Kent heads high-profile P&G foray

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How much would a woman pay for a customized beauty care regimen with her own name on every bottle? Procter & Gamble Co., its partner Institutional Venture Partners and former Hasbro executive Virginia "Ginger" Kent are wagering more than $80 million that the answer is "plenty."

Ms. Kent, 45, who made the leap from president of Hasbro's U.S. toy business in December to become president-CEO of Reflect.com, is leading P&G's highest-profile foray into e-commerce to date and a staff of about two dozen former P&Gers combined with dot-com veterans from Amazon.com and elsewhere.

Her mission: Not only to turn heads to P&G's foray into mass customization, but also to turn a profit. While she won't provide financial details and the site clearly hasn't reached profitability, it has exceeded its goals so far, she says.

Less than a year since its launch in December, Reflect logs more than 500,000 unique visitors each month, placing it second among all beauty care sites, company executives say. The average user spends 20 minutes per visit customizing beauty care products.

The site recently added customized fragrances to its lineup; it is preparing to raise prices and improve navigation and site design.

"Driving a new business that's so revolutionary has been really fun," says Ms. Kent, who used to be in charge of everything from Play-Doh to G.I. Joe to Pokemon toys at Hasbro. "We've taken a team that I think was slightly less than 30 when I came on board to double that now, and taking it to another level has been extremely rewarding to me personally."

Reflect's mission is both to delight and surprise, she says. While women customize products for themselves online, their options are limited to the ones provided online. Products are formulated based on questions women answer about their beauty care needs.

The design and navigation of the site also is customized, based on answers to psychographic questions such as, "If you were a house, what kind would you be?"

THIS BUDS FOR YOU

Another surprise comes a week or so after consumers place their first order, when Reflect.com sends them a flower via a partnership with Proflowers.com.

P&G President-CEO A.G. Lafley, who also sits on Reflect's board, recently told Wall Street analysts he's sure the customization concept appeals to a segment of women. "We're just not sure how many of them there are yet."

"We do know the profile of the women who buy from us are very Internet-savvy and very beauty-engaged," Ms. Kent says. "Internet savviness is growing by leaps and bounds, and women are now more than 50% of people online. That criterion is growing substantially. And there's a huge portion of women who are very beauty-involved."

Reflect.com is confident enough that it's venturing into territory where few e-tailers have tread: price increases. Ms. Kent says Reflect is now in the low range of department store beauty-care products and plans to move to the midrange.

"We were looking at our profit model and we felt frankly that we didn't want to give up any of the services we were offering or any of the customer experience," she says.

"Frankly, I think we were very underpriced relative to the market, too. . . . The real beauty of what we have is that we're in a business that's extremely gross margin-rich and we've disintermediated the middle man, the department store."

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