NEW YORK -- Robin Burns may be redefining the term beauty queen.
The savvy businesswoman, a powerful player in the beauty business for more than 20 years, has been behind some of the best-known names in the industry including Calvin Klein Eternity and Obsession fragrances and Estee Lauder cosmetics.
Now she's developing a line of upscale perfumes, lotions and makeup for Victoria's Secret, the retailer known for its sexy lingerie. Already, she's found great success in her new role.
''Robin has a track record in the beauty industry that few other people come close to comparing with. She knows this business inside out,'' said Jeff Stinson, a retail analyst at Midwest Research in Cleveland.
It's been two years since Burns joined Intimate Brands Inc., which runs the Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works chains. She now leads a new division, Intimate Beauty Corp.
Burns has been charged to create a new line of brands. Eventually, Intimate Beauty hopes to look much like Estee Lauder, which has an array of brands including Clinique, MAC and Bobbi Brown in its portfolio.
Intimate Beauty, however, will also pair its brands with stores it develops and operates, something Estee Lauder does on only a very limited basis.
''When I look at who was winning in the business today, those that can control all dimensions of their brands, from creating it to selling it, are winning. They have more agility to move and move fast to keep their brand alive in the public eye,'' said the 47-year-old Burns. ''I wanted to be part of that.''
Burns' first goal has been to overhaul Victoria's Secret Beauty, which sold mostly low-cost scented creams and body gels. The new prestige line will target women who usually buy their beauty products in department stores.
The changes at Victoria Secret Beauty come as the lingerie chain transforms into a more sophisticated retailer. In recent years, it has become more focused on keeping up with fashion trends, cut back on the number of discounts it offers and raised prices to attract a more upscale customer.
''Victoria's Secret was a lower, moderate, fairly promotional place to shop for many years, but in the last few years they wanted to build the brand into something more,'' said David Ricci, a research analyst at William Blair & Co. in Chicago.
Dream Angels Heavenly was the first collection under the new Victoria's Secret Beauty brand to reach the stores. Launched in October, it includes creams, perfume, mist and body wash. The smallest perfume costs $25, while a bottle of lotion sells for $27 -- compared with $8 for some of the chain's earlier beauty products.
Burns allotted a mere $2 million for marketing Heavenly, well below the millions that many manufacturers throw into a launch. She mostly used existing Victoria's Secret stores to promote the new products, hanging ads in front windows and placing salespeople at store entrances to offer a sample of the new fragrance to shoppers.
Within four months, Heavenly had rung up $42 million in sales, making it one of the most successful fragrance launches in retail history.
''I thought I knew about fragrances, how to sell them and what worked to be successful,'' said Burns, a petite, elegant woman. ''But never in my career had I seen such a huge response in such a short amount of time. It almost caught me off guard.''
Heavenly's success proved to Burns the power of the Victoria's Secret brand and its potential given its vast reach in the retail marketplace with its nearly 900 stores nationwide.
But she was surprised again this spring with the brisk sales that came with the launches of the next fragrance in the Dream Angels line, called Halo, and Pure Reflection Lipstick, which comes in 25 colors for $13 each. Sales were not only strong in stores but also through the Victoria's Secret catalog and Web site.
And she's seen a tremendous response already from beauty editors and Wall Street analysts for its new Laundry Collection, which includes pricey detergents and softeners in packaged in pink candy-striped containers. It will reach stores this fall.
Burns' experience at Victoria's Secret is the culmination of three decades in the beauty business.
She first worked in retailing at Bloomingdale's, where she was a buyer of men's fragrances and eventually rose to head the beauty department.
By age 30, she became president of Calvin Klein cosmetics. She built the brand from $6 million to $600 million in sales over her seven years there, and oversaw the launches of the still-popular Calvin Klein Obsession and Eternity fragrances.
In 1990, she was tapped by cosmetics powerhouse Estee Lauder to be president and CEO of its namesake brand, which dominates the selling floors of most department store chains.
Two years ago, Intimate Brands wooed her away, dangling the opportunity to build her own brands and develop new retail concepts to showcase them in.
''When you own your brand and own your stores, you can test pricing, test merchandising, test different education of salespeople,'' Burns said. ''We can make a decision today and have it happen in the stores tomorrow. I have never seen that happen before.''
While Burns has already found great success in her short time at Intimate Beauty, she is just getting started.
She is in the process of building freestanding Victoria's Secret Beauty stores, designed with chrome fixtures, soft lighting and hints of pink on the walls. She is using the same look to renovate areas within the lingerie stores that will be dedicated to beauty products.
Burns is also working to educate salespeople on how to sell beauty products, even going so far as to hold seminars on how to properly apply lipstick on an interested customer.
In addition, she is beginning to focus on the next brand to be launched under Intimate Beauty, though she declined to give any hints on what it will be. A third will also likely come soon.
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