SUPERMARKETS CONTEMPLATE UNIVERSAL FIXTURE

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Sweeping changes in merchandising of cosmetics are coming -- and some supermarkets like H.E. Butt, San Antonio, Texas, are said to be on the cutting edge of keeping up with the new developments.Rather than use manufacturers' fixtures, many chains are creating their own displays. This so-called universal fixturing trend was one of the major topics of discussion at last month's National

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Sweeping changes in merchandising of cosmetics are coming -- and some supermarkets like H.E. Butt, San Antonio, Texas, are said to be on the cutting edge of keeping up with the new developments.

Rather than use manufacturers' fixtures, many chains are creating their own displays. This so-called universal fixturing trend was one of the major topics of discussion at last month's National Association of Chain Drug Store's annual gathering here. Big player supermarket chains such as Ahold, Albertson's, Fred Meyer, Kroger and H-E-B were in attendance.

Retailers said they want to use universal fixtures because the displays allow them an easy vehicle to add new items into a planogram. And, since all fixtures are the same, retailers can add or subtract space from a brand based on performance. With manufacturers' displays, retailers need to keep within the footage allocations. Also, retailers complain about parts to fixtures that they must wait to receive from manufacturers. The success of Sephora in the United States, which uses all of its own displays, has inspired mass marketers to give it a try.

Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens and CVS are among the chains implementing their own fixture systems. Although H-E-B would not confirm it, the chain is said to be planning to place its own displays, according to industry sources.

Others believe Kroger, Wegmans, Albertson's and other retailers strong in beauty could follow. Manufacturers are not rubbing their hands in glee over the move.

Manufacturers have invested heavily in developing fixtures to captivate shoppers. At informal meetings at cabanas around the spa and pool here, they made their case for retailers to keep their displays. "We as an industry must stimulate the consumer and we think that's best done with our fixtures.

"However, if retailers are going to go that way [to universal fixtures], then we must find new ways to animate their displays to still convey our brand image," explained John Wendt, president of Maybelline, a division of Cosmair based in New York. Most leading manufacturers at the meeting agreed that ultimately manufacturers will be asked to pay for the retailers' fixtures.

Michael McNamara, president of Neutrogena Corp., Los Angeles, said it is unfortunate that the timing of proposed new fixtures comes on the heels of expensive fixtures already created for new brands such as his and Procter & Gamble's Oil of Olay.

While the more expensive brands sold at mass fear losing their slick fixturing, budget and niche brands believe the displays level the playing field. The unique products and packaging associated with Physicians Formula works well in standardized fixtures, said Jeff Rogers, senior vice president of sales for the firm based in Azusa, Calif.

"Universal fixturing is great for us," said William McMenemy, executive vice president of marketing for Del Laboratories, Uniondale, N.Y. He explained that Del's NYC New York Color line will capture more attention because of its value pricing. Arnie Zimmerman, chairman and chief executive officer of AM Cosmetics, North Arlington, N.J., agreed. "When all is equal as far as fixtures, value is the winner.

Zimmerman said retailers have decided to adopt their own displays as a way to boost productivity. "The towers out there aren't working. They often load retailers with too much merchandise," he said.

Jeff Nugent, president and chief executive officer of N.Y.-based Revlon, however, countered that his firm is in the process of a stockkeeping unit rationalization that will create a more efficient mix. Revlon also has a new fixture that Nugent believes will revitalize the mass-market beauty environment. Revlon's new fixture is called Max and it adopts many of the strategies of the universal fixtures. For example, it eliminates peg holes on a peg wall in favor of modular units that can be popped on or off the wall.

The fixturing debate also comes at a time when the three leading brands are in a neck and neck race for market leadership. For the first quarter of 2000, Maybelline nudged out Cover Girl and Revlon for the top spot. Maybelline had traditionally been third. Now Maybelline has an 18.4% share, Cover Girl 18.2% and Revlon 18%.