By  on February 25, 1994

NEW YORK -- Conair Corp. is abandoning mainstream hair care marketing to powerhouses such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever and seeking refuge in a niche.

The new strategy will involve the phasing out of two unprofitable, broad-based brands -- Jheri Redding Glossing and the Conair-label hair care products. They will be replaced by the introductions this spring of two new hair care lines with specialty positionings.

Conair Hair Management for Men, slated for shipment in April, will go after a piece of the underdeveloped men's grooming market in the U.S. The Jheri Redding Vitamin Therapy line, which will be shipped in mid-March, will be positioned as a remedy for damaged hair.

"At this point, the hair care market is incredibly competitive," said Ed Rabin, vice president of marketing for the Conair Toiletries Division, which manufactures hair and body care products under both the Conair and Jheri Redding names.

"The market has become so price sensitive and advertising intensive that unless you are a budget line or have tremendous amounts of advertising support, it is very difficult to compete," said Rabin.

"If you are going to be moderately or premium priced and have a smaller advertising budget than the major marketers, you have to be something really special."

The seven-item Jheri Redding Vitamin Therapy line will be distributed in drugstores, mass merchandisers and select food outlets. It will consist of 14-oz. bottles of Moisturizing Shampoo, Thickening Shampoo and Replenishing Conditioner, 12-oz. Alcohol-Free Mousse and Alcohol-Free Gel, an 8-oz. tube of Mineral Mud Damaged Hair Treatment and a 10-oz. Ultra Hold Spritz.

The collection will be line-priced. Each item in the line will be $1.99 at discounters like Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target, and $2.49 at traditional chain drugstores, such as Walgreens.

Rabin projects the line will have a first-year wholesale volume of around $10 million.

Conair will back the brand with $2 million to $3 million in advertising and promotional support, Rabin said. A print campaign will break in May magazines. There will also be on-pack $2 mail-in rebates for the shampoo and conditioner and $1 mail-in rebates for the styling products.The shampoos and conditioner are formulated with Vitamin B5, Vitamin A and Vitamin E. The styling products contain Vitamin B5 and Vitamin A or Vitamin E. All of the products were designed to add moisture, shine and body to the hair while protecting it from environmental damage.

With the Hair Management line, Conair will try to gain a presence in the fledgling men's hair grooming market. According to industry sources, styling products that target men represent $90 million at retail. Styling aids with a broader-based unisex or women's positioning generate about $250 million.

"The men's market has been sleepy and underdeveloped," Rabin noted. "Most of the products out there are older brands with somewhat of a dated appearance. We hope to come on strong with men by bringing modernity to the category and products with a great fragrance."

The Hair Management line will be launched in promotional sizes that will be 40 percent larger for the same price as regular product that will be introduced with subsequent shipments.

There will be a 14-oz. nonaerosol hair spray, a 9-oz. mousse, an 8-oz. gel, an 8-oz. thickener and a 14-oz. aerosol hair spray. Each product will be priced at $1.99 at discounters and up to $2.49 at drugstores.

To give the line a contemporary look, the items will be packaged in black and red containers with bold white graphics. Each product will be scented with a citrusy and woodsy herbacious fragrance.

Rabin projected that Hair Management will have a wholesale volume of $6 million in the first year.

The company will spend about $1 million to back the brand, Rabin said. A print campaign is due to break in either June or July men's magazines, Rabin added, noting that final details have not been worked out.

Another part of the company's specialization strategy began earlier this year when Conair started selling out its two discontinued lines.

Last year, the Conair collection of shampoos, conditioners and styling products and the Jheri Redding Glossing line had a collective wholesale volume of around $3 million, Rabin said.

"At one time, both of these lines were quite profitable for the company," Rabin added. "Conair was one of the first inexpensive styling lines in the mass market and the Glossing line was one of the first shine-enhancing hair care lines. But neither of these areas are niches anymore. Everyone is selling shine and a lot of people have brands that cost 99 cents for a generous size."Industry sources estimated that the Conair line's wholesale volume peaked at $15 million and Glossing's sales approached $5 million during the late Eighties.

The company's remaining hair care brands, like the two new additions, are much more specialized. There is an 11-item Jheri Redding Styling line with a professional positioning, which last year had a wholesale volume of about $20 million, Rabin said. There is also a line of six fruit-scented Jheri Redding shampoos and a conditioner that had a wholesale volume of about $7 million last year.

Last year, Conair introduced the Jheri Redding California Shine -- another niche line of nine styling products geared to young people in their teens. It had a wholesale volume of about $5 million, said Rabin, who added,"Going forward, our focus will continue to be on product areas that will set us apart from other brands on the market."

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