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NEW YORK — Charles Worthington has been inching his way into the American hair care market for five years. Now, the British salon owner and stylist is getting serious about the U.S. by opening a salon here and by finally establishing a U.S. sales force.

This story first appeared in the February 21, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The salon, to be called Charles Worthington, is at 568 Broadway in SoHo, on the intersection of Prince and Broadway, situated above Armani, below Bliss spa. The company’s headquarters will operate next door to the salon.

The outpost is Worthington’s first salon outside the United Kingdom, where he operates five salons that serve as many as 2,500 clients a week. The salon here will cater to a more exclusive clientele, at least until it opens to the public April 1. Since Feb. 10, the salon has welcomed an invitation-only crowd, comprised of editors and local celebrities, to help spread the word of its pending opening. Low-key publicity parties are also fueling public interest. Actresses Gina Gershon and Jody Kidd, as well as nighttime club owner Amy Sacco, agreed to host a party held Thursday night.

Worthington expects the salon’s first-year sales to exceed $1 million. The salon, which cost approximately $1 million to build, also stands to boost Worthington’s visibility in the eyes of consumers. The privately held hair care company, which is headquartered in London, sells products here such as the Results and Dream Hair brands, which are sold in Walgreen’s and Bloomingdale’s, respectively. David Cooper, the company’s recently appointed vice president of U.S. sales, said the company’s U.S. business generates approximately $15 million. According to Information Resources Inc., Worthington’s drugstore business generated $11.8 million in sales for the 52-week period ended Dec. 29.

Cooper, formerly the vice president of strategic planning for John Frieda Professional Hair Care and an 11-year veteran of Unilever, is the first of several anticipated additions to Worthington’s U.S. team. An in-house public relations director, as well as an additional sales manager and a manager for marketing and sales will be added to the team in the next couple of weeks, Cooper said.

While the salon still needs floor work and several styling stations, the 3,000-square-foot space, which was designed by architect Joel Sanders and watched with a close eye by Worthington, a trained architect, shows signs of the relaxed, contemporary atmosphere Worthington is trying to achieve.

Designed in shades of white, sand and taupe, Worthington’s biggest concern was pulling the space off as one that would emit an at-home hair experience. Hence, a massive velvety taupe couch with accent pillows on a white base greets clients as they enter the door. Aside from providing a lounge atmosphere, the couch serves as a divider from the styling area, which has four double-sided, mobile styling stations. In the event of a party, the stations can be lined up and attached to a fixture on the back of the couch so as to appear as additional furniture.

A 23-foot white “floating countertop” lines one wall, and serves as the reception area. Worthington’s hair care products are displayed along “floating shelves” from behind the counter.

All of the salon’s white fixturing was custom-made to allow for artificial light to illuminate underneath each piece. Large windows face north and west and allow for natural light to flood the space, too.

Salon services will include the usual cut and blow dry, which starts at $90 for a senior stylist and colorist; a bang trim for $15 and a single process from $95. Several offerings aim to carve out some exclusivity for the salon. There’s the Dream Hair Definite Difference Hair Treatment for $45, which targets different hair types with specially formulated serums. The Big Hair Big Volume Up-Do, which starts at $67, promises mounds of volume, thanks in part to the use of Worthington’s Big Hair volumizing products, which launched last year.

Worthington expects 75 percent of first-year sales to be generated by salon services; the balance will come from the sale of products. Among some of the products to be sold in the salon are Dream Hair, as well as mass lines Results and Big Hair. Impact, a men’s personal care line and In Fashion, a line inspired by runway looks, will be available by customer request. Both In Fashion and Impact are currently sold only in the U.K.

Aside from garnering a larger celebrity and society following, the salon strongly shows Worthington’s commitment to the U.S. Until now, Worthington’s U.K. team, led by managing director Allan Peters and Ben Greer, marketing director, has kept Worthington products on a short leash with exclusivity deals. The company signed an exclusivity deal with Walgreens in 2000 and another one with Target in 2001, which lasted only briefly.

“It was part of our strategy to have exclusive deals, but now we are ready to branch out,” Greer said.

But in May the company made strides to expand its presence. In addition to 4,000 Walgreens stores, Worthington hair care is now sold in 1,000 Sav-on and Osco Drug Stores, as well as Longs Drug Stores and Brooks Pharmacies. Greer added that the company is in talks with several other retailers to grow both the company’s drug store and department store presence. To help appeal to more customers, a more streamlined logo has been created, which mass products will begin sporting in mid-2004. Dream Hair bottles have been changed to longer, slender containers from the short squat ones they are now.

In the U.K, Worthington is sold exclusively in 1,450 Boots The Chemist stores and has approximately $50 million in sales, according to industry sources.

Worthington is confident his salon will be a success here, despite a recessionary economy and plenty of competition by Manhattan mainstays such as Frederic Fekkai and Bumble and bumble, not to mention Worthington’s Soho neighbors John Dellaria and Maximus.

Since 1998, Worthington has traveled from London to America one week every month. When here, he promotes his products on talk shows and in stores. When in New York, Worthington also styles hair from his 2 1/2-year-old atelier in the Chelsea-based penthouse he purchased. His celebrity clientele on the West Coast for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards is just as healthy — most recently he styled hair for Nikki Hilton, Rashida Jones, Gretchen Mol and Roseanna Arquette.

All of this, Worthington said, has built his name and profile in certain circles, and is why he believes his new Soho-based salon-headquarters is destined for success. “I held off until the timing was right. We waited to build a brand. The movers and shakers know who I am.”

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