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BOCA RATON, Fla. — Attendance was as low as the spirits at the Personal Care Products Council’s annual meeting, held Feb. 24-27 at the Boca Raton Resort and Club here.
Dwindling sales orders — in large part due to retailers determined to destock inventory before placing reorders — was a prime topic. When the seemingly bottomless spiral will rebound — specified to the month and even day — was the most popular guessing game in the cabanas and the lounges.
About 400 executives attended the conference, a sharp decline from 2008’s 650 tally, according to a spokeswoman for PCPC.
The buzz over cocktails often touched on the need to continue to innovate as a chief strategy for reviving the business. This was underscored time and again during the conference.
“Consumer confidence is at Depression-like lows,” said Ed Shirley, vice chairman of global beauty and grooming for Procter & Gamble. “We are sharpening our focus. Innovation is the way to move through this.”
Referring to the recent launch of Olay’s Pro-X, priced at $42 to $62, as a bold choice in this economy, Shirley said, “We are deepening our understanding of consumers’ needs and reframing, rather than offering $10 off.”
“In a challenging economy, we are focusing on building trusted brands, providing innovation at great value and examining meaningful sustainability,” said Gina Drosos, Procter & Gamble Beauty’s president of Global Personal Care. “These are tough times for the consumer and our business, but we believe that we are well positioned to emerge even stronger from this challenge.”
Beauty represents one-third of the conglomerate’s sales, Drosos noted. “We’ve seen some market and inventory contractions, but we are continuing to invest in ads and marketing,” she said. “We believe in the long-term equity of this category.”
The whiff of advertising spending was clearly good news for the most well-represented contingent at the meeting: publishers, ad sales people and editors were there from the major publishing houses, including Condé Nast, Hearst and Time Inc.
“Every organization is managing inventory better in this economy,” said Dan Brestle, vice chairman and president of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. North America, and PCPC’s new chairman. “Everyone’s looking to get inventories to the right level, and they are concentrating on not carrying huge loads. Therefore, the lack of shipments won’t reflect positive retail sales right now. However, the retail rate in January was lower than it was a year ago.”
Scott Beattie, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Elizabeth Arden Inc., added, “Inventory is very lean and retailers are being very selective right now about what they’re replenishing. As retailers are starting to see what has traction, manufacturers will see an inventory build because inventory was so drastically reduced. We’ve already seen some of that in January and February. I think business will flatten, possibly by the end of this year.” Beattie noted that over the holiday season, Arden didn’t replenish regular sets, but that its holiday gift sets sold through well.