avon marketers are describing BeComing as a “mass-stige” brand, lying somewhere between mass and prestige. Jung says it fills a “sweet spot” in the market with high-technology products at prices 10 to 20 percent below entry-level department-store brands. But in keeping with the Avon personal style, Avon Centers will provide service through Avon-trained “lifestyle consultants.”
BeComing is expected to attract women 25 to 45, but “the bull’s-eye is 30,” said Bock. And she has an annual income of $50,000 and up. The customer for Avon’s core line averages 35 to 55.
Avon executives expect BeComing to compete for sales with drugstore brands like L’Oreal and Revlon and department-store brands such as Clinique.
“After extensive research, we identified a gap in the market,” explained Stuart Sklar, formerly group vice president, global marketing at Avon and now group vice president, retail marketing. The BeComing brand speaks to “aspiration and self-actualization,” said Sklar, who gained beauty retail experience earlier in his career at L’Oreal. “Beauty is defined differently depending on where you are in your life.”
When it launches, BeComing will include cosmetics, skin care, baby and new-mother products, aromatherapy, a sports collection with vitamins and muscle-relief lotions plus a fragrance. Other specialty-product groups are expected to be added, such as bridal. The typical center will range from 400 square feet to 600 square feet, with the largest stores offering a 1,000-square-foot space. It will be in 150 to 200 Sears and Penney’s stores by yearend, with distribution expanded to 500 doors by 2002. Avon is projecting first-year retail sales of $150 million to $200 million, based on a $10 million to $15 million advertising and promotional budget. Advertising, at the start, will consist of a print campaign and radio. As distribution progresses, television could follow next year. Avon, a $5.2 billion company, expects BeComing will represent 8 to 10 percent of its U.S. volume by 2005.
BeComing is a product and retail concept described by Avon marketers as presenting women a “fusion” of beauty, lifestyle and fashion. In addition to beauty products, there are coordinating jewelry and accessory pieces and even books and music to foster a mood. “It is about transforming you and bringing out the aspects of yourself that you value,” said Sklar. The brand name BeComing is applied to each of the product groupings, as in “BeComing Radiant,” “BeComing Luminous,” “BeComing Active,” “BeComing Mom,” “BeComing Centered” and “BeComing Sensational.”
In store, Avon has created a new lighted fixturing system to house BeComing. A typical look contains four pylons, each about 8 feet long, with storage drawers underneath for easy replenishment. Shelving is adjustable with graphic panels that will highlight new products and promotions and will be updated frequently. Testers are a key component, noted Bock. The center also will offer limited seating and a round “play station” with mirrors for trying out cosmetics. Consultants will be on hand to offer advice and makeovers. The store-within-a-store design is an open-sell environment offering assistance. Upon entering, a center display area will highlight new products and current promotions.
The Avon Center will be located prominently at the entrance to the beauty department in both Sears and Penney’s, according to Avon executives. Vicki McClendon, vice president of cosmetics, fine jewelry and accessories at Sears, said the BeComing Center and Sears Circle of Beauty will share equal billing.
Avon has leveraged its product-development assets to create BeComing. Even the fragrance bottle was designed internally. Each of Avon’s six BeComing collections will contain elements of beauty, lifestyle and fashion. “It is a merchandising concept as well as a brand,” said Bock.
BeComing Luminous is a skin care lineup featuring a new Avon ingredient called Lumin8, a patent-pending cocktail of eight skin nutrients that responds to natural body cycles. It is said to address different needs in different women. The lineup includes cleansers and moisturizers to targeted treatment items. A skin lotion is available in light, moderate or intensive versions. And women are asked to respond to a short questionnaire to determine which product is right for them. Next year, Luminous will be extended into body care. The collection also includes “boosters,” serums that target specific needs such as skin brightening or resurfacing. Boosters can be used alone or in conjunction with a regimen. An antiage serum in a pen line package has been dubbed Off-Line Quick Click. Avon has taken pains to spark up BeComing with catchy names. Items are priced $11 to $40.
BeComing Radiant is Avon’s new 206-sku color collection. Sklar says the collection contains a host of wearable shades, but also will offer women some “cutting edge” colors and products. Packaging is silver with fine details such as a sloping cover on its compacts. At the Avon Center woman will receive guidance on achieving a look, complete with jewelry suggestions.
Many cosmetic products have been designed to be multifunctional, such as Face Gloss, a gloss for lips, eyes and cheeks. There is also a concealer and eye shadow kit and an eye shadow packed with an eyeliner. There are three lipsticks — one for plumping lips, one with a matte finish and one offering long-wearing, high-shine gloss. The tube has a shade chip in the base. Prices range from $6 to $14.
BeComing Centered features Aromahue. Avon claims it is the first collection to combine scent and color therapy. “It is multisensorial,” said Sklar. Foaming body wash, body balm, body mist, fragrance elixir and candles come in four color-coordinated sets. Orange-yellow is energy; pink is desire; blue is spirit, and green represents wisdom. Items are priced at $14 each.
