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Environ
 

Environ


  Environ
wrinkle free
by Ron Irwin
January 28, 2002

One of South Africaís best-kept beauty secrets is enjoyed by a select group of models, movie stars and women-who-lunch, with no intentions of sharing. But word is spreading about a skin cream reportedly favored by the likes of Stella McCartney, John Travolta, Kate Moss and Marla Trump.

From the land of Olay comes a competitor to the skin care market, called Environ, a cream that purports to hold the elusive key to younger looking skin that stays healthier longer. The

 
 

South African brand was developed by plastic surgeon Dr. Des Fernandes, working in Cape Townís Groote Schuur hospital (famous in part as the site of the worldís first heart transplant). Environ was the byproduct of a study into the prevention of skin cancer through learning more about vitamin A, antioxidants and free radicals.

Although the skin cream business was a sideline to Fernandesís plastic surgery, clients would make appointments three months in advance only to walk in and request a few bottles of the cream. It now sells in 24 countries, including Japan, the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Korea and the US. Sales for 2001 topped US$ 5M locally (ZAR 58M), with a retail value overseas of over US$ 100M (ZAR 1.17B). The factory reportedly doubles output every year to meet demand.

And yet, although itís a brand name high in demand itís fairly lacking in awareness, stemming from an interesting dilemma in marketing and promoting the product. In an industry that lays siege to billboards, television and magazines, Environ avoids traditional marketing of the product since Fernandes doesnít recommend over-the-counter sales without professional consultation. "The active ingredients are very powerful, meaning that we canít sell over the counter, and we are therefore shy of traditional marketing techniques," says Fernandes.

Marketing overseas relies heavily on the distributor and point of sale outlets. Marketing Manager Maureen Mackenzie says that Environ sends out a variety of marketing tools, which include "brochures, educational material, samples, advertising material, and point-of-sale material to merchandisers." She adds that "Because Environ is not retailed through traditional outlets, the marketing program is tailored to assist distributors in marketing the range to their own outlets such as direct sales consultants, beauty therapists and doctors."

Because Environ sells its product outright to distributors overseas, it cannot control the worldwide price of Environ. Therefore, Americans pay twice as much for the cream (about US$ 45/ZAR 526 for a 50 gram bottle) while South Africans who buy at the source here in Cape Town can pick up the same bottle for the equivalent of about US$ 7 (ZAR 82).

In addition to the local pricing, Environ doesnít have a unified strategy for supplying overseas markets, meaning that when the UK version of Cosmopolitan ran an article on Environ, suppliers quickly ran out of stock, and the factory could not work fast enough to replenish it. "This of course was a bit of a problem for us," says Fernandes, but no doubt the overwhelming demand for a limited supply did a lot to drive desire up even higher.

It remains to be seen if Environ will market an over-the-counter product and compete on the level of brands such as Olay or Clairol, or remain a small controlled operation known only to a select few. Although new products are in the works, Mackenzie implies the latter will be the case when she says: "We are planning to launch new products and improved formulas in 2002, and these will be supported by similar marketing strategies."

 
     
  

Ron Irwin is an American freelance writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. His work has appeared in National Geographic Online, Adventure Magazine, Soul Gear and South African print editions of Menís Health, Style and FHM.

  
     
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