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International Salon and Spa Expo Navigates an Uncertain Future

Product launches often took a backseat to initiatives to drive business at salons.

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Like every year at the International Salon and Spa Expo, held Jan. 26 to 28 at the convention center here, manufacturers trotted out launches in product categories from nail polish to hair color. This year, though, the launches often took a backseat to initiatives to drive business at salons, still ailing from the consumer pullback that hit when the economy tanked.

Although ISSE attracted about 400 exhibitors and 40,000 attendees, par for the course in recent editions of the expo, results of surveys conducted by its producer, the Professional Beauty Association, show salons remain on shaky ground. In the third quarter last year, the last quarter for which data is available, its salon-spa performance index measuring the health and outlook of the industry in the U.S. was at 101.9, flat from the year before and the lowest it has been in four quarters.

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“The professional salon and spa industry continues to experience volatility based in large part on consumer demand,” explained Steve Sleeper, the PBA’s executive director.

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Manufacturers have clearly noticed salons’ persistent struggles and are attempting to help them do something about them. Brazilian Blowout, for example, is going above and beyond online salon locators by introducing a concierge service program that provides potential Brazilian Blowout clients assistance in finding stylists who do the treatment, negotiating prices and setting up appointments. The brand has also instituted a master certification classification to distinguish especially skilled Brazilian Blowout stylists.

“Stylists are looking for additional revenue. They need another retail product right now like they need a hole in their head,” said Brazilian Blowout chief executive officer Mike Brady. “If they were doing six Brazilian Blowouts a week, they want to know how to get to 12.”

Lydia Sarfati, founder and ceo of skin-care brand Repêchage, has her own initiative to ramp up revenue at salons: facial bars doing express 30-minute facials. The bars offer the brand’s signature Four Layer Facial for roughly $25 to $65 out in the open at salons, rather than in a back room somewhere. “People who walk into the salon will say, ‘What is she having done? I want that.’ It becomes a huge showcase,” she said, adding that busy customers may not have time to “indulge for two to three hours, but they still want to look good.”

Pointing out an example of an installation at the Christie & Co. Salon & Spa booth on the floor, Sarfati said the facial bar concept has boosted retail sales 30 percent. She’s even trying out the Repêchage concept in Mexico at Wow Facial Bar locations in the tourist destinations Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta. “Now, you have blowout bars. Facial bars are the next thing,” said Sarfati.

Another avenue for increasing salon revenue is drawing more men to salons, suggested Marty Flaherty, senior vice president of business development in the U.S. beauty division of The Colomer Group, owner of men’s grooming brand American Crew. He said men account for less than 10 percent of the clientele at most salons, but he asserted salons should try to push that up to a minimum of 20 percent to nurture a healthy men’s business — and that men today are receptive to salons’ messages.

“I didn’t give a minute’s thought to my hair when I was in my 20s. The young men now really care about their hair and are using products,” said Flaherty.

Men’s grooming brands are attempting to generate buzz in the men’s category with new styling products. Woody’s is rolling out Headwax, a product that allows men to change their hairstyle throughout the day, and American Crew is introducing Alternator, a flexible spray with a similar purpose. American Crew is launching its first consumer ad campaign to promote Alternator. Shot in Barcelona, ad images featuring sports cars and the models Mark Vanderloo and Sam Way will run in Details, GQ and Car and Driver, among other titles. “We are looking for a wider audience than just the sophisticated groomer,” said Flaherty.

Some brands at ISSE were seeking to make inroads into spas and salons outside of the mainstay hair and skin segments. G The Body Art Professional premiered at the expo to spread glitter body art services to salons. “They have a hard time selling product, but they find it easy to sell another service,” said Ashley O’Rourke, director of sales and marketing for the brand, of stylists. She indicated that G The Body Art Professional’s body art services are quite profitable because salons pay $1.50 to $6.50 for body art stencils and can charge $10 to $60 for body art services.

John Maly, president of Mirabella, who was checking out the scene at ISSE, but wasn’t an exhibitor, believes his cosmetics brand can make serious headway into salons. Already in 1,400 of them, his goal is for Mirabella to build a network of 5,000 salons in the next three years. This year, he forecast Mirabella’s sales could jump 25 percent, coming off last year’s 18 percent bump. “Two years ago, three years ago, they [salons] were hesitant to take on new stockkeeping units, but I think it has come back,” Maly said.

Certainly, those with launches at ISSE are betting that salons have the wherewithal to stock up. Izunami is one of them. It presented a new Fume Iron as a solution to fumes that arise when performing smoothing treatments. At $1,299 for a large unit or $499 for a smaller unit, the Fume Iron has ventilation chambers to suction fumes. “It makes so much sense that it will be the standard iron for anything that releases smoke or steam. It will become as simple as wearing gloves,” said Nick Johnson, inventor of the Fume Iron.

Brands that entered the market to capitalize on the keratin treatment trend are maturing and expanding. Keratin Complex unveiled Color Therapy KeraHold, a permanent hair color line with 70 shades containing keratin molecules designed to penetrate the hair shaft, micro-pigmentation technology for long-lasting color, and wheat protein for softness and shine. A 3.5-oz. tube of the color is $7.99.

“The color market is very competitive and saturated, but we feel that we are giving stylists a really great product at a really great price,” said Lindsay Solomon, vice president of marketing at Keratin Complex. “We definitely think this is going to be a big part of our business.”

The sizzling nail category saw its share of launches. Seche, the brand owned by American International Industries known for its top coat, dove into a full polish line with 33 shades priced at $8.50 per bottle currently arriving at Sally Beauty stores with an additional 25 shades being released in May. Hand & Nail Harmony, the company behind soak-off gel polish specialist Gelish, premiered its new polish brand, Morgan Taylor, at ISSE. Morgan Taylor’s nail polishes are $8.50 each.

Explaining the brand, Alesia Lanzo, creative director of Morgan Taylor, said, “More women want new and exciting colors, and unique finishes, and they want them all year round.” She noted there are 20 different shades of purple and 12 glitters in Morgan Taylor’s debut assortment.