NEW YORK — You could call it a hairy business: Lancôme is out to shift the shopping patterns of consumers buying high-priced hair care with its new collection, Hair Sensation, set to hit U.S. department store counters in March.

Lancôme is entering what it hopes will be a profitable sector, which as yet is uncrowded in this channel of distribution in the U.S. A few other upscale brands peddle shampoo in department and specialty stores —?among them, Clinique, Origins, Frédéric Fekkai and Philip B. —?but the only ones with major department store muscle currently are Clinique, Origins and now Lancôme. Most shoppers buying high-priced hair care in the U.S. purchase it at salons, a pattern that Lancôme hopes to alter, said Dalia Chammas, senior vice president and general manager of Lancôme USA.

"Hair care is a $5 billion dollar business in the U.S.," added Maeve Coburn, senior vice president of marketing for Lancôme USA. This number includes shampoo, conditioner and styling products, but not hair color. "It’s a massive market, and only a tiny percentage is done at department stores. Consumers are spending it in other channels of distribution, and we felt we had a unique opportunity to build business in that area."

Coburn noted that there were other reasons as well: "Women have a real emotional attachment to their hair," she said. "As a beauty company, we need to give the consumer tools to address her needs in this area. As well, as a company, we have at our disposal access to the greatest hair care and skin care research laboratories in the world. We already have consumers coming to the department store for skin care and makeup — she’s in a beauty frame of mind when she comes to the counter. Why not sell her hair care as well?"

Lancôme also had plenty of resources to draw from when formulating its collection: in addition to funding research laboratories all over the globe, its parent company L’Oréal also owns several salon hair care companies, including Matrix, Redken and the recently acquired Artec.

The initial lineup consists of 12 stockkeeping units spread across four ranges: one each for flat/fine hair, color-treated hair, dry/damaged hair, and frequent use/normal hair. Each has white packaging with a color-coded band for immediate recognition: flat/fine is pale green; color-treated is coral; dry/damaged is gold, and frequent use/normal is pale blue.Five of the sku’s fall in the dry/damaged category: a 6.7-oz. Extra Rich Conditioning Mask, $22; a 1.69-oz. Damaged Tips Nutri-Serum, $22; a 3.3-oz. Smooth and Shine Treatment, $18; a 6.7-oz. Nourishing Daily Conditioner, $1, and a 8.4-oz Nourishing Treatment Shampoo, $16. Flat/fine hair has three sku’s: a 3.3-oz. Extra Body Non Rinse Conditioner, $17; a 5-oz. Extra Volume Mousse, $18, and a 8.4-oz. Volumizing Gel Shampoo, $16. Color-treated has two sku’s: a 6.7-oz. Extra Radiance Repairing Conditioner, $17, and a 8.4-oz. Reviving Treatment Shampoo, $16. Frequent use/normal also has two sku’s: a 6.7-oz. Express Shine Conditioner, $17, and a 8.4-oz. Vitality Gel Shampoo, $16.

Additional sku’s are in development, in collaboration with Lancôme editorial stylist Barnabe, who notes it is important to him to do "beauty products for hair." He said his four favorites in the current line are the Express Shine Conditioner, the Extra Rich Conditioning Mask, the Extra Volume Mousse and the Reviving Treatment Shampoo.

Each collection, noted Frederic Cervantes, assistant vice president of research and development for hair, L’Oréal USA, includes proprietary ingredients, including a mix of proprietary polymers. Added William Colli, director of marketing for sun, body and hair for Lancôme USA: "The technology of each of the collections is designed to work in collaboration with all other products in that category, which is why we suggest that they be used together."

"Education will be crucial to the success of this range, so we are putting a lot of effort behind our training, both for beauty advisers and for consumers," said Toria Garrett, vice president of fragrance, sun, body and hair marketing for Lancôme. The brand will begin beauty adviser educational training in January, she noted, and at the collection’s launch in March, will hand out more than 1 million brochures detailing the collection. As well, sampling is intended to be a key part of the campaign: more than 2.5 million samples, including packettes and deluxe samples, are planned. As well, a counter merchandising tester unit is planned for all doors, with about 500 doors also getting a freestanding, open-sell display unit on wheels. Open-sell walls are also planned.The collection will be available in Lancôme’s full distribution of about 2,000 department and specialty store doors in March. The line entered doors in Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Finland and select doors in Germany in October. It rolls out to France, the U.K., Germany and the rest of Europe in the first half of 2003. South America and Japan will get the line at the end of 2003 or beginning of 2004.

While none of the executives would comment on projected first-year sales, industry sources estimated that Lancôme would do about $30 million at retail in the U.S. in the collection’s first year on counter. Sources also estimated that the brand would spend about $7 million on advertising and promotion.

Teaser ads for the collection will break in national fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines in February, with launch ads slated for April books.

While Lancôme is hoping that hair care will eventually be a big business for the brand, no one is expecting it to happen overnight. "It takes time to change established shopping patterns," conceded Coburn, who said she thought it would take "at least a year" to change mind-sets. Added Garrett: "It’s definitely a long-term, ongoing project."

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