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NONFOODS: Business is grooming

While watching "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," a man flips through the latest issue of Details magazine, including the eight-page special section on men's fashion, which is loaded with eye-catching advertisements for razors, shaving cream, shampoo, aftershave, and cologne. After making a mental note to pick up some of these products, he closes the magazine, heads to the supermarket, and promptly breezes right past the HBC aisle to pick up beer, steak, and chips for the weekend.

This fictional scenario highlights the problems (and potential opportunities) of selling men's grooming products in the grocery channel.

"Grocers need to do something to jar these shoppers out of this autopilot mode, something to let them know that these products are available in the store," says Allison Harmon, marketing communications coordinator at Greenwich, Conn.-based Unilever Home & Personal Care USA.The strength of the grocery channel -- and where the greatest opportunity lies -- is in the fact that people shop in them all the time."

Unfortunately most supermarket HBC sections are not designed to ensnare the male shopper; more often than not, they just confuse him. In fact, the overwhelming number of products often bewilders everyone who walks down the aisle. "There are so many niche products out there it's often difficult for the consumer to determine what's right for them," says Paul Fox, director of global external relations for Boston-based Gillette. "For the retailer this makes it difficult to organize the category; they have a limited space and have to walk the fine line between what is best for the customer and what is best for them."

So what exactly is best for the male customer?

Simplicity, for one thing. "Men are not looking to smell like a rainforest, or a field of wildflowers," says Unilever's Harmon. "They don't need all of the functional products women use, and they don't even bother to look for them."

Men also want to find their products fast, according to Steve Sholtes, manager of industry affairs for Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. "They don't want to spend time seeking out a shampoo or deodorant," he says. "They want to get in and out quickly. Women, on the other hand, will browse the category more and compare one brand against another, or one fragrance against another."

A recent visit to a Publix store in Orlando, Fla. revealed this dynamic in action. Three teenage girls actually sat down in the HBC aisle and took turns unscrewing the lids of various shampoos to smell the fragrance of each. Five minutes later they were still holding their shampoo conference

Developing a section within each HBC category specifically for men's grooming products can make locating products much easier, says Unilever's Harmon. Alternatively, stocking all categories together by brand in a single men's HBC section may make searching a little easier, especially for those brand-loyal shoppers.

A combination of the two is best, according to Jim Geikie, Unilever's customer marketing director, deodorant. He explains: "Removing men's grooming products completely from the home category would most likely cause confusion and hurt sales in the long run. Although men are increasingly buying more grooming products for themselves, women are still the dominant purchasers -- wives for their husbands, for example. If women can't find their men's items in their regular categories, they could get confused."

Brand loyalty

Men tend to shop the same brand across different categories, Sholtes says. This is an important fact for grocers to consider when merchandising the category and setting promotions.

They must be careful when doing this, warns Gillette's Fox, or else they risk unnecessarily giving up dollars. "Sometimes these discount promotions can backfire," he says. "Shoppers loyal to a brand end up getting a discount, even though they would have bought the product at full price."

Most manufacturers carry multiple products for men across their brands for just this type of shopper. Unilever has its Suave for Men line, which includes shampoos and conditioners, styling aids, and body washes; Nivea has its Nivea for Men line of oil-control products; and Gillette's Complete Skincare line features cleansing products, shave and aftershave products, and a moisturizer. Even the natural products companies are beginning to target men, as shown by the Men's Stock line of creams and scrubs, from Aubrey Organics.

Shopping by brand is especially prevalent in the antiperspirant/deodorant (APDO) category. A decline in gender-specific products has pushed consumers toward brands, which have begun to pick up sales as consumers increasingly seek out items geared to males or females. Still, the category is a tough one to manage. "There is no incremental consumption in APDO," says Gillette's Fox. "Everyone who uses it applies it only once a day, so how do you get growth out of that?

"To add to the challenge, there are four major CPG players in the category, all with similar market positions, and new products are constantly introduced that have minimal differentiation. In order to have something for everyone, supermarkets end up carrying an average of 350 SKUs, which is way too many. We have found that retailers with the best top- and bottom-line growth in the category are carrying just 280 to 300 SKUs."

All isn't lost for APDO category managers, however, and it's the male shopper who's helping to revive the category, thanks to the introduction of deodorant body sprays. Unilever's Axe body spray fares particularly well among young men, due to its sleek packaging, unique fragrances, and trendy product names.

P&G will enter the body spray arena in August with the launch of its Red Zone product under the Old Spice banner. The new line features Old Spice proprietary CORE technology, a controlled-release scent system, and four fragrances.

One of the main benefits of body sprays over deodorants is the frequency of use, which means the product is consumed more quickly than deodorants are. Also, the fragrance variety encourages shoppers to buy several at a time.

Promotion and creative merchandising are critical in successfully driving men's grooming sales. "Outpost displays and end caps are an effective way of announcing men's HBC," notes Unilever's Harmon.

At stores where men don't typically shop the HBC aisle, cross-merchandising men's HBC products in the areas of the store where men do shop can deliver tremendous results. "When Axe is next to motor oil, it sells like crazy," notes Harmon.

Of course, when a manufacturer has a promotion that approaches the scope of a Hollywood film launch, retailers can't help but benefit. That's just what happened when Gillette rolled out the M3Power razor. "We went to the movie and video industry to study its distribution, and applied what we learned to the M3Power launch," says Rob DiMartini, Gillette's s.v.p. and g.m., grooming-commercial operations, North America "We ended up with more than 70 percent ACV distribution the day before the official launch began. Typically it takes anywhere from three to five weeks to get to those levels of distribution. We scanned in 100 percent of Meijer and at 2,000 outlets of Wal-Mart three days into the pre-ship."

Coordination -- tying this type of nationwide promotion to the retailer's in-store marketing and merchandising campaigns -- is important for such an endeavor. "We did this for the first time in 1993, with the Mach 3," says Gillette's Fox. "Now, just the Mach 3 alone is bigger than all of our competitors' entire businesses put together."

Fox is hoping that the M3Power will be another blockbuster for Gillette's retail trading partners.
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