Peggy Elsrode: “We are fast, innovative and versatile. Coty is not afraid to try things.”

Peggy Elsrode, recently promoted to the position of Senior Vice President, Commercial at Coty Prestige, talks to The Moodie Report about the winds of change blowing through Coty; the group’s focus on the cosmetics sector; and the launch of the first feminine fragrance from Just Cavalli, which is being launched worldwide this month.

Elsrode is now a key component of the trinity in charge of Coty Prestige, along with Jean Mortier (Elsrode’s predecessor, now President of Coty Prestige), and Michele Scannavini (Mortier’s predecessor) who in turn succeeded Bernd Beetz as Coty CEO last August.

That particular game of corporate musical chairs has yielded a diverse and impressive team, who find themselves steering the group through an unprecedented period of change and diversification – with an IPO lurking on the backburner. It’s just as well Elsrode relishes a challenge.

“Coty is definitely changing, but we’ve been changing [for a while],” she smiles. “It’s always been very fast paced. I’ve been here for over seven years, since the Unilever acquisition, and there has always been change. Most recently we’ve entered new categories – skin care and colour – and of course in travel retail we’re now focusing on OPI too.”

Elsrode continues: “We’ve made some big acquisitions in the past few years, which in itself causes change within a company. And yes, there have been [personnel] changes more recently, with Michele promoted to CEO and Jean moving into the role of President Coty Prestige.”

It’s an interesting blend of talent, personality – and nationality – at the top. Elsrode hails the diversity of that dynamic, and the team’s shared experience. “We’ve worked together now for so long that I think we understand each other pretty well,” she explains. “And actually our various backgrounds (Scannavini is Italian, Mortier is French and Elsrode is American) are very much in line with Coty’s international positioning.”

Within that positioning, there is plenty of diversity within the portfolio itself. “We have everything from OPI to philosophy to Marc Jacobs,” notes Elsrode. “That’s a wide portfolio, which offers great choice to both the retailers and the consumers.”

Just Cavalli made its debut this month, backed by strong digital support

Innovation, and speed, are two key things Elsrode wants Coty to be known for. “We are fast, innovative and versatile,” she underlines. “And we are not afraid to try things.” The group has certainly been swift to capitalise on its Roberto Cavalli license, which was signed in summer 2010 and came into effect in July 2011, when Cavalli’s previous fragrance licence agreement with ICR-ITF expired.

Coty unveiled its first, signature Roberto Cavalli feminine fragrance that same year, ahead of the scent’s February 2012 launch. One year later, the second feminine fragrance, Just Cavalli (named after the designer’s youth-oriented fashion line) is being launched worldwide. A complementary masculine Just Cavalli scent will be introduced in September, to form a new youth-oriented masterbrand.

“Just Cavalli bring us that Italian glamour and flair, so I see that as a little bit different from the rest of our brands,” Elsrode notes, when asked how the Cavalli licence has enhanced Coty’s portfolio. “We have a very aggressive innovation plan because our goal is to build Cavalli into a powerhouse global brand.”

At the official reveal of the signature fragrance, which took place at the Cavallis’ private residence in Florence, Mortier (then Coty Prestige Senior Vice President Commercial) told The Moodie Report the group had top 20 aspirations for the brand. Things have started well, Elsrode maintains.

“We see a very strong performance in Europe for the signature [scent], and also in the Americas, although we have only recently launched in South America,” she reveals. “And in the Middle East, the signature Cavalli fragrance has been one of the top-performing brands.

“The new Just Cavalli will help us to develop more in Asia Pacific, as the juice is more suited to the Asian consumer. Also, it’s a younger product, with a more urban, edgy attitude, which should work well there”¦And when we launch the men’s fragrance, that will further build on the momentum and get us to the global power brand positioning more quickly.”

But, Elsrode, insists, there are no imminent plans to introduce any Cavalli make-up products, despite the group’s increased presence in this category via other brands. “We are currently focusing on getting our Cavalli fragrances out of the pipeline, and we do have a very aggressive plan for the next couple of years,” she notes. “With regard to the colour sector, our efforts right now are concentrated on OPI and ck one color.”

When the unisex ck one fragrance hit the shelves in 1994 it broke new ground – and plenty of sales records – within the beauty business. In the past 18 years that fragrance has evolved into a global lifestyle brand incorporating men’s and women’s jeanswear, underwear and swimwear. In spring 2012 Coty Prestige added to that portfolio with the introduction of the hotly-anticipated ck one color make-up collection. The line was launched in selected domestic markets last March – starting in Spain with El Corte Inglés and Myer department stores in Australia.

