Expert Advice

Texture Looks to Technology for Growth

Victoria Wurdinger | July 10, 2011 | 6:22 PM

The future of texture services lies in new technologies that solve color/texture compatibility issues. Already, they're appearing in the straightening business with the new Keratin treatments, which rely on keratin and flat-ironing to smooth locks without traditional chemicals-primarily, thioglycolate and sodium hydroxide. What's ahead for curly texture services remains to be seen.

Thio-based treatments show some global growth-particularly in Asia where what you can't have naturally-big hair with curl-is being embraced by the on-the-edge youth market. Where Harajuku style goes, others follow. In the UK, Superdrug, a leading health and beauty retailer, announced that April sales of home perming kits were up 50 percent on the same period in 2007. However, there are no expectations this will translate into significant salon numbers or hop the pond in a meaningful way. It all comes down to who's in your chair: the market is on the extreme ends of the age groups.

Big Picture
Chemical Curls
Hair Straighteners
Technology and Education


Big Picture 

According to Euromonitor International's 2008 report, the U.S. market for perms and relaxants fell by 17 percent between 2002 and 2007. Style trends favor modest growth in texturizers-primarily straighteners-over the next few years.

Professional Consultants & Resources' ( 2007 Professional Salon Industry Study reports that perms will grow by 6.7 percent between 2007 and 2012 to represent $192 million. That's a 1.3 percent annual growth rate. For the most part, these services represent younger women who never had a bad perm experience, the experimental set and older women who want a texture treatment to add volume to thinning hair.

Because women who are sold on texturizing are hard pressed to forgo haircolor, there may be some movement among perming dual-chemical clients back to the salon. Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm that tracks sales in supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers (excluding Wal-Mart), reports that in the 52 weeks ending April 20, 2008, sales of home perm kits fell by 21.35 percent, while home relaxers in grew by 1.85 percent. Total perm kit sales stood at $6,098, 323, while relaxer sales represented the bulk of the chemical business: $46, 527,570. The huge dollars in relaxers, coupled with the considerable fall in perm sales, brought the combined home perm/relaxer kit category down by 1.51 percent in dollar sales and 2.01 percent in unit sales.

At UK-based Diagonal Reports, which relies on a Global Salon Panel of upscale salons, research director Jacqueline Clarke writes via e-mail, "It is consistent in our research in different countries throughout the North Americas and Europe that demand for chemical texturizing/perms is low, ranging from ‘barely registers' to, at most, about 10 percent. Asia is different; there, demand is stronger."

Chemical Curls 

Throughout the U.S., the chemically derived curl is seeing some action in urban areas. Younger women who want to emulate Shakira or evoke Sarah Jessica Parker's Sex in the City locks are giving chemical texturizers a try. Siphoning off growth are thermal tools. In a modern twist, one technology trumped what could have been another's revival.

Notes Clarke, "The better alternatives to chemicals are the latest generation of ceramic hair irons, which are also lower priced and less damaging to hair. Ceramics are popular with stylists because they are faster and with consumers because they cater to big demand-versatility.

"Salons aware of the risk of double chemicals often refuse to perm colored hair or will only do so if the client signs a disclaimer. The fall in demand for texture services has also meant a skills loss. Stylists say they simply do not do enough perming to maintain their skills."

Other growth inhibitors involve consumer attitudes and lifestyles, and lack of product innovation. The natural/organic movement has created chemical phobia, although that goes out the window when women really want something, like hair color or Botox. Still, it has salons avoiding the "P word" in favor of softer-sounding descriptions, like temporary texturizing and volume boosters.

According to Clarke, European salon chains have adopted terms like "texture," "texturize," "demi-texture," "booster" and "softener." In France, one salon chain reported developing a new dictionary of terms, such as "soft curls" and "booster foam." Salons in Italy and the U.S. told Diagonal Reports they now refer to perming products as "softeners." Color needs usually come first, and dual services can mean double the time commitment. One salon visit for color and another for texture adds up to a three-hour visit every six to eight weeks, claims Clarke, which is a lot of time and money. Although perms will never be the dollar-generators they once were, it's product innovation that holds the real key to growth.

