Ukonwa Ojo Talks Cover Girl Flagship in Times Square

NEW YORK — As Cover Girl works to revamp its brand in a sluggish mass market, the makeup mainstay said it will open a flagship in Times Square here.WWD reported in May that Cover Girl’s parent Coty USA had signed a lease for a 10,040-square-foot retail space at 30 Times Square, which also has the address 719 Seventh Avenue.That space is designated for a Cover Girl flagship  — a first for the brand, Coty has confirmed to WWD. The store is slated to open this fall.The move into freestanding retail is just the latest in a series of initiatives tied to Cover Girl’s massive re-brand that began rolling out in September. The flagship will sell product, but is intended to serve largely as a marketing vehicle to introduce consumers to Cover Girl’s redesigned look and products. The brand’s senior vice president Ukonwa Ojo was inspired to create for Cover Girl an experience similar to BeautyCon, but on a permanent basis.Ojo said concrete plans have not been made, but the space will incorporate Instagrammable moments, experiences and services such as makeup applications.“Our vision is just a beauty playroom — a great place for you to go with a lot of interactive elements, experiences and the opportunity to try and buy our products,” said Ojo. “The is for the full range of products to be available at the store because people haven’t had the opportunity to try it.”Coty chose Times Square because of its nonstop foot traffic and access to tourists. The idea is to capture the attention of consumers who may not be shopping the drugstore aisles at home. “We have incredible products, but because we’re sold in the mass channel, people don’t always have the opportunity to try them,” said Ojo. “In the spirit of continuing to recruit people to the brand and introduce Cover Girl to new people, we thought it would be fabulous to pair an iconic brand with an iconic destination and try products they’ve never had a chance to try.”Cover Girl’s flagship is opening at a time when the mass-market makeup business is particularly challenged. Mass makeup and nail grew 1 percent year-over-year — after a sales spike around Easter — preceded by consistent months of decline, according to Nielsen scanner data tracking the last 52 weeks through May 5. Unit sales were down 3 percent. Analysts attribute the lag primarily to consumers increasingly shopping for lower-priced makeup online and in specialty retail instead of drugstores. Meanwhile, legacy brands such as Cover Girl and Revlon have been particularly hard-hit, losing market share to younger brands such as NYX Cosmetics, E.l.f. Cosmetics, Milani, Wet ’n’ Wild and L.A. Colors that have pivoted more quickly to social-media-driven makeup trends.Under Coty Inc., Cover Girl has slowly rolled out its much-awaited revamp — including a modernized logo, minimalist black-and-white packaging, an inclusivity-themed marketing campaign and a slew of trend-driven product innovation. The most recent launch is TruBlend Matte Made Liquid Foundation, which consists of 40 shades.While still early, the brand is showing “early signs of stabilization,” said Ojo. “We’re encouraged by how it’s going. We knew this wasn’t going to be a hard convert — a relaunch of a brand this size takes time.”Nielsen data show Cover Girl sales as down 7 percent year-over-year, according to scanner data tracking the 52 weeks ending May 19. That is a slight improvement versus a year ago, when it was down 10 percent. At the time the marketing campaign — featuring Katy Perry and new Cover Girls Issa Rae, Ayesha Curry, Maye Musk, Shelina Moreda and Massy Arias — launched in September, the brand was down 12 percent.Cover Girl has also gained traction on social media. The brand’s first-quarter earned media value of $26 million increased about $10 million from the fourth quarter of 2017, according to Tribe Dynamics. About 6 percent of total EMV was generated by sponsored or paid content, the highest rate in its competitive peer group. For context, Anastasia Beverly Hills — which routinely tops Tribe’s EMV lists — consistently pulls in more than $100 million EMV per month.Ojo is encouraged by the uptick in influencers she has seen talk about the brand’s new products, such as TruBlend Matte foundation which uses proprietary technology to produce makeup with warm, cool and neutral undertones. “The feedback has been incredible,” she said.Thus far, much of the brand’s launches have centered on playing catch-up on trendy items that Cover Girl had initially missed the boat on — holographic lip glosses and a “glotion,” for instance. Going forward, innovation will be key if the brand is to move back into positive sales, analysts say.“The challenge today is that you have to have that is so novel and distinguished for the consumer to really separate and engage ,” said Jefferies analyst Stephanie Wissink. “In mass, the innovation cycles are narrowing, so you get knocked off really quickly.”“What we haven’t seen — and maybe that’s what this store is really wrapped around,” she continued, “is a truly novel product assortment that distinguishes Cover Girl from the rest of the brands in the marketplace.” 

Cover Girl is just one of a handful of legacy mass makeup brands that has introduced a revamped positioning this year. Revlon, Almay and Physicans Formula have all re-branded. Rimmel has launched a series of marketing initiatives — including tapping street artist Indie 184 as its chief artistic officer — to boost brand awareness, while a bigger revamp is expected in 2019. Thus far, the Coty-owned brand is down 16 percent year-over-year — versus a decline of 1 percent around this time in 2017. Sources say this could be due to loss of shelf space and discounting ahead of the larger revamp.Meanwhile, Revlon sales have hovered between declines of 4 and 7 percent between August 2017 and May 2018, according to Nielsen data — most recently, sales were down 6 percent according to data tracking the last 20 weeks ending May 19, and Almay sales were down 18 percent from the year prior. Physicians Formula has fared better on a  product level — sales of its Butter Blushes and Butter Bronzers are up 84 percent and 207 percent, according to IRI.Loss of shelf space is another issue that legacy mass brands are facing. Cover Girl’s total points of distribution have decreased 6 percent year-over-year, according to Nielsen. Meanwhile, E.l.f.’s shelf-space in more than 90 percent of Wal-Mart stores increased 20 percent this year and the brand’s sales were up 9 percent for the first quarter of this year.Ojo noted that Cover Girl has no plans to open a direct-to-consumer e-commerce site, as have some of its peers in the mass market. Wet ’n’ Wild, for instance, has said its e-commerce site is its fastest-growing channel.Instead, Coty intends to use the Cover Girl retail store as a testing ground to experiment with ways to improve the shopping experience in traditional mass channels. “We see ourselves partnering with to provide the right innovation…in general elevating the shopping experience,” said Ojo. “There are certain things we need to do to make sure the mass channel is where she continues to come for .”

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