NEW YORK -- Mass market manufacturers are hoping to corral a barnyard concept for mainstream retailing.
For the last year or so, a growing number of people have been turning to products first designed for horses for their personal grooming needs, according to hair and nail care manufacturers. For the most part, these products were originally created for the hair and hooves of horses and have been distributed at tack stores and pet supply shops.
Now equine care has turned human with product entries from companies such as Straight Arrow Corp. of Bethlehem, Pa., which makes Mane 'N Tail grooming products; General Therapeutics of Hempstead, N.Y., which markets Old Western Thoroughbred products, and Conair Corp. of Stamford, Conn., which is rolling out Magical Mane shampoo and conditioner this month.
Grooming products used on horses generated only about $10 million at wholesale last year, according to industry sources. Human consumption, however, is much higher.
Sources estimated that horse grooming products used on people will be at least an $80 million business at wholesale this year.
"Everybody's getting into it," said Alan Estrin, president of General Therapeutics, which started marketing Old Western Thoroughbred Shampoo, Conditioner and Hair & Scalp Conditioner for Mane, Tail and Body about six months ago.
"There have always been buzzwords in the hair care industry like 'collagen' or 'panthenol.' This is another one of those. But this is not an ingredient buzzword. It's a lot bigger than that."
"Our biggest problem now is that when we go to the horse shows, we have to remind people to use the products on their horses," added Gene Carter, vice president of sales and marketing for Straight Arrow Corp., which markets Mane 'N Tail hair and hoof products.
According to manufacturers, the attraction of equine grooming products is that they tend to impart a tremendous shine to the hair while detangling. The hoof products are said to improve nails since a hoof and a fingernail have basically the same composition.
"I think people noticed that when they treated their horses' hooves, the condition of their own hands and nails improved," Carter said. "That's probably why they decided to try the hair products, as well."We had been selling Mane 'N Tail products in tack stores for more than 20 years when we realized that we were marketing a human product to animals," he said. "Ten bottles out of every 12-bottle case were being used by people."
While Mane 'N Tail products are still sold through agricultural points of distribution, Carter estimated that products from the line are now sold in more than 10,000 food outlets, drugstores and merchandisers.
Over the last three years, the company has expanded its product line to 19 items and now has formulas for permed or color-treated hair, changed its labels and added styling products. But the original formulas have remained the same.
The hair products are all available in 32, 16, 12 and 8-oz. sizes. Prices range from $7.95 for a 32-oz. container to $3.95 for the 8-oz. size. "We've gone from a half-million-dollar company to a $30 million one over the last three years," Carter said. "We are planning to do a wholesale volume of at least $50 million this year. We've already passed what we did last year."
Carter added that the company will start advertising in consumer publications for the first time this August. The print advertising, in addition to TV and radio campaigns, will run through the end of the year. Previously, the company advertised in agricultural publications.
The budget will be about $2 million, he said.
General Therapeutics brought its Old Western Thoroughbred line into the mass market about six months ago.
"We had been selling Old Western products for horses and dogs in local pet stores for the last 20 years," Estrin said. "When we saw what was happening, we made some slight alterations in the formulas so they were better suited to human use and expanded their distribution."
Estrin projected that the Old Western line, which is distributed in about 1,000 mass outlets right now, would have a wholesale volume of $6 million to $8 million this year.
The shampoo and the conditioner are both available in a 16-oz. container for $4.79 and a 32-oz. container for $6.50. The 8-oz. Hair and Scalp Treatment is $3.50.The most recent entry is from Conair. Magical Mane shampoo and conditioner are due to hit 6,000 to 7,000 mass outlets by June 1.
The company's twist, however, is that while evoking the image of horses, the shampoo and conditioner is designed for people.
"Basically we evaluated what the horse products do for a horse's hair and translated these benefits into products that have been scientifically formulated to meet the needs of human hair," said Neil Guller, marketing manager at Conair in Stamford.
Conair is planning to support the brand with about $1 million in print advertising that will begin in July or August and run through the end of the year, Guller said.
Guller estimated that Magical Mane would have a wholesale volume of $5 million to $10 million this year.
Like their equine counterparts, Magical Mane will come in oversized packaging. Both the shampoo and the conditioner will be sold in 32-oz. bottles with a suggested retail price of $3.99.
"This is a trend that has come on quick and is running fast," Guller said. "We know that this is pretty much a small area, but we have historically focused on hot trends and niches since we are not major players in terms of advertising and promotion."