The Just Cavalli Facebook Bite Me app (above) and the Breaking News YouTube video (below)

“ck one color is still very limited in its distribution right now,” Elsrode acknowledges. “We started with Spain in the domestic market and have extremely good results. It’s also in the US with Ulta. It’s early days, but the feedback we’re getting is that we have very good products, at the right price point. So we’ve had a really good reaction to the brand, but of course, colour takes time to establish; it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Prior to her promotion, Elsrode was most recently Regional Vice President Global Travel Retail & Export, responsible for Coty’s worldwide travel retail organisation and distributor markets. Although her wide-ranging remit now includes EMEA, Asia Pacific, Export Europe and Latin America, as well Travel Retail Worldwide, the latter in particular, remains close to her heart.

“I’ve worked in most of the markets, but travel retail especially shows you the world, it exposes you to all of the markets,” she notes. “And it doesn’t exist [in a bubble]. You also have to know what’s happening in domestic markets when you work in travel retail, because the travelling consumer is global. You need to know the patterns of the Asian consumer versus the European versus the South American.”

A preview of the big Cavalli promotion, in partnership with Gebr Heinemann, which will take place in Frankfurt Airport from March

Moreover, Elsrode foresees much more collaboration between domestic and travel retail divisions in the future. “In fact we have already started to do this,” she confirms, “especially in terms of training Beauty Advisors how to deal with different nationalities.”

Elsrode won’t be drawn on a figure, but concedes that travel retail, as a whole, is “one of the biggest markets” for the Coty group, albeit one still with plenty of growth potential. The nail sector, hitherto undeveloped in the channel, offers good opportunities.

With its market-leading OPI brand, Coty has already started making in-roads into travel retail, with a fashion-oriented approach, supported by impactful on-airport events.

“Nails are relatively new, and as with any new category or opportunity, there’s going to be some reluctance to move full-speed ahead,” Elsrode admits. “But we have organised a few events, with nail artists, for example, that have been very successful. We aim to highlight the fact that OPI is unique, and tells a different story.

“In addition to the fashion element, the various technologies are improving all the time, and if you combine that you can create a lot of theatre. We still see nails as an add-on – I’m not sure that many people will walk into a store thinking, ‘I’m here to buy a nail polish,’ but if they see something they like, it’s a great impulse buy.”

Digital delights
Digital is set to play a big role in terms of brand support, including at point of sale. “Coty is very innovative, and digital [elements] allow us to really deliver theatre in-store and do some spectacular things,” Elsrode confirms. “We have used iPads for OPI, and will use them again to showcase the Just Cavalli campaign. We have also created a great, fun “Bite Me” Facebook app. There’s lots going on.”

Elrode continues: “Digital is definitely a strategy for us now in most of the brands that we launch, but it will be a big part of what we’re doing for Just Cavalli. We’re putting a big portion of our spend behind digital, because of the brand’s positioning and target market.”

Within the travel retail arena, Coty has a major, two-month Cavalli promotion due to break in Frankfurt airport in March. For the first month, the focus will be on the Just Cavalli/Robert Cavalli fragrances; during the second month, the spotlight will be on Roberto Cavalli and Roberto Cavalli Acqua.

While digital offers a wealth of opportunities, Elsrode also acknowledges the importance of lower-tech elements. “Overall, we have to be aware,” she explains. “We need to be in tune with the patterns of travellers; who is buying what; where you put support in the store, and so on. We work together with our retailers, but also some of the best sources of information are the girls on the ground. The BAs know so much. And if you just go and stand in a store you can learn a lot. If there are flights coming in from, say, Russia, Turkey, and China and you don’t have the right coverage, you can see the sales just walking out of the door.”

OPI, philosophy and ck one color are helping Coty to break new ground in the cosmetics category

2012 was a year of huge, high-profile launches for Coty. How will the group follow this up in 2013? “This year we will have big initiatives from Calvin Klein, Chloé and Marc Jacobs,” Elsrode reveals. “And we will roll out philosophy. We have streamlined the offer for travel retail, where the focus will be the UK, the US and Asia. We are also launching into selected domestic markets in Asia, which will deliver further synergies.”

The travel retail target for OPI is 300 doors by the end of the year, versus the “handful” there were initially.

“There’s an awful lot happening,” agrees Elsrode, happily. “We’re committed to building Cavalli; then we have our established power brands, such as Calvin Klein, Davidoff, Marc Jacobs and Chloé. These are complemented by our ultra-prestige houses such as Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga. And we also have our new categories and brands.”

She concludes: “We are putting a lot of focus on philosophy, because we see great potential in Asia Pacific for skincare, where our presence is not as developed. That said, Chloé is an amazing brand for the Asian consumer, and one of the top-selling fragrances for the region. Our expertise today is in fragrance, and with this market still growing, I see plenty of potential there too.”