In Exclusives, Insight, People

We live in a multichannel world. Gone are the days of product brands defining themselves according to their distribution channel. Brands are where the consumer is, and follow her wherever she wants to shop: online, in-store, in-spa, even in pharmacies and drugstores. That is my reality, as the owner of Alchimie Forever, a skincare brand that has always been omni-channel (spa, retail, online).

The professional hair care channel remains an exception to this omni-channel reality. I know because I am married to a man who lives and breathes the professional hair care channel, and because this topic more often than not makes it to our dinner table.

At a recent dinner, when this topic once again came up, I turned to my husband Edwin H. Neill III, pulled out my computer, and conducted an official interview.

First, some background on Edwin—his grandparents, Abner and Harriett Neill, founded Neill Corporation in Louisiana in the late 1940s to distribute professional supplies to hairdressers. Over the next 70 years, the family-owned and -run company evolved to become a provider of business solutions for the salon industry, led by Edwin Neill II, a true industry visionary. Edwin Neill II and Debra Neill Baker started working with Horst Rechelbacher, the founder of Aveda, in 1979. Today, Neill Corporation is a leading distributor of Aveda products (exclusively so since 1991). Its family of businesses include SalonBiz (software), Paris Parker Salons (nine locations in Louisiana), Neill Fulfillment (hair extensions, brushes, and tools), Aveda Institutes (12 locations in seven states), and Serious Business (the leading salon industry business conference).

Second, some background on the professional hair care industry. In 2014, the total salon hair care services (beauty salons and barber shops) industry revenue (inclusive of both service and product revenue) totaled $20B in the US. Looking globally, this number grows to $160B (source: FirstResearch.com). Nothing to be trifled with.

I asked Edwin to share the key success factors for hair care brands focusing on the professional salon channel, and here is what he shared:

  • Know that your first customer is the hairdresser. Never get confused about that.
  • When you provide the tools and inspiration that the hairdresser needs to care for their guest, and when the hairdresser uses the products themselves (at home and in their salons), they will automatically recommend them to their guests.
  • Because hairdressers dig so deeply when they work with their clients, they will dig deeply with the brands they choose—more so than retailers. As a result, brand integrity (which is always a key to success) comes under even greater scrutiny in the salon channel.
  • You must have extremely strong education. Not just product education, but education that helps enhance the business of your customers—that helps enhance their salons.
  • A successful brand will enhance the service offering through product, so that the product drives the service component of the salon. Note that this is not an endorsement of professional-only products (which is initially how I interpreted this given my spa background, where professional-only products are a must).
  • You need a “cool factor.” Professional hair care has to have a relationship to fashion, current trends, and the way that people perceive themselves that puts them in a positive light.
  • The brands that are successful always have a personality, person, or people that the industry can relate to, follow, and aspire to become. Vidal Sassoon is an iconic example of such a personality and thought leader.
  • Needless to say, the products have to perform in a professional environment, meaning that the products enhance the look that a stylist is creating for her guest.

 

What not to do:

  • Don’t create a perception of channel conflict through diversion or mass. No hairdresser wants to feel like they helped to build a brand that became disloyal to them.
  • Don’t focus on the consumer to the detriment of the stylist.
  • Never fail to innovate—excitement is what drives the stylist to continue to make the recommendation. Don’t forget hair is the fashion industry.
  • Don’t commoditize your brand. No professional hairdresser wants to recommend a mass product.

 

Why is the professional hair care industry such an opportunity for brands?

  • It is the only “brick and mortar”-type location that most consumers have to visit every four to eight weeks.
  • Because the relationship between the stylist and her guest is so based on trust, the guest of a great stylist will use whatever her stylist recommends.

 

As I put my computer away and our entrées arrive, Edwin has two last things to add:

  • Robots / AI will not ever perform haircuts or color services.
  • The omni-channel opportunity is to figure out a way that the guest can purchase his professional products whenever and wherever he wants, while the salon, stylist, and distributor benefit from that purchase.

 

Dinner is served. Bon appétit!

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