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What makes a hair care brand “professional”? And whatever that is, does it make a professional brand “better”? Do personality-based brands, or brands associated with a particular hairstylist or salon, have more appeal to the consumer? Here’s what I can contribute to unlocking some of the secrets to the success that many professional hair care brands experience—and the real reasons many do not experience such success.
Professional hair care brands are conceived with the intent to distribute their products and educational systems through licensed professional salons and spas. They combine stylists’ daily use in concert with professional consultations and recommendations of the proper personalized product regimen for each client, who then has the decision on whether to purchase the product. This type of salon product purchase can help complete the cycle for clients to maintain salon-similar styles and healthy hair at home.
Salon professional brands, which include hair care and styling lines, are usually divided into two categories.
Based on a Professional Personality
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The first professional brand category is usually based around a highly respected hairstylist (a personality) in the professional salon community or around a unique concept salon. The ideal profile in most cases is a stylist who either owns a prominent salon with a great reputation in a major city, or one that has already caught the eye of a beauty editor. In this scenario, editorial publicity is one of the key cornerstones of the visibility of the brand and identity with the consumer.
Haircutting and styling education for salon hairstylists usually goes hand in hand with this category of hair care brands and is seen as a benefit to the salon, as part of buying in to the brand. Loyalty from salon stylists dramatically increases the recommendation and endorsement of these products and sales to their respective clientele. Salon clients want expert advice and recommendations, and they deserve great performing products and the brand promise that comes with buying a professional brand in a salon.
Many of these well-intentioned hairstylists have a vision for their hair care brand’s success and, in many cases, have a nucleus of an idea for a new product that could potentially move the market in a new direction (think mousse and serums). The challenge here typically lies in their lack of business acumen and understanding of the real financial resources necessary to reach even a moderate level of success in the salon industry on their own.
That said, it does not seem like an unreasonable expectation based on history—several stylist-based brands have even been successful in the last 30 years in the professional beauty business. Many great brands have been born from independent talented hairstyling pioneers who had a vision based on their values and product quality and expectations. Most of them also have exhibited strong personal integrity, a real passion for hairstyling and the willingness to share their ideas with fellow stylists in an effort to contribute to the elevation of the professional salon industry as a whole. Think, Paul Mitchell’s Paul and John Paul DeJoria, Vidal Sassoon, Aveda’s Horst Rechelbacher and Matrix’s Arnie Miller, just to name a few. All of them have been real game changers in the salon beauty business.
Consequently, stylists with aspirations for their own hair care brand eventually approach or are contacted by a major beauty company in order to explore the concept of partnering on a brand. I can say that, from having been in some of these meetings, many candidates simply believe that if their name is put on the bottle, that salon clients and hairstylists will buy and support the products at the salon level, and that fame and fortune on QVC or HSN are just around the corner. Savvy marketing and brand managers know that this, in fact, is not the case.
But all is not lost—talent is talent, and when properly recognized and managed, both parties stand to win, as do their customers.
While the talent pool in this category is not very deep, there are some heroes in waiting who have tremendous commercial potential and a great presence. This is where the manufacturer and project brand managers need to spend time personally with the qualified candidates to understand their strengths and weaknesses.
This requires taking the time to understand the best way to maximize the talent and skill set in harmony with the brand strategy while making sure that both parties understand what is actually expected and is willing to commit to on paper. This will help alleviate the high maintenance concerns down the road, when dealing with professionals new to this type of business. Yes, they are the X factor for the brand and it requires patience, understanding and a real commitment from both parties for real long-term success, but it can be done.
Personality Brand Personified
As an example of someone in the personality-based hair care brand category, Oscar Blandi is a stylist and salon owner in New York, and he embodies all of the positive traits for the making of a first-class stylist-based brand.
Blandi raised his visibility with hairstylists across the U.S. by presenting at shows for a major manufacturer, but ultimately, he realized that his success would come from pioneering his own brand for the salons, salon owners and stylists he had meet along the way.
Blandi hails from a hairdressing family in Italy and was built for success from the very beginning—he believed in himself and his talents, and his personal reserve of energy was seemingly endless. His plan was always to create his own brand in his own image, which he did with a very progressive independent chemist that shared his vision for the highest-quality products for his clients.
But a funny thing happened on the way to professional salon distribution. Blandi’s salon clients bought his brand as quickly as he could make it, and he became a darling of the beauty editors. Why? Because he had something fresh to say about hairstyling to the editors and his brand was rewarded. While planning a roll out to salons, a relatively new player in the beauty distribution channel at that time—Sephora—came calling, After continued success in this retail channel, Blandi’s brand recognition level grew so dramatically that he was ultimately approached by a brand development company, and he is now sharing his passion for hairstyling around the world, and the Oscar Blandi hair care brand is poised for global expansion.
Advanced Research Brands
The second category in the professional salon market would be considered a standalone hair care brand inside of one of the many major worldwide beauty companies. These brands are based ongoing research, innovative technology, new raw materials (natural or engineered), new delivery systems, and/or new advancements in ingredient performance.
Unique packaging also plays a role in visibility and placement in a somewhat crowded salon retail field, and this type of brand may play that up. In fact, complementary in many cases for this type of brand is the fact that the products themselves can represent an entirely new salon service and revenue stream for professional stylists and salons. Think the Brazilian straightening method and its related services and products.
The excitement at the salons level is that consumers are being exposed to new and exciting ingredients that have taken a huge investment to bring to market, including ingredients like Dead Sea minerals, exotic oils and newly patented, age-defying compounds that enhance the overall health and longevity of the hair and perform in new ways that answer the evolving needs of professional hairstylists and their client’s expectations.
And although these brands aren’t associated with a certain personality or location, they are often well-known brands that have built up their brand trust and consumer loyalty after many years.
Being a Professional
The good news is that salon owners and discriminating stylists are supporting and benefitting from the efforts of both types of brands, professional stylist brands and professional advanced researched beauty brands. Both segments are working and investing more than ever in their areas of expertise. They are bringing the latest technologies to salons around the world, leading the charge back to salons for unique new service treatments and the latest trends in hair fashion education. And this can only be good news for the world of beauty at all levels.
George T. Eliades is executive director of Madison Avenue Beauty, LLC, a company dedicated to providing business development consultation and business resources for beauty professional sand their aspiring brands. With over 25 years in the professional salon and spa industry, Eliades’ experience includes working as a professional products distributor, and director of marketing and vice president of business development for L'Oreal Professionnel, as well as vice president of business development for Aveda and Unilever brand Tigi. Eliades also has served on the board of directors for the Beauty and Barber Supply Institute (BBSI), the predecessor of the Professional Beauty Association (PBA), as well as chairman of the North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA).