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- Part of nearly every beauty brand’s strategy is growth, but growth to where? When you know you want to grow your brand, you have to figure out the best ways to enter new markets before launching.
- For new market launches, stick with your key hero products. Too many unfamiliar products launched too fast is overwhelming. Start small, build a base, then grow.
- Make sure your support system for new markets is solid. Retailers see lots of beauty brands, and the better prepared you for launch, the better chance your brand has.
As a London-based consultant to the global beauty industry, I meet with many new businesses from Eastern Europe, Russia, China and India, among others, all hoping to gain access to the dynamic retail arena in the U.S. and Canada. For these brands, North America is the pinnacle in terms of being positioned in a key marketplace, as they can showcase their products to the world in what is considered to be the top level of retail distribution worldwide. The ultimate goal is to place products on the store shelves of retail chains in these markets.
In order to achieve this goal, careful planning of the actual execution of the product launch is critical. However, this key step is often forgotten or ignored because the focus in the beginning of a beauty brand launch is on product development, brand image, packaging, ingredients and efficacy of the product. The actual product launch, including the all-important backup support, is often not well planned, and this can impair the chances of success for the lucky few who do get accepted by North American retailers. There are lessons for all beauty brand here—especially those looking to expand.
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Further, for many entering into the North American retail arena, much thought is given to the front end of the businesses, with the technicalities and support details of getting to market often overlooked. While the logistics can be less fun or creative, it is a crucial and necessary part of the journey of a brand in its acceptance into the highly competitive beauty industry. All too often when I meet with companies who feel ready to launch, I see beautiful products, great packaging and lots of thought in the details of the unique selling points, but there’s an absence of any clear plan for how to bring the brand to market.
In today’s competitive retail world—be it in high-end specialty stores such as Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks or Neiman Marcus or large chain drug and pharmacy retailers such as CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, or Walmart and Target—it has become even more important for brand owners to do their homework up front. That way, if or when the day comes when they find themselves sitting in front of a category manager or buyer, all the background work and final checks have been done and the majority of the administration work has been put to bed, making the decision for these increasingly work-overloaded retailers as simple as it possibly can be. Today’s buyer does not have time to do the work for you—making this as easy as possible for them is already going to give you a head start on your competition.
Some of the most common mistakes seen with newly emerging brands are often the simplest to resolve. A little extra upfront planning and effort can be the deciding factor for a buyer picking your product over another.
The number of items in a brand line is the biggest and most frequent error I see. All too often—particularly in brands coming from Europe, where the retail market is still mostly that of mass chain pharmacy distribution or the independent beauty boutique retail environment—the brand lineup has hundreds of products all falling under the same corporate name and ranging from hair care, body care and bath and shower to foot care, facial creams, balms and serums—and even fragrances and deodorants. This common error needs to be addressed even before beginning work on where the various product lines will fit.
Each retail buyer has different category responsibilities, and you need to break your brand down into key categories in order to appeal to a particular buyer responsible for a particular area of the market.
Starting out, less is best. Begin with your hero products or the category that your brand performs best in. For example, if hair care has been your strong point, focus on that, making it the best it can be. Highlight the products with a unique story to tell. Think about how many beauty brands, products and ranges this buyer has already had presented to her, and try to put yourself in her shoes. Look for the magic in your products, find that one product that will grab the attention of the buyer and run with it.
Also, don’t try to be all things to all people. New brands often only see the potential financial rewards that could be theirs without stopping to think of how many other brands and products there already are like them—all vying to gain a foothold in the retail space. You will usually have just one opportunity. Take a step back and analyze, analyze and analyze again. Then tighten your product range, putting forward only the best of the best.
Next, break down your categories. You can always make more than one appointment—or better yet, streamline your offerings to make your selection only those products you feel strongly about.
The North American way of doing business, from a support point of view, often comes as a great surprise to companies attempting to launch in North America. Often, brands have done insufficient research when building their business plans. Gone are the days when buyers chose products based on packaging, name, design and the good looks of a new brand alone. In today’s world, where the market is owned by a few giants, there is very little space left for newly emerging product lines. It requires a great deal of careful analyzing and decision making from the buyer or category manager to seek out the best of the best and find the next winning product or brand.
And smaller brand owners need to be prepared to meet the challenges they will face with the huge corporate giants that dominate this space and also provide the spend to drive their businesses at retail. Though smaller emerging companies may not have the deep pockets of some of the corporate market leaders, brands of all sizes are expected to able to come to the party with a well-thought out marketing plan to support the products, as well as budgets for PR, advertising and social media.
One other area that is often forgotten or ignored is that of warehousing, distribution and administration. Yes, this can be tedious and time consuming, but it is so important to have all of this finalized before meeting with the buyer to present your brand as market ready for their stores. Often buyers are looking at categories that can be a year away from actually writing a purchase order and shipping the goods, but opportunities do present themselves either last minute or during a cut-in period to a store’s planogram. If the buyer turns to you and picks your brand, then you need to be ship ready in an instant.
Today’s consumer is extremely savvy and also very brand aware. If she has not heard of your product, no matter how beautiful it may look or what it promises, she most likely will not buy into it. It is up to you to provide the necessary support, both at retail and beyond, to make your new entry known to the consumer. You also should partner with your retailers to build in-store awareness. This helps ensure the consumer chooses your product instead of the competition.
Come prepared with your story for the buyer, including how you are going to educate their customers. Do you homework. Know your competition. That buyer likely is going to have to remove a brand from their shelves in order to replace it with your product. You have to let them know why they should do this. What is your product going to deliver that the brands already on shelf cannot? Make sure you have a lock-tight plan for your strategy and execution.
Start small, but think big. Launch with only your best items, so go with only what you know will be a winning and successful lineup. When you start small and prove your successes, you will more easily gain the trust of the buyer. Then, and only then, can you add to your product lineup of more winners.
Too often these huge ranges want it all and want it now. In today’s market, that will not happen. The retailer today is much more open to “testing” the product in stores before committing to launching new products chain wide. Gone are the days of orders for 6,000–8,000 stores in one retailer appointment. It is much more likely today to have a test market of 50–100 stores, to gauge results before making chain-wide commitments.
The industry has changed to the point where brands and retailers have to almost be 100% sure a product is a winner or the buyer is simply not going to even grant an appointment to see your beautiful new line. So, take a step back, pick your heroes and build your brand from there. Use those as your base, and when you have fine tuned your presentation of only those products, then step up to the plate, present your range and its backup support strategies and reach out to the retailer of choice for your requested appointment and presentation.
Too often, the thought process stops with the marketing and sales aspect of launching a brand. Not enough time is given to the process of actually getting the product to market—a critical area for the retailer.
Be precise, concise and have your plans in order. This will lighten the buyer’s workload, which will subsequently give you an edge over your competition. Show you’re worthy of partnering with them to build a successful brand within their retail organization.
Kathy Connolly is the founder of KCC Consulting, which provides turnkey operations to beauty companies that want to expand, particularly into the North American market. Connolly earned her stripes in sales and marketing at brands such as Erno Laszlo, Lancôme, Cosmar, LVMH, Guerlain and Swarovski.