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Critical Mass: Hair Care Shows Roots of Growth

There’s plenty of opportunity in the salon and retail hair care businesses, according to four panelists at HBA Global Expo.

NEW YORK — There’s plenty of opportunity in the salon and retail hair care businesses.

That was the message from four panelists during a session on the hair care business at HBA Global Expo, which was held in June at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Lee Stafford, a stylist known for his Pink range, a brisk seller in the U.K., revealed how he created his brand and is now bringing it to the U.S. Recently both Ulta and Duane Reade added his products. Kim Jensen, marketing director for Oscar Blandi, provided a financial point of view, detailing what attracted the interest of TPR Holdings. Lynn Emmolo, industry veteran and chief executive officer of Sally Hershberger, talked about bringing the upscale world of Sally Hershberger hair styling to retail. And Anthony Dickey, the founder and creative director of Hair Rules, explained multicultural marketing and how it is being rolled out in retail doors across the country.

The panelists discussed how the salon and retail worlds coexist and build each other. After a slowdown from backlash over the Brazilian Blowout, the salon business is growing more robustly at a 5.5 percent clip, according to research from Sageworks. People are returning to salons, but also using salon-type products at home. Overall mass hair care sales are also up — about 3 percent year to date — with much of the growth attributed to stylist brands.

That’s good news to Stafford, who vividly told the history of his company — from winning a Men’s Hairdresser of the Year award to creating a line of products with business partner Graeme Riddick. Some elements of his line were pure serendipity. For instance, there was a pink reception desk that inspired the color of his line,  and a friend’s dog became the brand’s mascot and logo. But what was pure business savvy were tactics such as adding color to barcodes. “When we were doing our packaging, I said I wanted no barcode,” joked Stafford of a move that would have been retail suicide. Instead, color and a funky design were implemented. “Talk about turning lemons into lemonade,” he said. Lee also said his big break came with innovation, a product called Poker Straight Flat Iron Protection Mist, along with dry shampoos.

Innovation is also what attracted TPR Holdings to the Oscar Blandi brand, said Jensen. Blandi helped pioneer the category’s growth in the previously untapped specialty and department store channels.  Oscar Blandi, known for his dry styling technique, dovetails with the fashion image of department stores. “A key for him is to take a runway look and translate it into a demonstrable setting so consumers can replicate it at home,” said Jensen. “The brand has grown 24 percent since the acquisition,” Jensen said referring to TPR’s purchase of the brand in 2011. She said department stores are making efforts to nab more of the hair care business, such as with kiosks and heavy sampling.

One of the most dramatic stories of balancing salon and shelf is Sally Hershberger. She’s known for her $800 haircuts, but her retail products are also available at mass chains, such as CVS Pharmacy. The expertise behind the retail expansion comes from Emmolo, who amassed experience at companies such as L’Oréal and Limited Brands Inc. On building a brand, she said, “You have to really believe in what you have in order to make the metrics work. You need a great idea, white space to fill, good resources and you have to believe you are giving the customer something different.” Emmolo added that Sally Hershberger has size on its side, and can be nimble in bringing innovation to the market.

Dickey, known as a texture guru, also had to change market dynamics to help grow his brand, Hair Rules. From his salon experience, he learned to develop products for texture rather than ethnicity, noting that there are black women with pancake-flat hair and even Asian women with kinky tresses. “We want to dispel the myths around hair and create a new standard of beauty,” said Dickey. His journey has taken him to mass retailers, where he’s had to educate them about changes that are driving a need to market to multicultural shoppers. He said the time appears right for chains such as Target to start appropriately stocking stores properly for today’s new consumer.