“As the Americas region is slowly gearing up for recovery, it’s important to back our retailers and help the associations lobby for the industry,” says Essence Corp Vice President Sales Antoine Bona as he prepares to virtually meet and address regional travel retail stakeholders at the upcoming Summit of the Americas — A Virtual Experience.

Family-owned fragrance & cosmetics distributor Essence Corp is one of many high-profile exhibitors at the Summit, with Antoine Bona and his brother Essence Corp Vice President Sales Caribbean Guillaume Bona among the stellar line-up of Knowledge Hub speakers.

In the dual role of both exhibitor and speaker, Bona has fully embraced the digital format of the Summit and says that digital innovation has been a core focus for Essence Corp through the COVID-19 crisis.

“Digital was our main focus for brand promotions last year and we will continue to enhance our digital communications for 2021,” he says. “Because physical travel has been severely curtailed by the COVID-19 crisis, our trainers and supervisors have pivoted well and reinvented themselves as influencers.”

According to Bona, digital needs to be engaging and dynamic, something that Essence Corp promises to showcase at the Summit, along with a suite of new fragrance launches and innovations. He says, “Digital needs to be interactive as attention is very limited. Our main goal with digital — similar to our goal with in-store training — is to make it dynamic and fun.”

In this interview, Bona recounts the challenges of the pandemic crisis and how Essence Corp’s diversified distribution network helped the company weather the COVID storm. He also outlines the company’s recovery strategy and shares his cautious optimism about the industry’s recovery in 2021 — starting with the Summit of the Americas.

“We remain cautiously optimistic about a strong recovery in 2021… It’s just a matter of time before our dynamic travel retail industry returns.”

 

What is the major focus for Essence Corp at the Summit of the Americas – A Virtual Experience?

Our main goal at the Summit of the Americas — A Virtual Experience is to support both IAADFS and Asutil.  As the Americas region is slowly gearing up for recovery, it’s important to back our retailers and help the associations lobby for the industry.

Additionally, we will host virtual meetings with each retailer to showcase our exciting 2021 fragrance launches such as Kate Spade, Versace Dylan Turquoise, Moschino Toy Bubble Gum, Jimmy Choo ‘I Want Choo’, Montblanc Explore Blue and Coach Dreams Sunset. We will also continue to roll out of Rituals throughout travel retail in the Americas.

Last year, Essence Corp acquired the distribution rights for Guerlain in the Caribbean. How do you go about choosing the right fragrances to include in the Essence Corp portfolio? 

Created in 1928, Guerlain is one of the oldest perfume houses in the world. From past to present day, Guerlain has remained one of the most prestigious beauty brands in our industry and we are proud to represent it in the Caribbean. Having Guerlain in our portfolio also allows us to consolidate the entire LVMH prestige fragrance portfolio in the Caribbean.

What are your major targets by geography, channel or retailer type as you seek to tap into a recovering market?  

The goal remains the same with each of our retailers across every market. We are constantly reviewing assortment, helping clean-out bad inventory and putting a strong focus on best sellers.

We are also constantly driving new product innovations, seeking opportunities for more spaces in-store, working with new brands, offering value promotions as well as grab & go and developing new digital partnerships with our customers.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic crisis impacted your business and what are the key points to your recovery strategy?

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on our business and our customers, but we are very lucky that our business is not solely reliant on airports and cruises. Because we have a large distribution throughout borders in the Americas and the Caribbean, we were able to cater to local consumers as well. Our efforts in 2020 were focused on those markets.

Since the beginning of 2021, we’ve started seeing signs of slight recovery in the airports in the Americas. This is particularly true in Miami International Airport in the US and Tocumen International Airport in Panama. Our brands experienced stronger sales than expected in those airports last December, which allowed for a long-awaited replenishment of orders from this channel.

Throughout the crisis, our strategies have remained the same: stay present with our customers, analyse assortments, focus on bestsellers, look for opportunities with new brands, and offer value promotions and grab & go.

Last year Essence Corp launched a series of Instagram Live takeovers to promote various fragrance clients. What was the reception like to this campaign and what other digital and social strategies are you employing to engage with customers in 2021?

Digital was our main focus for brand promotions last year and we will continue to enhance our digital communications for 2021.

Because physical travel has been severely curtailed by the COVID-19 crisis, our trainers and supervisors have pivoted well and reinvented themselves as influencers. We saw the most social engagements when we were able to interact with our retailers, using influencers as hosts.

Digital needs to be interactive as attention is very limited.  Our main goal with digital — similar to our goal with in-store training — is to make it dynamic and fun. We also manage a digital calendar with each retailer, providing them with a schedule for content promotions across all our brands.

How do you view the continuing impact of COVID-19 on Americas travel retail and the wider industry?

We remain cautiously optimistic about a strong recovery in 2021. Unfortunately, COVID-19 remains a current and real threat for our business and the wider travel retail industry. However, with the mass roll-out of vaccines, we hope travel bans will be lifted soon.

We know that consumers are eager to travel again. We see it with the domestic traffic pax growth and the month-on-month growth of airports in the Americas and around the world. It’s just a matter of time before our dynamic travel retail industry returns.

What do you see as the big beauty trends that will influence Americas travel retail into the future?

We believe consumers will continue to be driven by innovation, sustainability, hero SKUs, interactive digital sampling, and edible beauty.

How do you think the channel can and should engage with travelling consumers to ensure a sustained recovery?  

To accelerate recovery, all parties need to work together: local authorities, landlords, retailers and suppliers. Landlords can provide much needed rent relief to retailers in order for them to implement new safety, hygiene and social-distancing protocols, dedicated sales staff, and new digital investments.

Local authorities should clearly communicate the latest COVID-19 protocols and enable onsite rapid testing. We would also like to see spending limits per customer raised in airports and border stores, particularly in Brazil.

In the US, we believe that port authorities should carve out larger stores with more walk-throughs to accommodate proper spacing and category management. Finally, both brands and retailers need to give customers enticing saving propositions, which has always been the main driver in travel retail.

Essence Corp Vice President Sales Antoine Bona and Essence Corp Vice President Sales Caribbean Guillaume Bona are part of the stellar Knowledge Hub speaker line-up of the Summit of the Americas — A Virtual Experience. Registration is now open.