By  on July 24, 2009

LAS VEGAS — The time is ripe for a makeover.

Reinvention — as the term is more commonly called — is the strategy many businesses are embracing in these tough times, and was the recurring theme at Cosmoprof North America, the trade show for the professional beauty market held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center here from July 19 to 21.

As the economy continues to pummel the salon industry — recent figures track the market as down 5.4 percent to $37.5 billion — attendees of the show talked mostly about how to best drive consumers back into salons and stores: create value, offer promotions, establish magic price points and perfect the art of service.

“It’s a tough time to have to reinvent yourself, but it’s the right time,” said Steven Brooks of Diva Studio in Las Vegas, who spoke onthe Professional Beauty Association’s Defining the Future of Beauty Retailing panel Monday morning.

Procter & Gamble Salon Professional’s Reuben Carranza, who also sat on the panel, said, “The industry will continue to be under pressure. If past trends hold, it will be down anywhere between 2 and 5 percent for the year.”

The panel broke down eight different strategies of how businesses could best grow sales. Norma Knudsen of Regis Corp., who sat on the panel, talked about the importance of building a salon’s retail section. At Regis, she said, the chain looks to refreshen its retail area this year by instituting a trends section, which will be changed out quarterly. Goals also include growing the average number of items sold per customer per visit from 1.6 to three. Retail sales for the firm overall, she said, are 19 percent. The industry average is 7 percent.

But by weaving a retail-centric culture into a salon, sales can grow, said Jennifer Lynn of Mandarin Oriental, who also served on the panel.

“Culture and service is what will set you apart. It cannot be an afterthought,” she said.

The tough environment affected Cosmoprof’s exhibitor attendance, with 625 exhibitors at the show this year, down from 740 last year. But overall, there were almost as many attendees (22,500 this year versus 25,000 last year) and people were busy, surprising even show officials.

“I have to say I was surprised, because we were foreseeing not a lot of people and a lack of business on the show floor,” said Auraliana De Sanctis, the head of SoGeCos, which operates Cosmoprof. “Yet in reality, exhibitors said they met with high-quality distributors, the international area was happy and everyone told me that the image of the show was higher and that this was important to them. In the past, I didn’t see the show’s [upscale] image as important to them.”

Next year’s show looks to put more of a focus on skin care and cosmetics, she added, as well as new international beauty companies. Typically, the show strongly centers on hair care items. “The market is ready to do something different,” she said.

Indeed, the professional beauty spirit is a hard one to break. On Saturday, more than 2,000 people attended PBA’s annual hairstyling competition awards ceremony, North American Hairstyling Awards, which was judged by industry influencers, including top beauty editors. Among the winners were: Brian and Sandra Smith, Master Stylist of the Year, of Matrix C.R.A.F.T. Global Academy, based in Dalton, Ga., and Janell Geason, Make-Up Artist of the Year, of Eden Prairie, Minn. Also at the event was Nancy O’Dell, co-anchor of “Access Hollywood,” who was presented the inaugural PBA Beautiful Humanitarian Award for her continued support for charities such as March of Dimes, Child Help, Best Buddies and American Red Cross.

Reinvention was being taken seriously by many companies at Cosmoprof.

Kicking off the show was an event by Tigi Saturday night featuring its makeover of Catwalk, which is now taking on a strong fashion positioning. Your Highness, a volumizing line, is the first range to receive the new sleek look (packaging features script writing, jewel-toned bottles and hair tips). The range includes a shampoo and conditioner under Prep It, a root boost and gel cream under Work It and a hair spray and shine spray under Perfect It. Products ship to salons in September. A Catwalk Curl line and a Smooth collection are planned for the first and second quarters of 2010, while a fourth range is slated for the third quarter, to be launched along with a fashion designer who will help promote the brand.

Natural beauty care maker Pharmacopia, which appeared in the Discover Beauty section of the show floor that’s set aside for new exhibitors, talked about several of its endeavors, including a new line tailored for the mass market.

“Even the stores that could handle our usual price points are having trouble. The mass line may be a hit for them,” said Lisa Levin, founder and owner of Pharmacopia, which has been making prestige body and skin care products for 10 years. Mass items such as hand lotions, body lotions and body washes will sell for around $11.99, versus $17 for their prestige counterparts. Manufacturing costs were cut by replacing essential oils with natural fragrances.

This year, Pharmacopia partnered with Hunter Amenities International as its manufacturer distributor after deals with financial investors fell apart in October. “Everyone is having to change and refocus and think of new ways to do business,” said Susan Lange, Pharmacopia’s director of sales. Levin is working with Excelsior Beauty to meet with retailers such as Walgreensand CVS to gauge interest on the mass line, which will be ready to ship Jan. 1.

Hair U Wear, a leading hair extension maker, is aware of the spending pressure consumers are facing and in turn has found a magic price point for all new launches.

“We made a decision in October 2008 that we need to appeal to the consumer and we are not making anything above $99,” said Michael Kleinman, executive vice president of Hair U Wear. New items feature Tru 2 Life, a synthetic fiber technology that can withstand up to 350 degrees of heat, and uses a “breadth of colors” in each hair piece. A five-piece kit launches in October and will sell for $49; a full hairpiece will sell for $99 and is available in December.

Value was on the lips of many beauty firms at Cosmoprof.

Zotos International, for example, was showcasing its new Diamond Shine range, a hair care and styling line with prices at $6 an item. Products include a shampoo, conditioner, volumizing mousse, smoothing gel, hair spray and gloss drops. Zotos’ various price-conscious brands are performing well in this economy.

“We are having a good year — we are well positioned as a company,” said Liz Kenny, senior vice president of marketing at Zotos, which also makes the Bain de Terre and EasyStraight brands. “People are giving up things. We are seeing consumers trading down, stylists are trading down.…I think we are bringing in some new users based on the market,” she added.

OPI began offering “salon stimulus” promotions beginning in January as a response to the overall slowdown in salon traffic.

“She is still buying polish, but she is doing the service herself,” said Susie Fischmann, founder of OPI. However, pedicure services are up as women find doing this service at home more difficult. At the OPI salon in Los Angeles, for example, two manicure tables were taken out and replaced by a pedicure chair.

Conair, which sells value-priced hair appliances, “is having a banner year” in a segment of the market that is down 10 percent overall.

“We are driving business by giving value products for a good price. Build a product that does everything and it will sell,” said the firm’s Ken Russo. It’s newest item is Babyliss Pro U Style Straight Curl, which straightens, curls and styles and will sell for $200. Within Rusk, a new value line called Being Sensible is due out in salons and retail stores, such as Ulta, in October. The line targets the value seeker, said Rusk’s Brooke Carlson: Each 20-oz. container retails for only $7.99.

Essie Weingarten from Essie Cosmetics said her business experienced the best June in the company’s history, after experiencing a “terrible October.”

“We have reengineered,” she said, mainly by focusing on smaller distributors. “We like to be the big fish in a small pond.” Fewer nail services has led to trends such as more neutral nails. But other trends abound as Essie — along with CND and OPI — sees matte as a big up-and-comer in 2010. Her new mattifier — Matte About You — hits shelves in January.

Tweezerman is talking value, too, with a slew of new items that don’t skimp on quality, said president Connie Wittke. Matchbox, a small box of itty-bitty nail files, is priced at $5; a tweezer packaged with a mirror outfitted with suction cups will sell for $20, and a nail kit, equipped with a mini cuticle pusher, a file and a clipper, is also $20. “We are quality and we don’t discount, but by doing something that is value, we are doing what we have to for the consumer,” Wittke said.

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