Byline: Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — Can yet another upscale British hairdresser find happiness in American drugstores?
Judging by Umberto Giannini, yes.
The salon owner — who joins countrymen John Frieda and Charles Worthington on the class-meets-mass hair care shelves in drugstores — doesn’t see it as a problem that he’s selling products for $5.99 to $9.99, yet charging upward of $400 for a haircut at one of his upscale London salons. In fact, he’s convinced that he’s exactly in the right place. “Most professional hair care lines charge people too much,” he said cheerfully. “I can offer the same quality for a lower price point.”
But Giannini, whose first three hair care collections hit American drugstores in October, admits that he originally thought he’d sell professional-only products. In fact, he learned product development while working as a creative artist for Schwarzkopf, the German product manufacturer that produces both professional and retail hair care and body care products. “It was an amazing experience — I knew what types of effects I wanted, but Schwarzkopf taught me to work with raw materials,” he said. “I knew exactly what I wanted hair products to do, and I felt up to the challenge of creating my own.”
So he did. Three lines, tied to the most common hair concerns of his clients, formed the initial rollout: the Sleek and Chic collection, designed to make hair smooth and straight, with nine stockkeeping units; Big and Beautiful, a volumizing collection, with six sku’s, and Urgent Repair, designed for color-treated hair, with five items. Each is built on skin care principles, both in their formulations — which include skin care ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids — and in their philosophies. “In skin care, you cleanse your face, put moisturizer on, then put on foundation and powder. Our hair care ranges operate on the same principles. You cleanse your hair, moisturize it with conditioner, add a foundation — like a styling spray — and finish with a serum, hair spray or wax.” The bottles — clear plastic cylinders with silver-toned tops — were custom-designed for Umberto by artist Robin Derrick, who is also the art director of British Vogue.
Giannini is currently working on two new ranges, both of which will launch within the next year.
The first, a seven-sku collection for curly hair called Curl Friends, will launch in June in the U.K. It will likely be launched in the U.S. by yearend. And in September, Giannini will roll out a second seven-sku range called Gunk in the U.K. to Boots the Chemist stores. “Boots actually came to me with this idea,” he said. “They wanted a youth range, something that would be appropriate for those from 14 to 30 years old. We’re doing funky styling products with this one.” It is slated to come to the U.S. in the spring of 2001.
Soon after the products launched in Britain two years ago, Giannini approached Gary Rosenthal and Maribeth Cleary, the husband-and-wife team owners of the Chicago-based marketing firm Marketex, about bringing them to the U.S.
“We were initially a little skeptical,” remembered Rosenthal. “There were already a number of British hairdressers doing product lines, so we wanted to move slowly. We explained to Umberto that we’d want to do a full-scale advertising and public relations effort, and get it into a whole bunch of doors.”
Rosenthal and Cleary’s first-year plan targeted 9,000 drugstore and mass market doors and $10 million in wholesale sales. “We’ve already surpassed that,” Rosenthal said, adding that the collection is now in 17,600 doors — including Walgreens, Eckerd and Cosmetics Plus — and is on target to do $15 million in wholesale sales by yearend. Next year, Rosenthal said, he hopes to do at least $22 million wholesale. “We’ll have the two new lines in place by then, and if they do as well as the others do, we can make that goal,” he said. He’s also set to move into new drugstore doors: The range launches in Rite Aid in July and CVS in September.
Rosenthal thinks that although the products are good, the timing was even better. “Procter & Gamble did this industry a huge favor by coming up with Physique,” he said, referring to the consumer products giant’s upscale hair care line, which rolled out in January. “By spending $100 million-plus on advertising and by introducing a higher mass-market price point for hair care, P&G is raising the bar with Physique; they’re training the consumer to spend more. Some people see everyone else in their price point as an enemy. I don’t. I hope Physique does incredibly well because it will help everyone else in the category.”
While he doesn’t have Physique’s ad budget, Rosenthal said he’ll spend more than $5 million on print advertising for Giannini’s line by yearend. “We started doing full-page print ads in Allure before we even had shelf space,” said Rosenthal. “We saw it as a commitment to the brand.”
While Rosenthal and Cleary work to promote his products Stateside, Giannini’s dreaming up more items to be sold. He’s currently creating a hair accessories line, which will launch in Boots in September. And he is working with Boots executives to design in-store Umberto Giannini salons. The first two will open in Britain in January 2001, with the aim to do as many as 200 within the next several years.
Giannini is still keeping one hand in the professional products market, however. He has just sold the formulas to a 35-sku hair care line called Osis — the letters stand for Only Sold In Salons — to Schwarzkopf, for whom he still occasionally consults. According to Giannini, the first 12 sku’s will launch in Berlin in October.