Byline: Laura Klepacki

NEW YORK — With first-quarter market shares coming in as breathlessly close as figure skating scores, the mass cosmetics competition is shaping up as a battle for brand dominance.
In a surprising show of strength, Maybelline, which ended 1999 as the third-ranked mass color brand, has emerged by two-tenths of a point as the top-selling cosmetics line for the first quarter. Revlon, the category’s longtime leader, has slipped to third while Cover Girl came in at number two, according to data from Information Resources Inc.
By all accounts, the numbers are fragile, and sales by all three firms contending for the top spot are expected to rise and fall as this year’s efforts unfold.
Even if it doesn’t persist, Maybelline’s president John Wendt has realized his oft-stated goal of making the brand the industry leader.
To observers, Maybelline’s ascent comes as no surprise.
“It is very simple. Maybelline is on top of their game. Their product launches and support levels have been unbelievable,” said industry consultant Allan Mottus. “They are not missing a beat right now.”
When asked about the brand’s rise, Wendt said “We are very pleased with our current position in the marketplace and expect to continue the momentum through the year.” He attributed some of the brand’s dynamic growth to new product successes such as Express Makeup 3-in-1 and Full N’ Soft mascara.
For the three months ended March, Maybelline held 18.4 percent of retail dollar sales, followed by Cover Girl with 18.2 percent and Revlon with 18 percent, according to IRI. For 1999, IRI reported total category sales at $3.2 billion, up 8 percent over 1998.
Market leadership has shifted quickly over the past nine months. In the third quarter of 1999 Revlon led the field with a 19.6 share, followed by Cover Girl with 17.7 and Maybelline with 17.0. Then in the fourth quarter, Cover Girl took the lead with an 18.2 share, as Revlon dipped to 17.1 and Maybelline to 16.7.
Revlon and Cover Girl have frequently alternated quarterly leads, with Revlon ultimately coming out on top at yearend. But with Revlon’s reported struggles and Maybelline’s aggressive tactics, this year could be anyone’s game.
Beyond bragging rights, market leadership can carry weight with retailers planning which products to promote and allocating merchandising space. However, one manufacturer who competes with the three top brands said rank doesn’t impact space allocation as much as it once did.
“Being number one in the market is good, but they [retailers] will look at how productive the space is,” said the marketing executive, who asked not to be identified. Category management programs have helped in that direction. Remarking on current profitability levels, he said, “Maybelline is extremely productive. Cover Girl was very productive, but they have slowed down in volume and are slightly overspaced. But the big one that lags is Revlon.”
CVS spokesman Todd Andrews simply said, “Competition for shelf space is especially fierce right now.”
Carrie Cox, cosmetics buyer for May’s Drug Stores, said of the three top brands, “Revlon probably still has the most space in our stores.” Yet it is the category’s fourth-ranked brand, L’Oreal, that “has the lead-in on the wall.”
That’s because, “L’Oreal, in sales per foot in our stores, is the leader. Plus they are the ones that do the most promotional activity with us. We run two circulars per month and there is probably not one that goes by without L’Oreal,” said Cox.
Cox had no predictions on how this year might end up.
“Maybelline has had a lot of new items and done very well.” If anything, their weak point with May’s is their promotional activity. Meanwhile, the chain is adding Cover Girl’s new fixture to its departments, which could spur additional interest in the brand, said Cox.
Yet, as reflected in May’s space allocation and even in comments from competing manufacturers, in many ways the industry continues to look to Revlon as its assumed leader — if not in numbers, at least in attitude.
The company’s new president and ceo, Jeffrey Nugent, has already assembled a new management team to take the brand into the future and maintain its fashionable image. Financial problems caused it to reduce the number of its advertising spots during the Academy Awards this spring, but it still was the only mass color brand present.
“Revlon, compared to where they were, with out-of-stocks and coupons, seem to be holding their own. Back in October everybody thought they would fall off the chart,” said Mottus. “I think Nugent is doing some right things. Hopefully that will translate there soon.”
But, noted Mottus, “Cover Girl is also a powerful brand.” However, it is currently undergoing a transition with the rollout of the new fixture and addition of CG Smoothers, while it freshens the brand’s image with models like Faith Hill. “They [Cover Girl] are going through changes, when Maybelline is right on target and hitting.” Cover Girl, whose sales have been flat, “may be in better shape” in a couple of months with the fixture in place, said Mottus. Last year, Maybelline introduced a new display that presents items by product category, making a more prominent statement in-store.
Overall, the mass cosmetics category has continued to build on its 1999 growth, with sales up 7 to 8 percent during the first three months, noted Marc Pritchard, vice president of Procter & Gamble Cosmetics. He attributed the gains to both growth of existing brands as well as newcomers, such as the P&G’s Olay Cosmetics.
“The category will continue to grow because the rate of innovation will continue,” predicted Pritchard. Speaking of Cover Girl, he said, the brand “has had steady growth and its sales growth will increase over the next three to six months as we transition into the ‘Fresh New Face’ product lineup and improved shopping experience.” The new Cover Girl fixture will be lighted, like the Oil of Olay display, and feature an area for promotions and sample sizes, called Tiny Trys.
While most mass-market cosmetics brands typically offer products across categories, many have a decided strength. Revlon is noted for lip color and nail polish, Maybelline for mascara, and Cover Girl for its foundation products. But over the past few years there has been more crossover between categories.
Maybelline has been working to boost its foundation business, beginning with the introduction of True Illusion in 1998 and Express 3-in-1 stick foundation last year. This fall the brand will launch another liquid foundation backed with a $10 million advertising campaign. It has also nibbled at Revlon’s color business with highly successful shade statements, and it virtually created the quick-dry nail polish boom with the rollout of Express Finish, which is being relaunched this year. And Revlon, which had negligible mascara sales has seen its results jump 60 percent with its new EveryLash, a mascara featuring an eyelash comb.
Cover Girl, meanwhile, has continued to develop its foundations, with the introduction of two new face products under the CG Smoothers brand, and is launching a Cover Girl stick foundation this year. And Revlon is trying to maintain its dominance in lipcolor with more introductions such as ColorStay Liquid Lip and, most recently, LipShine.