Looking for new landmarks

As a first step, participants tried to identify the roots of difficulties that pre-existed the credit crunch, and that emerged on the occasion of the global slowdown in the form of a shift in the status of cosmetic products.

Why “products that used to sell better than the average consumption rate, did suddenly become less performing?” questioned Joël Palix, President of Clarins Fragrance Group.

Brands have failed to “listen the society, and the evolution of what does luxury mean,” commented Nathalie Duran, Deputy General Manager of YSL Parfums. Luxury, in particular for the youngest generations, is less linked to a specific object than “to experiences, relationships,” she said.

For Joël Palix, these difficulties come from “the lack of investment in the training of people who are in charge of selling products” and the subsequent lack of knowledge about the product itself and what are the key factors of product quality.

Thibault Ponroy, Director of International Luxury Purchases for AS Watson/Marionnaud, insisted on the price issue: “In France, excepted in 2007, the growth of the market in value was just hiding the stagnation or the decrease of volumes sold.

For Xavier Renard, General Manager Fine Fragrance & Beauty Care Europe at IFF, some explanations might be found in “the high rhythm of launches leading perfumers to develop new fragrances within delays that do not allow them to match with the level of innovation awaited by the market”.

Better segmentation of the offer

Actually, participants agreed that the offer’s segmentation is becoming unclear, with old landmarks almost entirely blurred. “There’s a clear difficulty to identify one’s target. To easily sort products designed for the prestige channel from those designed for the mass market,” said Vera Strubi, the Honouring president of the Beautyfull Club.

Indeed, “the middle market appears as an attractive reference for most business models. However, niche brands demonstrated it is possible to sell expensive products when they are highly differentiating”, Thierry de Baschmakoff, the founder of the design agency Aesthete, said.

Need for added value

Thibault Ponroy therefore called for a “comeback to smartness”. Since, “the only justification of a price is the creation of value”, he said.

While participants widely shared this analyse they paradoxically also regretted the increased triviality and lack of differentiation of products, with “perfumes made in three months, and others in three years,” but sold at very similar prices, and just distant by “a few centimetres from one the other on retail shelves”.

Opening vertical borders

The creation of more added-value would imply to go back to the sources of the “spirit of enterprise,” suggested Vera Strubi. In order to reintroduce passion and pleasure in the product development process, she proposed to create small multidisciplinary teams, featuring staff from all the company’s departments: sales, marketing, purchases, etc.

It was certainly not by chance if the Honouring president of the Beautyfull Club was promoting the opening of vertical borders! “Marketing teams must meet suppliers on a regular basis, in order to be able to negotiate with the company’s purchasing department,” she explained.

A point of view Thibault Ponroy shared. “It is important not to be submitted to its own job, to be able to escape from the daily work in order to think and analyse, in particular through exchanges within the industry, with brand owners, retailers and suppliers,” he said. Exactly what the Beautyfull Club is aiming at!

“Slow design”

Of course it was not possible to speak about value creation without mentioning innovation!

According to Gérald Martines, General director of RPC Beauté, “in a market with such a plethoric offer, brands imperatively need to stand out from the mass”. There is subsequently strong pressure to innovate for packaging suppliers. With, sometimes, “impossible requests” from brands simultaneously asking for low production costs, short time to market and innovation. “Eventually, innovation is always the adjustment factor, with existing and well-known solutions being chosen in order to limit risks”.

Behind the question of time lays the question of launches and their rhythms. For Joël Palix, “It is important not to forget that the date initially scheduled for a launch is not settled for ever. One should never launch a product without being ready and proud of the product”. With the aim to carry on producing perfumes and cosmetics that make consumers dream, the President of Clarins Fragrance Group is betting on “slow design”, by reference to the “slow food” movement that was born in Italy in reaction to junk food. “We are working in the long-term. We are currently preparing the products that will be launched in the next three or five years”.

For Joël Palix, a part of the solution is in the hands of retailers who may start making a selection among the endless succession of novelties. A task Thibault Ponroy is ready to fulfil. “It is the mission of retailers to select the offer, and to contribute to segment the market in its outlets,” he said.