Byline: Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — One of the most famous names in hair is changing its style.
The 26-year-old Vidal Sassoon hair care line, which personal care giant Procter & Gamble acquired from Richardson-Vicks in 1985, has been a steady performer since it was purchased: According to Information Resources Inc., the line did more than $41.5 million in food, drug and mass market outlets last year.
However, you could say that it suffered from a bit of an image problem.
Sold in both mass outlets as well as the upscale Vidal Sassoon salons around the world, the 22-stockkeeping-unit line was focused on cleansing and conditioning. And red plastic packaging, low price points and a commodity image weren’t adding to the prestige of the brand.
“There was a disconnect between the upscale image of Vidal Sassoon salons and the product, even though the product line was sold in salons,” admitted Kevin Hall, global general manager for the brand at P&G. The name is owned by P&G, as is the product line, although the actual salon facilities are owned by a London-based firm. “The product line wasn’t living up to the fashion-forward styling image, and the Sassoon stylists weren’t happy with the styling options. So we decided to create a line that our salons could be proud of.”
Once that decision was made, P&G didn’t waste time.
Research and development experts called upon top Vidal Sassoon stylists and session stylists, including Nick Berardi, Elizabeth Hartley and Peter Gray. In addition, VS editorial director Eugene Souleiman, whose work has been been featured in Vogue, W and Harper’s Bazaar, has also consulted on the line. “We asked stylists what their dream lineup would be,” said D. Michael Wege, P&G’s Vidal Sassoon marketing director for North America. “We asked them which products would work best, and we went to our research and development team and got to work.”
“Our major focus was to create that dream lineup,” added Ravi K. Saggar, a P&G global product development manager for hair care. “We started with 70 products, trimmed that to 40 and from there came up with our final lineup. And we’re already working on what’s coming next.”
Last fall, P&G began testing the revamped collection in “learning markets” at mass market outlets in Colorado Springs and London. The items were also put into Vidal Sassoon salons.
And come this fall, not even the original name will be the same.
The revamped line will be called VS Sassoon, and the red packaging will give way to sleek black, white and silver with muted pastel metallics. Formulations will be completely updated, and there will be 31 sku’s in the line, as compared to the current 22.
The new line is based on a three-step process: cleansing, which includes shampoos and conditioners; style, which includes styling balms and specialty sprays; and finish, which includes polishing drops and hair sprays.
Each package also includes detailed styling tips, including recommendations on choosing the right products and instructions on transforming the “hair you have” to the “hair you want.”
“We took a look at who we were driving away,” said Hall. “There is a large group who wants to buy upscale products at the mass market. In the past, we as an industry were creating a commodity market with the old types of mass hair products, both in pricing and in packaging. We weren’t offering the products that they needed, so this group was going elsewhere to buy products.”
The VS Sassoon line will ship in late August for an early-September on-counter date and will be available in full distribution — about 60,000 drugstore, mass market and foodstore doors, including CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid. It will initially be available in the U.S. and the U.K.
And there’s the pricing issue.
Following the Physique school of pricing, the price points of the VS Sassoon line represent a sharp increase over the old ones — $5 to $12, as opposed to the $3 to $5 of the original line. But Hall said he isn’t worried. “From our market testing, we know that the market can handle it,” he said. “We believe that this line will draw new people; there will be new consumers buying it who have been waiting for something like this. In our tests, most who bought the older line said that they’ll also buy this one. Yes, there will be some users in our current franchise that won’t adjust to the price increase, but we believe that we’ll pick up so many more consumers that we’ll be able to offset any loss.”
Initially, the items will be merchandised together on freestanding display units — fashioned of wood in black and cherry tones — that include flip books instructing consumers on the optimal uses of the products. Within a year, the products will be moved to an on-shelf display — where, like Physique, they will be displayed together — and the freestanding units will quietly go away, although the instructional books will remain.
While Hall wouldn’t comment on the projected first-year sales, he said that they will be considerable. “It’s a sizable brand that goes across styling brands, and we believe it will be one of our larger brands,” he said. “It won’t be the size of Pantene, but we expect it will be in the top five brands in the category, and we will support it very strongly.” Sources estimate that it could do $80 million or more at retail, roughly double last year’s volume.
Hall also declined to comment on the planned advertising budget. “We intend to build VS Sassoon as a totally new, modern, fashionable line. This new line gives us a strong branding device, and we will put significant support behind establishing it.” Industry sources estimated that P&G would spend $20 million or more on the campaign, which will break in September and will include both television and print advertising. It will also include outdoor teaser ads and a Web site that will include links to e-tailers like PlanetRx.com, drugstore.com and CVS.com.
“The Internet will also play a strong part in the development of this brand,” said Hall. A teaser version of the site is already up. By leaving their information at vssassoon.com, consumers register for free samples.
Analyst Douglas Christopher, who tracks P&G’s business for Crowell Weedon in Los Angeles, is optimistic about the future of the brand. “When you look at what P&G does strategically, it makes perfect sense,” he said. “In many ways it’s about looking internally at how they can leverage existing products. At P&G, you don’t have to reinvent the world, but you do have to have exciting, effective products. While the company has created a big splash this year with Physique, we’ve also seen it in past years successfully repackage and refocus a variety of brands, including Pantene, Oil of Olay and Tide. Over the last several years, P&G has mainly managed Vidal Sassoon for profitability. Now, they’re going to create excitement with it.”