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Management Practices

Your Private Label Plan

Kelly Cison | July 10, 2011 | 12:31 PM

It’s not only celebrity hairdressers who are creating their own hair care lines. Starting from Paul Mitchell all the way through Philip Pelusi’s Phyto Life, Sam Brocato’s Brocato America and Jonathan Antin’s Jonathan line, stylists and salon owners everywhere have been putting their names on the bottle. It’s a way for salon professionals to extend the experience of their salon and validate their authority as beauty experts. It also builds
their brand image as well as their reputation. And it’s a way to have complete control over the design of a hair care line, much as they do their own salon.

“It was a lifelong dream of mine,” says Yuki Sharoni, owner of Yuki Sharoni Beauty & Lifestyle in Beverly Hills, California and the Yuki Sharoni product line. “It’s a completion of myself.”

It may be emotionally rewarding, but it’s  also a financial risk. And when you put your name on the bottle, you put yourself on the line. Are you ready to start your own hair care label? Read on for the map to private label success.

           

1. Find a Niche

Marco Pelusi was inspired by his family’s chain of hair salons and accompanying hair care line. He started out as a hair color trainer in one of their Pennsylvania locations, and eventually became a Framesi color trainer in California. Along the way he spent time talking with chemists and observing in labs. After opening his studio, he began his own line targeted toward color-treated hair.

Why did he feel the urge to start his own line? After toying with the idea for five years he decided he needed a line exclusive to his salon so that he would be branded “from beginning to end.” And as a dedicated colorist, he wanted to be sure that his clients were getting the best products they possibly could.

Now, he can be confident with his recommendations, he says. “I’m a colorist and this is what you need to maintain color. People who want and demand good color services have to have it.”

 

2. Add a Personal Touch

For Sharoni, his own line was an extension of his hair philosophy. He explains, “Being in the business for close to 30 years, and doing hair on a daily basis helped me understand what works and what doesn’t. I wanted to send the message across of beautiful, healthy hair.”

He says his research started with his childhood in Israel, observing what plants his mother and grandmother used in the old country—such as nettle, which is now used in all of his products—and combining that with today’s technology and lifestyle.

His nine products contain other natural ingredients like peppermint, eucalyptus, shea butter and vitamins A and E to counteract damaged and chemically-treated hair. “It was created to target anybody who is interested in healthy hair,” he says. But his real standout is the packaging—all the bottles are Y-shaped, as has been his logo for the past 20 years. “Like everything I do, I always look at everything from a different point of view.”

 

3. Bring in the Pros

One of the most well-known hairdresser lines is from Jonathan Antin, owner of two Jonathan salons in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. The scope of the launch and his recognized name caused him to enlist the help of Twist New Brand Venture, an “end-to-end brand incubator” that handled everything from the financing to product development to marketing and sales distribution.

Tina Hedges, who along with co-founder Beth Ann Catalano has a corporate background in the beauty industry, says, “We look at potential brand opportunities and how to make them successful. We have a one-stop shop
attitude and commitment to the projects we do. That’s why we were drawn to work with a celebrity stylist who has a dream and doesn’t know how to make that dream happen.”

Antin hooked up with Hedges and Catalano as he was about to start shooting his second season of his Bravo reality show “Blow Out.” Hedges says that within months of Antin’s manager contacting them, they had finalized an agreement and then launched the product.

The brand-making duo makes an important point in how competitive the celebrity endorsed product market has become. “In the past, celebrities could just put their name on their bottle and that sold the product. Now, it has
to be about results,” says Catalano. “Jonathan was very dedicated to building the best product possible.”

The point of difference in Jonathan products is sulfate-free shampoos, purified water and 100-percent vegan products. His philosophy is, “Simple hair and how to get there.” By that token, products are not categorized
according to hair type, but how an individual’s hair is feeling on any particular day—they are suitable for any hair type, and can be mixed and matched.

With their success, the Jonathan brand also just launched the first shower purification system with beauty claims, extending their brand out of the salon and into the hardware store.

