NEW YORK — L’Oréal Professionnel wants the professional salon industry to know it’s not the same company it was two years ago. Armed with a healthy hair care division thanks to the August 2002 acquisition of Artec, L’Oréal Professionnel, the company’s U.S. salon division, has gained a new air of confidence, given it’s now considered a formidable player in the $1.8 billion U.S. salon world.

Artec, it seems, placed L’Oréal in an arena beyond its innovative yet conservative hair color brand into one that’s trendy, hip and edgy — not to mention one that’s all about hair care.

Not a group to rest on its laurels, L’Oréal Professionnel executives are gearing up for some hard work over the next three years in order to transform the business yet again, with sights on driving home its professional salon heritage.

Indeed the Artec acquisition gave L’Oréal Professionnel a U.S. hair care business as large as its existing hair color portfolio. According to Paul Sharnsky, vice president, general manager for L’Oréal Professionnel, prior to the acquisition, company sales were 98 percent from hair color sales. Now, 40 percent of business is generated from hair color, 34 percent of sales is from hair care and 26 percent is generated from sales of styling products.

“We have gone from being hair color-oriented, to reflecting what the market really is,” Sharnsky said.

The new makeup is reflected in projected sales increases from 2002 to 2003. On a comparable basis, company sales are expected to jump 19 percent for the 12-month period, according to Sharnsky. While he wouldn’t reveal L’Oréal Professionnnel’s overall sales, industry sources estimate the company generates nearly $100 million each year, ranking it on the lower end of the top 10 U.S. salon professional companies. Matrix and Redken, two other L’Oréal professional salon product divisions, rank first and second, sources said.

For 2003, L’Oréal Professionnel is looking at Artec’s distribution growth from approximately 20,000 salons to nearly 30,000 to grow overall sales. The launch of Maji.Lift and Série Expert will also contribute to 2003 sales growth. Next year, however, an active launch calendar is planned for Artec and L’Oréal Professionnel products, including new hair care and styling items for Artec’s Kiwi and Textureline brands. A new technological professional hair color launch is planned midyear, one that Sharnsky stresses L’Oréal Professionnel “will support very well.”In terms of communicating its message to the industry, L’Oréal Professionnel spent most of 2003 communicating through trade advertisements its professional heritage, a background that wasn’t widely known.

“Our message was to show that both Artec and L’Oréal Professionnel have the same strong salon professional roots,” said Pierre Lampert, vice president of marketing for the company, explaining that many in the professional industry still blur L’Oréal Professionnel with its mass retail sibling L’Oréal USA.

The challenge the company faces in the midst of its attempted growth is one that’s common among salon companies: to be able to touch the hairdresser and bring new services and education in a way that will help them support a company’s mission. In order to meet this goal, Lampert added that heavy incentives in training and promotional salon materials are being used to better promote the company to both salon professionals and consumers. But perhaps the company’s biggest sign of commitment will be its debut into consumer advertising during the last half of 2005.

“This is part and parcel to the growth strategy that will help facilitate our success,” Sharnsky said.

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