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Dr. Miracle’s Take on Acne

A pretty black woman with out-of-control hair screams into her mirror that she needs a new hair treatment.

NEW YORK — A pretty black woman with out-of-control hair screams into her mirror that she needs a new hair treatment. An arm pops out of the mirror with a box of a Dr. Miracle’s product — her hair is saved and so is the ethnic hair care industry.

That’s the hope of Brian K. Marks, partner, president and chief executive officer of Dr. Miracle’s, an ethnic beauty care company founded four years ago. The scene described above is from one of several commercials airing on BET that have helped build a following for the line, which will soon include an acne kit.

Many ethnic companies are now owned by megafirms, such as L’Oréal and Alberto-Culver Co., and those companies are often pumping the majority of their efforts into general market products, according to buyers. Sensing a need, Marks — who had founded and sold other ethnic brands, including African Pride — prowled the market for a unique positioning. “I was very intrigued with lines such as PerriconeMD Cosmecuticals, DDF and Murad,” he recalled. His eureka moment came with the idea to create a physicians-style line of ethnic items. He created the Dr. Miracle’s persona and launched with five stock-keeping items in the hair care category. Next month, the company will break into a new category, skin care, with the debut of My Goodbye Acne System.

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With the clinical positioning, Marks wanted the products to offer something different from the competition. The company’s chemists discovered ingredients to create a tingling “feel it” sensation, which is a component of all items. The full line currently consists of 25 items such as a no-lye relaxer, a leave-in treatment, styling foam and dandruff shampoo.

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As with many ethnic items, the initial launch was into beauty and barber supply stores, but the line eventually achieved distribution at Sally’s and Wal-Mart. Using the power of TV with quirky commercials, Dr. Miracle’s built a following. Today, it is estimated the company spends more than $2.5 million in TV advertising for hair and put $1.2 million behind the acne launch — a big budget for a small firm.

The ethnic hair care business has always been one of opportunities and challenges for mass merchants. In particular, sales rise and fall with what is in as far as black hairstyles. For example, perm sales are off 6 percent, according to ACNielsen data for the 52-week period ended Aug. 9 (excluding Wal-Mart), as consumers seek sleeker hairstyles. That has hurt the entire category in which sales are down 5.9 percent to $84 million from $89 million, according to ACNielsen. Marks hopes to reverse the downward trend by delivering products that help convert more shoppers to drug, food and discount stores while also offering them items that are not linked to hairstyles. For the past 10 years, mass marketers have been trying to build a following and prove to multicultural shoppers that they don’t need to shop only beauty and barber supply stores.

Also, he’s trying to bring some sense to merchandising of the ethnic category, which is merchandised and even purchased in widely varying ways by different chains. Some chains buy the category on a direct basis; others rely on jobbers. Merchandising is key behind Dr. Miracle’s latest expansion into skin care with the acne system. Buyers struggle with whether to place the product with other skin care items or within an ethnic skin care set. With My Goodbye Acne, Marks suggests blocking it with the existing Dr. Miracle’s line.

To help draw attention, Marks and the team created a shelf talker with a red blinking light to signify a pimple. He said African-American consumers have specific needs when it comes to acne medications. The three-step preventative acne solution starts off with an exfoliating cleanser, followed by a tone-balancing toner and finally a tingling repairing lotion to kill acne and blackheads before they start. “Women of color actually have oily skin on their face and dry skin on the body,” he said.

For the future, he hopes to enlarge the line with more skin care items, especially treatment. He would like to further help retailers get more business in ethnic by offering sampling in stores. “I’d love to see an area in stores where our representatives can offer samples,” said Marks. “Our customers have an emotional connection to our products and we want to get into as many hands as we can.”

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The battle for Longs Drug Stores Corp. appears to have come to a close with the drug chain declining to enter into discussions with Walgreen Co. about a possible takeover by the company. Longs stated the company still recommends shareholders accept CVS Caremark Corp.’s bid. Just when it seemed all obstacles had been cleared for CVS to take over Longs, Walgreens offered to buy the chain for $2.7 billion. From a beauty standpoint, both chains would love to get the Longs stores, which are strong in beauty merchandising.