By  on February 5, 2010

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Has the silver lining on the salon industry cloud appeared?

The opinion from the organizers of and many participants at the International Salon and Spa Expo, held last Saturday to Monday at the convention center here, was that salons and professional hair care companies have indeed pulled out of the depths of the recession. They pointed to the record attendance of some 40,000 people, up 21 percent from the prior year, and a strong showing by nearly 400 exhibitors as evidence the industry is headed toward growth.

“We think that sends a positive message that 2010 will be a good year,” said Steve Sleeper, executive director of the Professional Beauty Association, producer of ISSE, of the attendance figure. The PBA’s salon-spa tracking survey underscores the industry’s optimism: It found that 72 percent of salon and spa owner respondents anticipate higher service sales and 65 percent anticipate higher retail sales in the next six months compared with the same period in the previous year.

The upbeat outlook hasn’t come without adjustments in the salon and hair care business. At ISSE, hair care and appliance brands touted lower-priced items or tried to help salons and spas communicate to customers why higher-priced merchandise is worth the extra money. They also were chasing the latest crazes for loose curls, frizz-busting keratin treatments and natural oil-driven products.

Los Angeles-based NYX Cosmetics, which sells products largely between $5 and $10, was so packed during the three-day show that public relations director Tonie Shin was prompted to ask, “What recession?” She said a successful move for the line has been to incorporate sets and palettes such as The Caribbean Collection priced at $8 for five shadows, and The Runway Collection priced at $9 for 10 shadows. Ulta seems to approve, and Shin noted the retailer recently expanded NYX’s footprint from two feet to three feet in all stores.

Woody’s Quality Grooming, a men’s brand bought by Commerce, Calif.-based American International Industries almost four years ago, has been retooled to offer more value. Brand manager Bill Kochanski hoped the renovation would position Woody’s to pick up market share from competitor American Crew, which he said has upset salon owners with diversion into the likes of Target and Rite Aid, and register double-digit revenue growth in the next eight months.

“We basically supersized the line, but we kept the prices down,” said Kochanski. Shampoos, conditioners and gels priced at $9.95 formerly in 8.5-oz. bottles are in 12-oz. bottles. Shave has been eliminated from the 11-product revamped line, which will hit Beauty Systems Group’s CosmoProf stores in March, although shave products are slated to return in July-August after an overhaul. A women’s extension of Woody’s is in the works as well.

The demand for keratin treatments is strong enough at Global Keratin that chief executive officer Vanderlei Tibolla feels comfortable with plans to raise the prices of select formulas by 10 percent. He estimated there’s a keratin product introduced for salons every two weeks or so of late — Rusk, for instance, is due to release a product called Deep Shine Keratin Straightening in April — and the market doesn’t seem to be ebbing.

“January 2009 to January 2010, we doubled our business,” said Tibolla. “I think we will at least do four times more by January next year.” He asserted that Global Keratin’s new Hair Taming System with Juvexin, an ingredient developed by medical technology company Keraplast Technologies to penetrate, repair and protect hair, will distinguish the brand from the keratin crowd and be key revenue driver for the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company, which has products in roughly 8,000 salons.

Woodland Hills, Calif.-based hair care and color brand Pravana Naturceuticals presented a twist on the keratin treatment with its semipermanent Beach Wave product for stylists recreating red carpet loose curl looks in their salons, where the service averages $100. The Beach Wave uses what Pravana calls Keratin Fusion Restructurizing Serum to strengthen hair and add shine, and polyurethane foam blocks instead of rolling rods to produce texture. “In this more sober economic climate, people are gravitating to a safer, more romantic look,” said Pravana ceo Steve Goddard, explaining the popularity of the curl styles.

Like with keratin brands, the field of natural oil hair care brands is getting congested. But Carmen Tal, who founded Quebec-based Moroccanoil in 2007 with her husband, Ofer, said the argan oil-infused line is plunging ahead with product launches. At ISSE, the brand premiered $39 Moroccanoil Light and $25 Luminous Hairspray, which was sold out by the second day of the show. “Sales keep on growing steadily,” said Tal. “Our main focus in 2010 is to strengthen the North American market, fight diversion and continue opening in Europe and Asia.”

Los Angeles-based hair care brand Macadamia Natural Oil, which features a blend of macadamia and argan oils to foster frizz-free hair, is out to challenge Moroccanoil. Its products are entering J.C. Penney salons in March and landed at Ulta in August, where ceo John Fasan said $36 Healing Oil Treatment is the line’s bestseller, followed closely by the $26 Nourishing Leave-In Cream. He estimated the line would spread to about 10,000 doors by the end of the year.

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