Byline: Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — Brian Robinson has lofty goals for the five-year-old Zirh skin care line. “Within the next three years, we’re aiming to be the number one men’s skin care line in department stores,” said Robinson, the company’s executive vice president of sales and marketing.
Robinson, who sees his main competition as the Lauder-owned Lab Series and Clinique for Men lines and the Ralph Lauren/Polo Sport line, plans to achieve his goal in several ways: By nearly doubling the company’s product range, by sharply increasing international distribution, and by growing domestic department and specialty store distribution.
“We’ve come a long way since 1995,” said Robinson. That was the year that a group of skin care executives launched Zirh in Arizona. While sales of the initial line — seven products and two kits — were strong, the first owners’ $6 million national advertising budget simply wasn’t justified by the number of doors it was in, said Robinson. The brand was originally exclusive to Barneys New York, which at the time had 13 doors.
“The original owners were effective in building a brand, but too much money was spent too quickly,” he said. In November 1998, the original owners sold Zirh to a second group of investors, who moved headquarters to Manhattan.
Several business strategies were immediately implemented, said Robinson. “We slashed the advertising budget dramatically and distributed that money where it could do us more good,” he said. The company, which had already seen success in in-store sampling, sharply increased these efforts.
Reevaluating existing sample packaging saved even more money. Robinson noted that one eye-product sample originally cost almost $3 to produce. It was in a small nickel tube. Switching to a packette cut costs to just 10 cents.
To increase consumer awareness in the wake of the slashed advertising budget, Zirh also focused on increasing product placement efforts. These days, the products can be seen on shows such as “Sex and the City” and “The X-Files.”
“One of the other challenges that the line faced was that it was very limited in stockkeeping units, and it didn’t include shaving products,” said Robinson. “While many men’s lines use shave as an entry point into the category, Zirh’s original owners had started with facial skin care,” said Robinson.
The company expanded into the shaving category last fall, also adding two hair care sku’s — a shampoo and a conditioner — at that time.
Going forward, expanding the number of available sku’s will be a significant component of Zirh’s growth plans. The range now includes 11 skin care, hair care and shaving products with no-nonsense names like Clean, a facial cleanser that retails for $12.50 for 8 oz., and Fix, a blemish fighter that retails for $32.50 for 2 oz. Individual products range in price from $12.50 to $32.50. Zirh also offers three multi-item kits that range in price from $25 to $59.
By the end of 2000, Robinson aims to have a total of 19 sku’s available, including an alpha-hydroxy bar that will roll out at the end of April, and an aftershave, which is on tap for later this year.
Robinson also plans to introduce seasonal kits. “We’ve never addressed the seasonal business, and this will be another way to grow,” he said. The first item in the strategy, a Father’s Day kit with shave cream, shampoo, conditioner and scrub, will be launched this spring and will retail for $39.
Going forward, Zirh will also continue to sample heavily, said Robinson. It has already worked to build early buzz on Soothe, a product it will launch in April.
Zirh began sampling the post-shave hydrator, which will retail for $28.50 for 4 oz., in January. “It has really built excitement and anticipation,” he said, adding that the company has handed out about 2.5 million samples.
Robinson also aims to increase distribution, both domestically and internationally. In the U.S., the line is sold in about 160 department store and specialty store doors, including Barneys New York, Burdine’s and Bloomingdale’s. In total, Zirh is in 17 countries outside the U.S., including Canada and the U.K. Within the next three years, Robinson hopes to be in 43 more, including Argentina, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Israel.