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Critical Mass: Suffering Nail Category Poised for Growth

There's been a lot of nail biting over the nail category during the past three years.

NEW YORK — There’s been a lot of nail biting over the nail category during the past three years.

Salesof all nail products dropped 2.5 percent for the 52-week period ended May 15, in food, drug and mass stores (excluding Wal-Mart) to $562million, according to Information Resources Inc. Taking the biggest hitwere artificial nails, where sales declined 4 percent, and nailtreatments, where sales plummeted 17 percent.

Looking back, sales in nail color and removers have dropped 18 percent from $373 million in 2002 to $314 million for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 9 incomparable periods ended mid-June, according to AC Nielsen. That was the time frame during which women stopped using funky colors and went to pale hues and French manicures.

Several other factors contributed to the sharp declines, including women’s preferences forshort, natural talons, as well as an uptick in salon visits, thanks to the proliferation of inexpensive services there.

But, as fall approaches, retailers, manufacturers and salon experts are seeing shifts that could portend well for the category.

At the posh Jessica nail salon in Hollywood, owner Jessica Vartoughian sees more women looking for vibrant colors on their fingers. At Pacific World, which produces nails under Nailene, Revlon and Fingr’s, the category is looking up as women look down and spend more time on toes.And suppliers are emerging with improved implements to shake up sales in that segment of nail care.

These developments come at a time when nail care has lost footage and could face more erosion as retailers try to squeeze in new color lines. Manufacturers are fighting back with lines they hope will prove profitable enough to maintain their precious shelf space.

Jessica, for example, is extending the concept of antiaging to manicures. According to Vartoughian, the company will launch an antiage manicure collection next year. “Someone can always know your age looking at your hands if they aren’t cared for,” she warned.

Antiaging is also the mantra at NeU Technologies, which recently showed buyers a new antiaging line for hands and feet. Another company providing nail treatments is Diamond Cosmetics, which is touting its 10-Day Strengthener, promising stronger nails in 10 days.

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While innovation drives nail care, the combination of color and treatment is expected to ignite nail colorsales. Sally Hansen is doing its part to get color sales sailing with the introduction of Star Opal Nail Glaze, a collection of iridescent shades. In addition to colors, the products feature crushed opals, red algae and proteins to aid in nail growth.

If women go back to color as in the days of Chanel’s Vamp, it could trigger sales of artificial nails. Pacific World is trying to boost glue-on nails with a new, shorter option called Short Cuts. In toes, the company is seeing strong response to artificial toe nails under the Revlon banner. “The business is cyclic and we are seeing some of the best sales in five years,” said Pacific World’s Joel Carden, senior vice president ofsales and category management.

W.E. Bassett, sensing the need for more value in artificial, recently unveiled an artificial line called Comfy Fit by Trim. The nails range from $1.99 to $3.99.

All of  these well-groomed hands and feet will need implements to maintain them, and the number of companies competing for that $143 million business is swelling. Alongside standards such as Trim, Revlon and Sally Hansen are new players including Jatai International with its Seki Edge Studio Series, Tweezerman and Universal Group.

These companies are trying to offer new twists on traditional implements. Universal offers bold colors under its Smart & Beautiful collection. Jatai is looking for shelf space based on unusual items such as a file embedded in plastic so it has no sharp edges. Tweezerman continues to bring upscale, pricy implements to the mass market.

Marketing in conjunction with a cause is growing in the nail category — as in other beauty areas. Tweezerman donates a portion of sales of tweezers to fight breast cancer, and Nutra Nail has joined hands with the Young Survival Coalition to help fight the disease. During August, September and October, Nutra Nail will donate 25 cents from every purchase made of its top-selling, specially marked packages of nail care to the Young Survival Coalition.

As the new nail entries file into the category, retailers will be faced with how to offer a department with a meaningful selection that also delivers profits. Just when many had pared back this area, it appears it is ready to grow again.