Bernstein-Rein Uses Own Experience to Win Retailers

Pushing Beauty Brands Background Has Led to Success After Walmart

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Kansas City, Mo.-based independent agency Bernstein-Rein stole PetSmart's $45 million ad account from giant Leo Burnett last year. It did so with experience culled not only from spending decades on a massive retail account but from being in the retail business itself.

Bernstein-Rein shares office space and employees with Beauty Brands, a 52-store salon-products chain owned by agency Chairman-CEO Bob Bernstein.

"As a retailer looking for an agency, any retail experience is valuable," said Paul Karmann, VP-advertising at PetSmart. "But when the agency actually has experience as a retailer, that's even better."

The shop is in two reviews for other retail accounts, but Mr. Bernstein declined to identify them. He made it clear, however, that he would be pushing the Beauty Brands case hard. "It lets us say, 'We're retailers just like you.'"

Bernstein-Rein was walloped in 2006, when Walmart fired the agency and moved its business to DraftFCB. Revenue dropped 17% for the year, according to Ad Age estimates. But B-R is proving there is life after Bentonville, thanks to retail acumen from Walmart and Beauty Brands.

Good timing
In the early 1990s, Mr. Bernstein spotted what he thought was a gap in the market for salon products and services and launched the Beauty Brands chain to fill it. The market proved him right, as the chain grew to 52 locations in 15 markets and even managed to post a 4% increase in same-store sales during last year's retail maelstrom.

That experience helped the agency net retailer Steve & Barry's account shortly after its split with Walmart. While the chain filed for bankruptcy last year, it did use B-R on several successful product launches, including a line linked to actress Amanda Bynes.

"It was very similar to the approach that Beauty Brands takes," said agency President Steve Bernstein. "They didn't spend a dime on advertising, so we had to focus on guerrilla techniques and identifying influencers."

"When we represented Walmart, we really couldn't go after other retailers, and now we can," Mr. Bernstein said.

The agency is making Beauty Brands the centerpiece of a sales pitch for what it calls its "inside-out" approach to retail.

"A lot of clients feel that agencies don't really get retail," said search consultant Dick Roth, "and this lets them say that they do."

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