ETHNIC’S INCREASED STRENGTH
Byline: Julie Naughton
NEW YORK — What a difference a few years can make.
Five years ago, the ethnic hair care category consisted primarily of small hair care companies that marketed products to a fragmented segment of the market.
These days, large companies — realizing the importance of the category — are investing more deeply in this segment of the market.
“Instead of having nine smaller players, you now have about three major companies that control them,” said Jolorie Williams, senior product manager of Clairol’s Textures & Tones brand. “That isn’t a bad thing — it’s bringing more research-and-development money and marketing dollars to the category, which will help the category continue to grow.”
The buying game began during the summer of 1998, when — within a 2 1/2-month period — Cosmair bought Soft Sheen, Revlon bought African Pride and Carson Products bought Dark & Lovely. It has picked up again in the last five weeks — when Carlos Colomer, head of the Colomer Group, signed an agreement on Feb. 19 to buy Revlon’s ethnic and professional brands, then when Cosmair signed an agreement on Feb. 28 to buy Carson, and most recently when Alberto-Culver announced on March 13 that it would buy Pro-Line Corp.
“Cosmair believes in the ethnic hair care market and is committed to the African-American consumer,” said Guy Peyrelongue, president and chief executive of Cosmair, in a statement.
“The African-American market is growing in both size and purchasing power,” added Howard B. Bernick, president and ceo of Alberto-Culver, which already owns two ethnic lines, TCB and Motions. “We’re pleased to be able to add to the depth of our lines with Pro-Line.”
The interest from large companies doesn’t surprise Amy Hilliard, senior vice president of marketing for Soft Sheen. “Companies that are looking for continued growth continue to realize that they had long been underrepresenting an important category,” said Hilliard.
In fact, some “mainstream” companies are finding that growth in this category is keeping pace with — or in some cases exceeding — the growth in traditional hair care categories.
“According to recent research figures, the African-American community — which constitutes 12 percent of the population — spends over $1.7 billion on hair care products,” said Williams. “African-American consumers account for about 30 percent of all hair care products sold. We are talking about a very valuable consumer. Our research figures show that on average, the African-American women spends three times as much on her hair as a Caucasian woman does.”
These figures include sales in both the retail and professional hair care markets, Williams said.
Unlike the traditional hair care market — where retail brands are sold in consumer outlets and professional brands are limited to salons — most major ethnic brands are available in both salon and mass retail distribution.
According to Williams — whose Textures & Tones brand moved into mass doors this year — that is because the process of growing a successful ethnic hair care brand differs slightly from building a successful mainstream counterpart.
“In the African-American community, a stylist is seen almost as a doctor for the hair, and their advice is seen as law,” said Williams. “To have a successful brand anywhere in the ethnic segment, you have to gain the confidence of the stylist first. “
That is why Clairol, which launched Textures & Tones in fall of 1998, chose to introduce the line to salons first, she said. “We knew that we also eventually wanted to be at mass with Textures & Tones, but saw this as our best growth strategy,” she said.
This distribution strategy also applies to the ethnic color market, Williams explained. In the mainstream hair color market, there is a sharp division between professional-only color and home hair color.
“In the ethnic market, you see no such division,” Williams said. “A few salon-only lines do exist — like Mizani [a Soft Sheen-owned brand] and Dudley’s — but it’s also very common to see boxed hair color available to consumers also used for services in ethnic salons.”
That may be because African-American hair is generally very fragile, explained Hilliard. A major difference between mainstream salon-only and over-the-counter hair color lines is in the level of chemicals like ammonia. “These days, most ethnic lines contain little or no ammonia, so as not to break fragile hair,” she said.
In fact, these new, gentler, ammonia-free color formulas are actually helping to drive growth in the ethnic color market, said Jeanne Matson, senior vice president and general manager of Clairol Professional. “In the past, the fear was that relaxers and colors together would break African-American hair, due to the level of chemicals and the fragility of the hair,” she said. “We decided to address those concerns with Elasticom, a proprietary ingredient that offers extra moisturizing properties, and we do not use ammonia in our hair colors.”
