By  on February 6, 2009

LONG BEACH, Calif. — The ripple effects of recent hair care acquisitions and the continuously unraveling economy reverberated through the 33,000 attendees and 440 exhibitors at the International Salon and Spa Expo that was held Saturday to Monday at the Convention Center here.

George Eliades, vice president of business development at Tigi, the Lewisville, Tex.-based company with Bed Head, Catwalk and S Factor in its flotilla of brands that’s being bought by Unilever, acknowledged stylists have expressed concern about Unilever possibly pushing Tigi into the retail market. In response, he offered assurances the acquisition was intended to elevate Tigi’s international presence, not to abandon its professional heritage.

“What they have seen is a homogenization of the beauty industry,” said Eliades, explaining why the consolidation that has left Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal and Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. controlling about half of the professional hair care market, according to research firm Kline & Co., worries stylists. “We [Tigi] are a stand-alone company. We want to grow worldwide.”

At ISSE, Tigi introduced the brand Rockaholic, which Eliades described as aimed at stylists fluent in the language of MySpace for use on in-the-know clients, as well as themselves. Rockaholic’s first eight products include Livin’ the Dream sulfate-free shampoo for $15.95 retail, Rocktastic spray gel for $15.95, Punk Out molding gunk for $16.95 and Dirty Secret dry shampoo for $18.95.

Brands not owned by corporate giants touted their independence. “The cachet of working with salons peer to peer was ubiquitous when Paul Mitchell was here, and when [John] Sebastian [Cusenza] owned Sebastian. [That] has all dissipated into this huge corporate culture that doesn’t get it,” lamented Steve Goddard, president of Woodland Hills, Calif.-based Pravana.

Driven by hair color and its outreach to salons, Goddard said Pravana’s sales jumped 39 percent last year over the prior year. This year, he projected the company’s distribution network of roughly 12,000 salons would grow by 10,000 doors. The brand’s products have undergone a repackaging inspired by an hourglass-shaped bottle of grappa that Goddard picked up on a trip to Venice.

Joanne Choi, vice president of marketing and product development at Paramount, Calif.-based Iden, marketer of natural hair and scalp therapy products with the ingredient bee propolis, argued the diversion of some major professional brands makes smaller brands that aren’t diverted attractive. “If I carry Redken and my customer can get it for $2 less at Target, my customer will go to Target,” she said, speaking hypothetically as a salon owner.

ISSE attendees not only talked business, they sought education, deals and a glimpse at upcoming trends. Lee Rizzuto Jr., senior vice president of Conair Corp., detected “wave and curl” becoming “more apparent” in haircuts showcased by brands at ISSE.

Despite the move toward curl, ISSE booths with frizz remedies drew crowds. Beverly Hills company Bio Ionic unveiled KeraSmooth, a treatment priced at $50 for salons that takes 45 minutes and is formulated with keratin and white henna. “[Stylists] are excited about the fact that it competes with the Brazilian treatment, but at the same time is formaldehyde-free,” said Juliet Barbieri, marketing brand manager for Bio Ionic.

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