BeComing Mom, is a pre- and postnatal and baby care line. “We wanted something unique in the marketplace,” said Sklar. It includes items such as Spring Back Mom, an antistretch mark cream. There is also a face lotion, dubbed Face the Day Mom with SPF 25, and Take a Load Off Mom, a cooling foot spray. For baby, there is a diaper rash item. There is also a selection of giftables such as a bath accessories set. Avon created a signature rabbit as the collection’s icon, which is being sold as a plush toy. BeComing Mom also includes a scent — Baby Makes Two — for mom and baby. It is described as floral notes with soft powder. Items are priced at $10 to $15.
BeComing Active, a group of personal care items for athletic women includes a lotion to insulate skiers against cold weather and bath salts to help athletes cool down, along with a host of nutritional supplements. Prices start at $12.
BeComing Sensational offers a new fragrance and a range of ancillary items. The eau de parfum, designed by Firmenich, is priced at $30 for a 50-ml. bottle. Body lotion, bath gel, bath salts and a perfume roll-on stick are also available. It is described as a bright floral with fruity accents with a dry-down of woods and spicy incense. Later, the fragrance will be expanded into body care and home environmentals. There is also a complementary silver jewelry collection, which was created in-house. Prices range from $15 to $30.
Of the six businesses, skin care and color are expected to dominate sales, accounting for 50 percent of the BeComing business, according to Bock.
Avon got its feet wet in retail over the past two years with the introduction of mall kiosks, which served as an additional outlet for its core Avon brand. Once a corporate test, the kiosks are now being licensed to sales associates. Jung said there are now about 80 kiosks and more are being added. A fear had been that kiosks would siphon sales from Avon representatives, but Bock said 95 percent of Avon kiosk shoppers were new customers. Research shows, continued Bock, “that 20 million [women] are open to Avon but choose not to go through representatives.”
With BeComing, Bock added, Avon is “going for a totally different shopper.” He said 58 to 60 percent of women in the U.S. shop at Penney’s and Sears. “We are going after those customers.” And the center, declared Bock, “will draw you right in.”
McClendon said BeComing will give Penney’s a means to expand its beauty business beyond the draw of Circle of Beauty. She eyes BeComing as a tool to bring in a younger customer. With Avon’s expertise, “it will provide excitement and innovation.”
“We are positioned for more success with Circle of Beauty, but it had to shoulder the department,” said McClendon. With BeComing, Sears shoppers will be offered something,”a little more aspirational and something more experimental.”
Through the BeComing lineup, “we will offer some businesses she can’t find anywhere else in the mall,” said McClendon, who pointed to the motherhood collection as a prime example. She also sees opportunities to cross merchandise categories, such as the BeComing Active grouping with Sears exercise bikes. “I see it as a chance to revolutionize and take our beauty business to the next step.”
She said the introduction of BeComing “was really a right time to evaluate where we were,” said McClendon. “Now open sell has taken over.” Space allocated to beauty will remain the same, it will just be readjusted with some brands discontinued, she noted.
McClendon also said BeComing will enable Sears to better address a diverse market with products that appeal to different ethnic groups.
The Avon Center will be launched in nine of Sears’ markets, including Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago and New Jersey. It will open in 125 stores to start.
But others have questioned Avon’s choice of Sears and Penney’s for its retail unveiling. At a presentation to analysts in November, Jung was challenged on the wisdom of launching a retail line in a stagnant retail channel.
Jung countered that direct sellers account for only 9 percent of the U.S. beauty business, and even in a competitive market, Avon would be able to slice a share from the larger retail universe. To dramatize this point, Bock declared that the total U.S. beauty business amounts to $35 billion at retail.
There also has been concern that the new, more upscale BeComing brand would alienate the 500,000 U.S. sales associates who sell the lower-priced line. The Avon ceo said she has been holding meetings with top-level sales executives to strengthen relationships with sales associates.
And like Sears, executives at Penney’s couldn’t be happier about Avon’s retail move.
Jeffrey Askensas, divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics at Penney’s, the company’s first, is building a new beauty department using the Avon Center and BeComing as its core. Seventy five Penney’s stores in the company’s top eight beauty markets, including New York, California, Florida and Dallas, will get the new look this year.
“We are using BeComing as a cornerstone and making moderate cosmetics a statement for our customers,” said Askensas, who joined Penney’s in September from The Elder-Beerman Stores Corp. Penney’s reports its current beauty business at about $300 million in retail. By adding BeComing and freshening its mix, Askensas wants to double that figure.
In addition to Askensas, Penney’s has expanded its beauty staff to include Allyson Honeycutt, formerly of Dillard Department Stores, who will oversee fragrance; Catherine Bokar, another Elder-Beerman recruit, now responsible for color and treatment, and Valarie Cole, as its new bath and body buyer. Cole brings both drugstore and department-store experience.
Askensas said research has shown that “the moderate customer wants to buy cosmetics from us. They want to buy it from us in our stores.”
In addition to the Avon Center, Penney’s is bringing in new fixturing for its other beauty brands and proprietary lines. “This is a turning point for the whole cosmetics area,” said Askensas. He declined to say if floor space would be added for beauty.
“We are relaying the department for higher capacity, achieving that through assisted open-sell fixturing,” said Askensas. “We are calling it a renewal of cosmetics.”