Top vendors in the African-American hair color segment, according to industry tracking firm Information Resources Inc., include Cosmair, which owns Soft Sheen and has agreed to buy Carson; Clairol, and the Colomer Group, which bought Revlon’s ethnic brands — including African Pride and Creme of Nature.
And according to Hilliard, the African-American color business will continue to grow. “Hair color is now and will continue to be incredibly important going forward,” said Hilliard. “It’s been there all along, but more and more African-American women are getting into the market these days. They are using these products for more than just gray coverage; they are also embracing the fashion options that hair color offers.”
Textures & Tones’ latest color additions were a dark brown, a dark bronze and a plum shade, introduced last October. “We’re seeing the biggest growth in reds and blonds right now,” said Williams. Style trends in the ethnic market will also continue to drive growth for color, said Veron Charles, a member of Clairol’s Team Synergy. Team Synergy is a group of six African-American stylists who helped Clairol Professional to develop Textures & Tones. Clairol regularly consults the group concerning proposed line extensions.
“The one-color look is out,” he said. “Going forward, there will be lots of dimension to hair color, rather than the bold, one-color effect that has been popular. This look can be very bold, using three or four varying shades, or subtle, using only two shades to give darker or brown hair a considerable amount of depth.”
Relaxers also claim a significant portion of the ethnic hair care market. In fact, according to Hilliard, relaxers, relaxer care maintenance products and hair dressing products like pomades claim about 40 percent of the ethnic market.
According to Williams, 85 percent of African-American women relax their hair — and this one product category accounts for more than 35 percent of the total hair products sales in the ethnic market. “That’s a category that isn’t going away,” she said.
Conditioners also account for a significant part of ethnic hair care sales, added Matson. “Ethnic hair is significantly drier than Caucasian hair,” she said.
Top conditioning brands, according to IRI, include Bronner Bros., an African-American specialty hair care company based in Marietta, Ga.; the Colomer brands of African Pride and Creme of Nature, and Alleghany Products, whose LustraSilk brand claims 40 percent of its business in the ethnic market.
Hilliard also sees growing opportunities in the ethnic market for frizz-taming products, particularly for Soft Sheen’s Frizz Free line, introduced in late 1998. “While other frizz control products exist in the mainstream market, Frizz Free is specially formulated for African-American women with relaxed hair,” said Hilliard. “It is a technology-based line of remedy products, rather than an image-driven brand.” The line includes Frizz Free Anti-Frizz Serum and Moisturizing Gel Serum, both of which control hair without adding grease, said Hilliard.
Alberto-Culver plans a heavy-duty international expansion effort for all three of its ethnic brands and will restage its TCB line — sold at the mass market and in beauty supply stores — over the next four months, said Bernick.
Five years down the line, Williams believes, the ethnic market will add additional men’s and teens’ hair color and hair care lines, mirroring the growth that the traditional hair care and color segment has seen in these categories. “You’ll see lines for teens, who don’t necessarily want to be using their mother’s hair color,” said Williams. “You’ll also see a further emergence of the men’s category, which is already happening in the traditional hair care market.” Hilliard said that in the overall ethnic beauty category, men’s grooming is about 6 percent, while shampoo adds 4 percent, hair color 5 percent, and color cosmetics 21 percent.
Matson sees big opportunities for sophisticated marketing campaigns. “I think more companies will begin moving further into event marketing and Web site marketing and will be spending more on promotional efforts,” said Matson.
In fact, Matson plans to put her money behind her convictions: She said that Clairol will also reorganize its sales force in April to focus more attention on the Textures & Tones brand. “We recognize that education still has to be a big part of getting the word out on this brand, and we are committing more people to help grow this very important market,” she said.
Matson said that new additions to the brand will be launched within the next year, although she declined to offer specifics.
Soft Sheen will launch a new hair maintenance line and more color products later this spring, said Hilliard. The company is also continuing work on what is said to be the first research and development center devoted to African-American hair. The company will open the facility in 2001, said Hilliard.
“We believe it will be a bellwether for the future, helping to create exciting new products and helping us to generate educational materials for professional stylists and consumers,” said Hilliard.