"The collapse in demand for perming/texturizing meant that product manufacturers invested little in development, at least in comparison with coloring," says Clarke.

Other forces affecting the texture business involve the economy itself. As costs rise, consumers go do-it-yourself or go without in favor of a single need, like hair color. According to the Professional Consultants & Resources' 2007 Salon Study, overall revenues for all salon services and retailing grew by 3.8 percent during 2007 to $65.26 billion and "the modest 3.3 percent growth in haircare service revenues is mainly due to lower numbers of salon visits for services, offset by higher service prices across all salon categories, as reported by salons-especially booth-rentals and some better salon chains across the US. Haircolor services with a 5.3 percent growth further buoyed growth, while perming and relaxing showed a slight 2 percent growth."

The report goes on to note that a weakening economy, industry dynamics and fashion trends, coupled with increased at-home styling, are major factors for low, overall growth in both service and product revenues.

Hair Straighteners 

About 60 percent of the world's population has varying degrees of natural curl. It's only part-and-parcel that women want what they don't have, and hair straighteners have been the beneficiaries. Often, the rise and fall in chemical straightening is style-based and cyclical. When ceramic and ionic flatirons emerged as market forces, straight hair became the trend but chemical straightening services fell. When thio-based treatments like Japanese Thermal Straightening burst on the scene, they had hoards of buzzing fans. It, too, came up against color compatibility issues, costly and time-consuming upkeep, and a movement toward altering textures day-to-day with thermal styling.

According to the Professional Consultants & Resources (PCR), traditional relaxing services had declined in 2006 due to trends toward braids and naturals but they saw a small growth in 2007. However, the PCR study notes, the demand for Japanese straightening-type services is waning.

Mintel International's Black Haircare U.S., June 2007 report notes that trends toward more natural styles, which avoid chemical-processing damage, have resulted in lower sales of relaxers. The report goes on to note that the use of permanents/relaxers among African Americans differs significantly from the most-used brands among the mainstream and other ethnic groups, in that black-specific brands dominate market segment. Still, only 20 percent of black female respondents said they buy black-specific hair products only, indicating the importance of mainstream brands to the market.

The Mintel report also notes that, "The total black hair care market is expected to grow 2 percent in constant dollars, yet the sectors forecast to see the largest declines by 2011 in constant dollars will be haircolor, relaxers and styling products. As with the mainstream market, trends in hairstyles drive product innovation and in turn, related sales. A continued trend toward more natural styles and the demand for less hair damage have resulted in lower sales in relaxers. Continued declines in relaxers, estimated to be the largest black hair care segment, have had a considerably negative effect on the overall market."

Mintel researchers stress that innovation in a mature market is important to growth. This could include gradual hair relaxers, which allow the user to apply them multiple times, to achieve in a gentler way, the level of relaxation desired.

Still, the significant  total dollars in relaxing are not to be overlooked. With more than 50 percent of relaxing product sales being made at beauty supply stores and no way to know if these sales are to consumers or independent contractors (who dominate African-American salons), it's an important market for any salon. With the new Keratin hair straightening treatments-which claim to be safe used over existing relaxers, perms and color-comes a salon-only advantage stylists shouldn't miss.  Diagonal Reports forecasts that flatironing is coming to an end, and new texture services will re-emerge, and that's just what's happening with Keratin treatments.

Technology and Education 

What's hot in salons has always come down to two things: trends and product innovation. One feeds the other. When runway shows feature undulating curls and waves, celebrities respond and consumers follow. When celebrities go sleek and straight, women bring out the flatirons and hair additions. Right now, there is no dominant trend, other than hair is going shorter. What's clear: Modern women want different style options every day.

Services that free consumers from servitude to either super curl or straight strands-and keep hair in tip-top condition-will be the ultimate future winners. Individuality paired with healthy hair is the goal of the moment.  For salons to meet the challenge, keeping up with what's new is a must. So, too is relearning the roots of texturizing treatments, since short of a wig, there's no miracle texture transformer down the pipeline that allows continual change-yet. The upside: The demand for creativity and professional skills is at an all-time high, as consumers seek out new ways to have it all, and change it again tomorrow.


Texture Looks to Technology for Growth

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