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Critical Mass: Beauty Gadgets on the Rise

A number of brands see high-tech skin devices and hair tools as the next big do-it-yourself category.

NEW YORK — Beauty retailers are plugging into the power of appliances.

A number of mass-market brands see high-tech skin devices and hair tools as the next big do-it-yourself category, and a surefire way to electrify sales in the same way that at-home gel manicures have sparked double-digit gains in nail care.

Earlier this month, Ulta Beauty’s senior vice president of merchandising, Janet Taake, singled out “high-tech” beauty during the retailer’s first quarter-earnings conference with Wall Street analysts. She called out a number of devices in particular, including HairMax, an FDA-approved appliance for hair loss; a limited-edition Clarisonic device; Ultra Chi’s new patterns; the Tria laser hair removal tool; the NuFace micro-current toner; Rowenta hair appliances, and new appliances from José Eber designed to repair hair.

The category has been growing at a fast clip. Beauty device sales exceeded $800 million in 2012, almost a 20 percent climb over 2011, according to research from Kline & Co. The company’s research also suggests there’s much more potential, especially as chains such as CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Target and Wal-Mart expand their departments for the category.

RELATED STORY: Conair Aims to Spring Ahead in Devices >>

The mass-market push in devices is largely behind power skin cleansers, said retailers. That brings an added benefit of driving sales of other skin-care products, specifically toners and cleansers, retailers added. Toner sales in the prestige category grew 13 percent in the first quarter of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012, which is most likely attributed to the popularity of devices, according to Karen Grant, vice president and a global beauty analyst at the NPD Group.

Prestige and specialty stores helped build interest for power cleansing devices, particularly with Clarisonic. Procter & Gamble Co.’s Olay Pro-X cleansing system, which launched in 2011, opened the door for the mass market to get into the business. Now retailers believe the category will blow wide open with new products from Conair and expanded distribution of niche products such as Tanda, a light therapy treatment for wrinkles and acne. Products, such as Tanda and NuFace, a device designed to tone facial skin, are two products that are “always in demand” at GBS The Beauty Store, said to Ken Bern, the store’s founder and president.

Experts said that across all retail channels the device category is only in its infancy. Speaking at the recent WWD Beauty CEO Summit, held in New York, Carol Hamilton, president of L’Oréal Luxe USA, said that although Clarisonic has a high awareness level, consumers are hungry for information that will translate into higher sales.

Powered cleansers are the frontline of attracting consumers, according to the Kline research, and the place where the mass market is preparing an attack. Shipping in the fall is a new item from Conair that is creating a buzz among the mass retail community. Conair’s True Glow Sonic Skin Care Solution will retail for $99 — versus $119 for the entry-level Clarisonic Mia. “Conair has a reputation for quality products at a value and that’s what customers are looking for,” said Ron Diamond, president of Conair Corp.

Robin Linsley, vice president marketing at Conair, added, “The high dollar ring will provide retailers the total revenue and profitability that is key to building their business.” Conair views the beauty care aisles as the best place to house the device. “The consumer looking for a mild face-cleansing liquid or cream will find it convenient to have a sonic face brush in the same area.”

In addition to Conair’s launch and Olay’s Pro-X, other mass-market entries include the Neutrogena Microdermabrasion System and private-label offerings at certain retailers, including CVS, which sells a device for $19.99. Harvey Alstodt, president of MBA Beauty, which distributes the Tanda device, believes mass retailers will cultivate device sections that will eventually expand to include professional tooth whiteners and hair removal. There could also be room for hair-care appliances. Ulta, GBS and Walgreens have already constructed special displays to highlight the various of features of hair tools and to allow consumers to play with the gadgets. In hair, the latest entries include a device from Conair (see related story, left) that furls hair into a caterpillarlike cylinder for a perfect curl and a blow dryer from José Eber that removes bacteria and buildup.

Ulta’s Taake said concepts such as Eber’s infrared technology help offset softness in a mature category. “We’re excited about the pipeline of new products,” said Taake. “High-tech tools have been a trending category for us and a lot of it is high-ticket product.”

Josh Rosebrook, a Beverly Hills celebrity hairstylist with a namesake line of hair and skin products, said skin-care appliances should be viewed as an exfoliating instrument, rather than simply a cleaning tool. “For best results, use a pure, gentle, natural cleanser with a high amount of actives for balance and moisture [along with the device],” he suggested.