Byline: Faye Brookman

NEW YORK — Jesse Lawrence, president of CRL Marketing Inc., hopes the future is so bright that consumers will want to wear shades.
Shades is just one of several whimsical promotional items offered by CRL, based in Suffern, N.Y. Shades are nail colors featuring miniature sunglass pins banded to the bottles. The suggested retail is $2.49.
Duane Reade’s buyer Marti Bentley said Shades’ uniqueness has been a big selling point. “We’ve done very well with it,” she noted.
Lawrence is chock-full of offbeat ideas such as pumpkin rings attached to orange Halloween nail polish and sparkly eyelid tattoos that are teamed up with glitter eye shadow.
Creative promotional items such as these have helped the company generate retail sales of $4 million to $5 million, according to industry sources.
Lawrence, however, knows cute items can take his company only so far, especially in the face of new competitors marketing edgy, youth-oriented merchandise.
That’s why Lawrence is also starting to work with retailers on customized promotions and private label cosmetics lines that he hopes could net his firm precious peg wall space. Fred Meyer Inc., in Portland, Ore., for example, is already selling CRL’s colors under its own private label name, FM Essentials, in a special boutique clothing area in the store. Based on the success of the boutique, FM Essentials is now getting two feet of space in cosmetics on the wall, as well. FM Essentials is positioned in Fred Meyer’s youth department, which also features Wet ‘n’ Wild and Jane.
“What’s great is that on our wall, we have many items not found in Wet ‘n’ Wild or Jane, such as swirl pots,” explained Lawrence, a former employee of Wet ‘n’ Wild. “And the pricing is between the two.”
Lawrence believes many other retailers will start eyeing private label beauty lines as a way to differentiate their stores from competition. “It is the right way to go, but many retailers are afraid,” he said. Among the chains with their own beauty brands are Shoppers Drug Mart with Quo and Target Stores with its Sonia Kashuk line.
For chains that don’t want to incorporate their own logo, Lawrence offers a line called Jesse’s Girl. The in-line display used for Fred Meyer can also be implemented in other retailers under the Jesse’s Girl name. The private label collections provide retailers with a way to carry lines priced between budget brands and more upscale lines. Lawrence said his collection can retail for between $3.99 and $4.99 and deliver margins exceeding 50 percent.
Despite a push for permanent space, Lawrence continues to create promotional products. “What’s great is that a buyer can call us and say that some new color is hot in department stores and we can have a similar color within a few weeks. Our turnaround time is what separates us from competition,” he said.
It was his snap delivery of a collection of nail colors that thrust him into the business in 1992. At that time, his firm was a contract filler for beauty marketers. He was given a chance to create a 10-pack of nail polishes for the now-defunct Woolworth chain. After securing the deal, Lawrence had three weeks to turn around an order totaling almost $500,000. From then on, CRL exited the contract filling business in order to market new items.
Teaming with other niche players such as Wilson Creative Cosmetics, Bar-Low or Temptu tattoos, CRL has been able to bring value-added merchandise to the market. “For example, we have glitter sold together with tattoos [from Temptu]. All midsized companies are in the same boat. We do better when we hit major retailers with a collective effort,” he said of his partnerships with other beauty suppliers.
Next up on his promotional parade: matching nail and body products in colors inspired by Jell-o. The products will be merchandised in the same display to inspire multiple purchases.
With a large percentage of his merchandise featuring glitter, Lawrence does his best to keep a pulse on teens’ penchant for sparkles. “Who knows how long glitter will last. What we try to do is give more than just glitter. We cross-merchandise something with the glitter such as a bracelet — last year we did Power Beads. All you have to do is walk down Broadway to see what might be next,” he said.
In addition to mass market retailers, CRL also sells specialty mall-based outlets such as Hot Topic. CRL competes in a crowded market against other promotional lines such as Townley, Added Extras and Markwins International, and is one of a host of companies targeting free-spending preteen and teenage shoppers. However, Lawrence thinks his line doesn’t only skew young. “We have many items, such as Shades, that we feel appeal to all ages.”

CVS Corp., the nation’s number-two drugstore chain in sales behind Walgreen Co., announced Wednesday that it will challenge its biggest competitor in its hometown of Chicago. CVS, based in Woonsocket, R.I., announced that it will open in three more cities in 2001 — Chicago and Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla.
“Our entry into Chicago is a natural fit,” said Tom Ryan, chairman and ceo of CVS. “Our expansion into Fort Lauderdale and Orlando is part of our continued efforts to grow our business within the Florida market.”
Chicago is the number-one drugstore market in the country. Fort Lauderdale is 19th, and Orlando is 29th in terms of drugstore sales. Although competitors have moved in on Walgreens’ turf over the years, the chain still dominates drugstore sales in Illinois.