Bertrand Fontaine joined L’Oreal in 1995. Prior to joining SalonCentric as president a year ago, Fontaine managed L’Oreal’s Professional Products Division (PPD) brands in France and led PPD in the U.K. and Japan. Since joining SalonCentric, he has visited 26 of the 48 states in which SalonCentric works. Fontaine has recently completed the SalonCentric Synergy Program which included a conversion of the SalonCentric national operating system, as well as operational consolidation. In this interview, Fontaine shares that his focus is on contributing to the success of the beauty professional and on making their salon a destination of choice.
MS: What changes and challenges do you see in the salon market?
Fontaine: It’s not specific to the U.S. but the major new change in the market since the global crisis is that women have been spacing their salon visits and now we are, on average, seeing them every eight weeks so only six visits a year and that is a big change. Salons’ customers are far more demanding and the market is more volatile. Salons are used to having faithful customers but now people move around and don’t become regulars. But a threat can be an opportunity and our challenge, now, is to be attractive again, as an industry. We are in a new stage where we have to reinvent the services and reinvent what a salon is today. You see salons moving to becoming total beauty centers and salons making an effort to create a beautiful intimate décor and experience.
MS: What are your thoughts on reaching the booth renting hairdresser?
Fontaine: I am new to this market but I know we need to look at the growth of salon suites and booth renters. And if you are a booth renter, you are less likely to be visited by a sales representative so there is a risk that you’ll be less connected to the brands and to the education that they offer. That is why I started SalonCentric’s Shop & Learn program, which enables licensed beauty professionals to visit SalonCentric stores and hear from their favorite brands, learn what’s new and get access to the education they need. The hairdressing industry is about skills and skills cannot exist without continuous education to sharpen the skills, to stay on top of new trends and new techniques. This is a central point of the SalonCentric store network, not just to provide products but also education. Today, we have nearly 200 stores that are fully equipped with an education studio.
MS: SalonCentric now offers online shopping for licensed professionals through an ecommerce channel.
Fontaine: We just launched business-to-business e-commerce. You register with your license and it is another way for all licensed beauty professionals to find products and education online. We have videos, product reviews from other stylists, how-to-use education and much more.
A lot of people buy one product and never buy it again because they don’t how to apply it or the product was not right for their hair. You must have a professional who can advise on the use of these products. I think that, maybe, in the past we have been talking too much about asking hairdressers to sell products and we know this is not what they like to do. I believe they are good at talking about products: why they like it, why they feel their hair needs it, here is why I am applying the product to you. When I was in the UK, I told hairdressers, don’t sell, just talk. Help your customer.
MS: What category sees the most growth?
Fontaine: Quite clearly, color is still the growing category. That is for sure. Nails has been growing a lot but we are catching up. More and more salons will be beauty centers to provide everything they need—skin, brows, etc.
MS: Please talk about your participation at trade and beauty shows.
Fontaine: There is always the danger for these to become a fair and just about making deals but I think the main purpose of shows is, again, education and that is a philosophy that we adopted with the SalonCentric shows. For me, the shows are also a moment for the community of hairdressers to connect. They can often be quite isolated because it’s difficult to exchange information and talk about improving your business with a shop next door because a salon’s business model is very unique. They need a place to come to talk to each other. We are committed to keeping the focus on education at our shows and to making them more interactive, interesting and attractive.
MS: What has made an impression on you as you have visited SalonCentric stores and U.S. salons?
Fontaine: What is always striking is this entrepreneurial drive I see in America. Every time you talk to a stylist here, they are full of energy, full of plans for projects. In Europe, the market is difficult and hairdressers get depressed but this energy in the U.S. market is just amazing. There is a very interesting movement on; you can see that people are reinventing salons, rediscovering barbering and inventing new services.
MS: What can we expect from SalonCentric in 2015?
Fontaine: In the last two years, we have been going through a massive transformation and 2015 is when things will be ready. We’ve made tremendous progress in our transition. We will be focusing on the customers and we will provide what they need: for their products to be delivered on time and, of course, providing quality education. We are much more than a distributor.