Byline: Pete Born

NEW YORK — With the slowdown in the number of new product introductions this year, the men’s fragrance category has downshifted to a sedate rate of growth.
Last fall, many department stores were steaming ahead in the high single digits following a profusion of launches. But so far this year, growth has slowed to a single-digit pace.
This year’s deceleration is due in large part to comparison with last year’s surge, in which men’s prestige fragrance sales were up 6 percent, according to NPD BeautyTrends, which tracks department and specialty store sales.
The men’s prestige sector is now advancing on $1 billion in annual retail revenue. “Growth is coming from newness,” said Veronica Lawrence, fragrance director for NPD BeautyTrends, “Ralph Lauren’s Romance Men took the market by storm in the fall, overtaking even established brands.”
“The market is being driven by younger men, the 20 to 35 set,” said Timra L. Carlson, VP BeautyTrends, “They have embraced the fragrance experience far more than their fathers, will experiment with any number of fragrances and they make their own choices.”
Gift sets were hot sellers last year, showing a 4 percent growth in dollar sales, according to NPD.
Shower gels and body washes are now a staple item in sets with some offering multiple benefits such as hair and body shampoo. However, the eau de toilette spray cologne is still the most popular product, taking 63 percent of total men’s fragrance sales in department stores, reported Carlson.
As for this year, Gail Gordon, vice president of fragrances at Macy’s East, foresees a slight slowing. “I see a leveling off and much more conservative increases,” she said, noting that the major men’s fragrance manufacturers do not have big introductions slated for the next six months, unlike last year, when there was a rash of launches in the fall.
The biggest men’s introductions on the horizon this year are Nautica, the male followup to the recent DKNY women’s introduction from Donna Karan, the Gucci scent that will be unveiled in June and the men’s half of the Lucky You master brand from Liz Claiborne Cosmetics.
Gordon said she has noticed a bit of change in consumer buying habits. “The consumer does not seem to be as concerned with price and is responsive to the designer name and a great juice.” She added, “the consumer is not necessarily looking for a big promotional dividend.”
She also noted that younger consumers have come into the department store men’s market. “The younger consumers have shown that they will pay for prestige brands,” she said, adding that “they want prestige, designer names and a great juice.”
Of the recently launched fragrances, Gordon identified Ralph Lauren’s Romance for Men as “a huge success.” Givenchy’s Pi, one of last year’s surprise hits, continues to maintain its top 10 position. Meanwhile, Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio for Men also continues as a top seller.
One of the strongest draws for young customers at Macy’s was the Candie’s men’s and women’s fragrances.
Jane Scott, vice president of cosmetics at Bloomingdale’s, noted how momentum has shifted from the men’s to the women’s fragrance category in the last year. “You look at last fall,” she said, pointing out that the top 20 included three newly launched men’s fragrances — Romance for Men, Image from Nino Cerruti and Emporio Armani for Men from Giorgio Armani.
But that was last year, when there was an onslaught of men’s launches. This fall, the situation will have reversed with twice as many women’s fragrance launches slated as men’s. However, Scott sees continuing strength in the category, even if it is quieter than before. “I still think the men’s business is healthy,” she said, after glancing at the figures for February and March and looking ahead.
DKNY men’s promises to be potent, considering the strength of the Donna Karan fashion franchise at Bloomingdale’s, and Scott suspects the new Gucci will be a hit. She also has expectations for the new Hugo Boss men’s scent, Boss.
The pattern is similar at Rich’s in Atlanta. The men’s category is running ahead in the mid-single digits for the year to date. Last year, growth was in the double digits.
Looking forward, Gary Borofsky, vice president and general merchandise manager, said, “We plan to have a mid-single growth for fall.”
He noted that it will be a jam-packed fragrance season, mostly in women’s. But men’s will be represented, between DKNY, Nautica, Gucci and Lucky You. Borofsky agreed with the sentiment that retailers have taken steps to induce young people to come into the store.
“Donna Karan can go 18 and up,” he noted and the launch of Liz Claiborne’s Curve in 1996 “was a big door opener.”
In addition, last year’s Romance for Men has stayed on top since the fourth quarter, and Acqua di Gio for Men continues to be “phenomenal,” while Givenchy’s Pi “continues to be a steady top 10 brand.”
Asked about the theory that men’s, one of the most promotional categories in the entire industry, has begun to wean itself off bag giveaways and other gimmicks, Borofsky pointed to Cosmair’s recent history of producing fragrance hits without resorting to gift-with-purchase props. “If you’ve got great juice, you don’t have to be promotional,” he said. “You still have to provide value. The customer is looking for a quality product.”
Borofsky added, “It is not necessary to give them a suitcase to make them buy it.”
Value sets and two-piece gift sets offer cross-selling and opportunities for product trail. Also during the last two years, Rich’s has emphasized fragrance sampling. “It’s been an engine of our success,” he said.
The men’s business at Belk’s in Charlotte, N.C., is humming along with gains in the mid-single digits, but general merchandise manager Jon Pollack thinks the tempo will increase to high singles by the end of the spring season. Add a late Easter to a Father’s Day in June and “the best is yet to come.”
As for past launches, Romance is “clearly our number one brand,” while Tommy Hilfiger’s Freedom and Candie’s are not top 10, “but they are doing pretty well.”
Meanwhile, he added, Acqua Di Gio for Men is “on fire.” He added that Estee Lauder’s Pleasures for Men, a 1997 entry, “is still doing well.”
Pollack has solid expectations for the fall lineup of launches, not to mention the upcoming Hugo Boss expectations that should give the spring season an extra boost.
He seems less certain about the idea that the business has become less promotional: “I’m not ready to say that yet.”
However, Pollack agreed that younger customers have found their way into the store and up to the men’s bar. They have been attracted to a series of youth-oriented launches in recent years, going back to Cool Water and including CK One, Curve and Tommy. Some of these brands can draw customers as young as 15.
Jacobson Stores in Jackson, Mich., had a strong spring in men’s last year, then softened in November. The men’s business is now running 9 percent ahead — compared with 20 percent for the entire cosmetics division, according to Laurence Williams, divisional merchandise manager. He is looking ahead to the fall launches, particularly DKNY and Gucci.