LONG BEACH, Calif. — Even beauty buffs get the blues.

Economic woes weighed on the some 30,000 attendees and 405 vendors at the International Salon and Spa Expo held at the Long Beach Convention Center from Jan. 26 to 28. As in past years, music blared throughout the center while scissors snipped during hair demos, but the noise couldn’t squelch reports that foot traffic and sales volume were down.

“It is a little bit slower because of the economy,” said Dominic Barbar, who helms a namesake styling tools company based in Beverly Hills. “[Stylists and salon owners] want to buy, but they think twice about it. Last year, if they bought five or 10 [products], this year they buy two or three.”

Stylists and spa and salon owners explained they were cautiously perusing goods because exactly how their businesses would be impacted by customers’ tighter budgets remained unclear. However, if a good deal was to be had, many were adamant that they weren’t hesitant to grab it.

Sandy Smith, co-owner of the salon La Bella’s in Lake Isabella, Calif., who was searching for bargains, said, “I do a lot of dimensional color, and I have all my regular clients, but people coming in for special occasions hasn’t happened as much.” Mikki Foster, a stylist at Ulta in San Fernando, Calif., said, “Clients have been spacing out their visits. I have had clients laid off.”

Still, Barbar attempted to open stylists’ and salon owners’ wallets for a new $150 blow-dryer dubbed Eco 8000 that uses a ceramic heating element instead of coils, and a $140 cordless flatiron with a 1-inch ceramic plate that will be sold at José Eber, Chris McMillan and Frédéric Fekkai. Next up for Barbar will be digitizing flatirons with touch screens and remote controls.

“The weather has something to do with it,” said Ellen Ambrecht of the lackluster attendance at her booth. Ambrecht is the shows and events manager for Essie, the nail polish company based in Astoria, N.Y. Indeed, it rained almost 4.2 inches the week of Jan. 21 in a city that normally averages fewer than 3 inches the entire month of January.

This story first appeared in the February 8, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Essie and OPI, a rival nail company, were among several nail polish brands to present their spring color collections to professional technicians. Essie delved into a pastel palette of taupes, lavenders and pinks, while Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive vice president and artistic director of OPI, explained that runway looks inspired OPI to highlight bright hues for spring.

“Blue seems to be a big hit, pink from pale to almost Day-Glo and yellow is a big color,” said Weiss-Fischmann. She added that grays are moving into the mainstream and stressed that dark lacquers will have surprising staying power in the warmer months, including a brown with gold color the firm created called Royal Rajah Ruby.

OPI was proof that not all brands fared poorly at ISSE. Weiss-Fischmann estimated sales at ISSE were up 5 percent from last year and suggested that OPI’s history and name recognition helped its business at the show. “If the economy is good and you have a lot of expendable income, you may spend on three or four or five brands,” she said. “But if you can only spend on one or two brands, you go to brands that are reliable.”

RevitaLash had a strong performance at ISSE, as well. Hannah Murray, the eyelash conditioner brand’s vice president of marketing, called sales “record-breaking” and 20 percent higher than RevitaLash’s second best show. “We had a lot of people who came to us and said, ‘All my clients keep asking for this product. I need to buy it,'” she said. RevitaLash wholesales for $90 a bottle.

Exhibitors encouraged stylists and spa and salon owners to spend by selling products as service add-ons. Thinning hair product leader Nioxin, for example, told salon owners they could pay $50 for the new Scalp Renew aging remedy to use on six different clients for $50 to $70 each. At American International Industries-owned Ardell, professional sales manager Kathleen Armstrong touted that salons could charge $25 to apply Ardell’s fake eyelashes and purchase six-pack refills for $15.

“Their business has been down, so therefore they have less to spend, but they are looking for more creative ways to spend money,” said Armstrong. “That is why we are looking to do more cross-promotions and offer more services.”

Products and services weren’t the only things on ISSE attendees’ minds. They also came to be educated and spot hair trends. Vidal Sassoon, Wella and Sebastian were just three of the hair care brands that showcased their latest collections of hairstyles at ISSE. Traci Sakosits, regional creative director of the Sassoon Academy, described Vidal Sassoon’s so-called Geoganic Collection as “geometric externally, but when hair is lifted, you have volume in unexpected ways.”

Breana Cole, a 17-year-old beauty school student who will start work in April at Hot Locks in Apple Valley, Calif., said not everybody in her conservative hometown would welcome the bolder styles and hair tints on display at ISSE. “A lot of people there don’t go ballsy,” she said, “but I would do the reds, the [other] colors and the cuts.”

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