 

4. Research, Research, Research

The chemist who helped Pelusi formulate his line was a family friend. Together, they sat down to brainstorm ideas, sample test products, and discuss what worked and what didn’t.Of their resulting products, Pelusi says his
Anti-Frizz Leave-In Conditioner is his signature product, repairing all hair textures without weighing the hair down. Clients have even called it “life-altering.”

But Pelusi and his chemist would not have found such success without testing products on real people, including his celebrity clientele, and constantly tweaking the formulas, from the textures to the fragrances, to get them right. “Clients have been my test market since the beginning,” he says. “They helped me decide what works and helped me to get there.”

 

5. Keep It Special

Most owners starting a line aren’t going to have mass-market distribution—but small scale means more personal involvement, and high-end buyers recognize and appreciate that. Sharoni has a small lab in California manufacture his products, while he provides the raw materials. “I played a big part in the formulation of each product,” he says.

While he carries the Kérastase line in his salon to give his clients more options, and has “total respect” for other high-quality lines, Sharoni for now is content with the limited reach of his own line, which is available at high-end beauty and lifestyle stores in California, Dallas and Chicago.

Explains Sharoni, “I might not have the resources of a huge company, but since I deal with hair on a daily basis, that’s my advantage—understanding how hair should look and what it needs.” He compares most mass-market hair care to mass-market eateries. “Unlike fast food chains, I would like to think of my products as gourmet shampoos, conditioners and stylers.”

 

6. Educate Your Sales Team

Carried by specialty retailers like Barney’s, Ulta and Sephora, the Jonathan line has tough competitors in the beauty arena, most likely sitting right on the next shelf. Will a customer wade past a sea of similar products to reach for a Jonathan shampoo?

Catalano and Hedges knew they needed to give the consumer a reason to do so, and the best way to get the message of the Jonathan line was through sales. Says Hedges, “Retailing can only be successful if people selling products are motivated to do so.” To get a sales team motivated, they have to know and understand what they are selling. Advises Catalano, “You need to educate reps about the philosophy of products. We were adamant the sales people were empowered and educated. We wanted them to make sure they knew they had Jonathan in a bottle and understood the point of difference.”

To complement the training, Twist New Brand Venture translates the message of the brand on the website and package design. “We put quotes on the packaging from Jonathan about how he uses the product.”

The technique is working, as Jonathan is expanding to 23 products, up from 19, by the end of 2006. “There should be no church-and-state between sales and marketing,” says Catalano. “Traditionally, they have been somewhat separate, but when you emphasize the connection between the two is when you start to see real results.”

 

7. Consider DIY Alternatives

Though Pelusi, Sharoni and Antin underwent a huge task to start their lines from scratch, easier options abound. One is Your Name Professional Brands, a leading manufacturer of private label professional salon products, including color cosmetics, skin care and hair care.

Senior Vice President Victoria Colangelo says the formulas they develop are high tech, botanically based, and come in a wide range of textures, formulas, packaging and shades that are constantly being updated. For example, one hot product is the company’s mineral-based cosmetics with new, on-trend shades for fall 2006.

The benefit to the salon owner? “We do all the work for you,” says Colangelo. That includes customized options as well as putting your name or logo on every product. Businesses ranging from medical spas, upscale salons and make-up studios have put their names on Your Name products.

Beyond the product, Your Name also offers merchandising tools such as modular display units, education manuals, shopping bags, make-up demonstration tools, face charts and educational workshops for retailers. This makes custom private label an affordable option for owners who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. And the return is great too. Owners buy products direct from the factory, and the typical markup is 400 percent, says Colangelo. You don’t have to be a math whiz to know that those are some beautiful numbers indeed.

 

8. Make it a Labor of Love

But it’s not all about the money, as proud private label creators know. Though the Jonathan line is forecasted to do more than $20 million in 2006, most lines don’t get those kinds of sales without the dedication and drive of the person behind it all. Says Pelusi, “I think that you really have to believe in it, to spend a lot of money upfront and be in it for the long haul. It can be extremely profitable, but if you’re committed, it’s much more profitable. If you’re not passionate, you might as well not even do it.”

Sharoni says that satisfaction really extends beyond monetary reward. “When I sell product I don’t look at the money. I would sell what works best for that client so that she’ll trust me and will come back for more,” he says.

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