NEW YORK — The Epilady is back.

And retailers are hoping younger women are ready to tear out their hair. Several chains are getting back into Epilady — a sizzling epilator of the Eighties — with a new and improved product.

The Epilady hair-removal system bowed in 1986 and quickly grew to $150 million in retail sales thanks to a compelling videotape promotion at cosmetics counters in department stores. Retailers couldn’t keep up with the demand as more than 25 million units zipped out of their doors.

Although the product was judged effective for hair removal, too many women complained that it was painful and sales faltered. The original distributors of Epilady filed for Chapter 11 in 1990.

A group of entrepreneurs bought the North American distribution rights in 1998 and formed a company called Happy Lady Inc. They are now releasing a kinder, gentler epilator called Epigirl.

Improved technology has resulted in a product that is said to be less painful. Happy Lady executives believe the timing is right. "Women are more accustomed to different hair removal [than shaving] with the success of Nad’s and other products," said Phil Collins, vice president of sales for the Brooklyn, N.Y. based company. "Young girls are also busy and don’t have time to shave every day."

Like many marketers, Happy Lady is zeroing in on women aged 15 to 25 for its Epigirl marketing push. "We want to get it known to this group of shoppers who didn’t know Epilady before and we’re marketing it as ‘this is not your mother’s epilator,’" said Collins.

Epigirl was among the items attracting retailers at last month’s National Association of Chain Drug Stores Marketplace meeting in San Diego. Many retail executives in their 30s and 40s commented at the booth that they remembered the original product. They either loved it for its efficient hair removal or lamented the pain it caused.

The new incarnation of the epilator is more colorful to attract young shoppers. The price point is also affordable at a suggested retail of $39.95.

Happy Lady has already had success selling Epigirl online. Plans call for getting the hair removal system into 5,000 to 10,000 stores by yearend. The company plans a big push for Christmas as well as summer 2003. "We also see another good season in back-to-school," said Collins.Hair removal has developed into a huge business for merchants, thanks to the success of depilatories and waxing systems such as Nad’s and a product currently promoted on TV called Epi-Stop. Sales of depilatories grew 20 percent to $120 million last year, according to market reports. Collins believes even the success of the Venus razor has elevated interest in the category.

Retailers are taking different tactics when deciding where to merchandise Epigirl. "Each chain is different — some in razors, some in depilatories, some in cosmetics and personal care," said Collins. "It sells well in all locales," he added. Whether buyers who winced in pain when using the first Epilady models will try again is the bigger question. Added Collins: "We’re not saying there isn’t some discomfort. We are comparing this more to a wax or tweezing."

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The NACDS meeting was also beneficial for CRL Marketing, a company selected by retailers such as Medic Drug and Duane Reade for having unique merchandise. Company president Jesse Lawrence said he snapped up new promotional orders that he hopes would give him entrée into new retail accounts. He singled out two items that buyers especially liked. "We have a Valentine’s promotion with a snow globe and a chunk body glitter that gives off different colors," said Lawrence who added that the meeting gave him a chance to see some chains he never sees.

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One chain that vendors were trying to see at the meeting was Walgreens. While some retailers are straining to post same-store gains in a rough economy, Walgreens just reported a 9.8 percent gain. Although pharmacy volume helped expand sales, the company also reported front-end sales gains of 3.4 percent, including beauty. Walgreens has been aggressive in adding more specialty beauty brands such as Prestige and Caboodles. In January, the company also started a licensed health-and-beauty care agreement with Universal Studios and those items are being integrated into the mix, said a company spokesperson.

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