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Profits top concern at buyer’s forum

Profits top concern at buyer’s forum – Chain Drug Marketing Associates, Cosmetic Buyers’ Forum

BOSTON — The Chain Drug Marketing Associates’ first Cosmetic Buyers’ Forum–a centerpiece of the growing association’s fall buying show in early October — gave many of retailing’s brightest retail beauty experts the chance to air their grievances with suppliers and chart some possible solutions.

Co-chaired by Harco Drug cosmetic buyer Penny Wade and Donna McManus, buyer at K&B, the forum aimed an intensive series of meetings and seminars at a single overriding objective: to bolster profitability in the hotly contested cosmetics/fragrance category. As such, it proved to be the most ambitious category management event in CDMA’s history and a powerful draw: It attracted 64 buyers from the chain drug, mass merchant and combo channels.

The agenda, based on buyer input, focused on three key issues: service, profitability and fashion trends.

Service, as it relates to shipping, was the most hotly debated topic at the meeting.

Most buyers present were unsatisfied by the service they were receiving from suppliers. And they were concerned that it hurt their business.

“Years ago, sales were so strong that, in spite of yourself, you made money,” said Judy Wray, buyer at Revco. “Now the only way to make a profit is to do business cheaper, and I’m doing that. When my sales are down, it’s because I’m out of stock.”

Other buyers present bemoaned the difficulties out-of-stocks create for the cosmetics business.

“The change is that before, there weren’t that many retailers selling cosmetics, and now everyone is in the business,” said Karen Durham, buyer at Duane Reade. “If you’re out of stock, they won’t come back one week later, they’ll go somewhere else.”

Shipping problems also break down the effectiveness of promotional programs, buyers said. “I’ll plan a program that encompasses several products and some arrive on time and others are shipped late,” said K&B’s McManus.

Perhaps most frustrating for buyers was the fear that suppliers aren’t addressing their problems.

“It’s symptomatic of the problem that many vendors either didn’t send the proper person or didn’t send anyone at all to the meeting,” said Revco’s Wray. “Only the manufacturers who were already doing a good job were present.”

Buyers also focused on fixturing — and the inflexible approach they say some of their suppliers take. “We talked at length about being locked into cabinetry,” said McManus. “We are asking for smaller fixtures for smaller doors.”

Innovation needed

Buyers also debated new products. They said they valued products that were innovative and which shipped on time to dovetail with retailer promotion programs. Me-too products and pointless restages were viewed by buyers as more trouble then they were worth.

“Vendors may be relaunching products because they did it last year and have to make their numbers. That’s not good for business,” said Duane Reade’s Durham.

Next year’s forum is set for September at the fall show in Orlando, Fla.

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