Sales of hair-coloring products are up across all classes of trade, and retailers have people -- men as well as women -- of all ages to thank.
Women entering middle age and beyond have always taken steps to hide their gray hair, but now, for a variety of reasons peculiar to their generation, aging male baby boomers are right there with them. And though a neon mohawk may still be taken as a symbol of social deviance, the sight of a teenager or young professional -- inspired by fashion, a TV sitcom or a music video -- with a lurid streak of red or subtle blonde highlights in her hair is a common one.
"Suppliers still go after the gray market, which has been the mainstay customer for these products, but they are gearing their products to a younger market, younger women who are interested in highlighting their hair," said Charles Yahn, vice president of general merchandise at Associated Wholesalers, York, Pa.
Gary Schloss, vice president of general merchandise for Carr Gottstein Foods, Anchorage, Alaska, agreed. "It looks like manufacturers are trying to broaden the market to younger women in their 20s and 30s," he said. "Our sales are doing very well, increasing at the rate of 8% to 10%."
Category-wide, sales increased by 9% to $1.1 billion for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 16, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Mass merchandisers matched the category growth rate of 9%, moving $403.7 million worth of hair-coloring products.
Drug chains, cited by suppliers and some supermarket retailers as the best merchandisers of the category, generated $483.2 million in hair-coloring sales, an increase of 7.7% from the prior-year period, according to IRI.
In terms of the pace of growth, however, supermarkets led the pack: their hair-coloring revenues rose 12.2% to a total of $217.7 million.
One reason for hair-coloring's rosy outlook is the introduction of high-quality, pricey and heavily promoted lines from major manufacturers.
One of the latest and most talked-about is L'Oreal's Feria, launched last month. Aimed at younger consumers, it is described by L'Oreal as a "multifaceted, multiethnic, multigender collection" designed for "women and men who are daring enough to be different" and carries a suggested retail price of $9.95 per application.
"Manufacturers have been moving their products to a higher end with more costly items like Feria, which we carry, and people are buying them," said Ray Wallace, nonfood director at Cub Foods' Georgia division, based in Lithia Springs.
Although L'Oreal, through Feria, is hoping to attract a certain fashion-minded segment of the younger male population, the overwhelming majority of men's hair-coloring purchases are made by older men who want to mask the effects of aging.
"In the last decade, [the men's market] has probably tripled, and it just keeps rolling," said Jim Kelly, vice president of marketing for Combe Inc., White Plains, N.Y., which makes Just For Men and Grecian Formula and controls an estimated 70% of the men's hair-coloring market. "Clearly, it's being driven by baby boomers, who are fighting age every step of the way. And with the high divorce rate, as men get back into the dating world, looking younger and more vibrant becomes more important."
IRI ranks Just for Men the fourth-largest hair-coloring brand, men's or women's. Sales were $70.1 million for the year ended Aug. 16, which represents a 12.5% increase from the year before and the highest growth rate of all the top brands tracked by IRI.
"Men's hair colorings are moving well," said Yahn of Associated Wholesalers. "Just For Men does well, and Grecian Formula has always sold well."
Cub Foods' Wallace said, "Men are more accepting about dying their hair these days and are no different than other consumers that buy these products to cover their graying hair.
"There is significant growth in men's, and, in some of our areas, Hispanic men are the No. 1 consumer for hair coloring."
Kelly said Combe's sales roughly break down as follows: 60% drug stores, 20% mass merchandisers and 20% supermarkets. "Drug is more sophisticated and has taken the category more seriously over time," he said.
Kelly praised drug chains especially for adopting a "men's grooming center" concept, in which all of a man's grooming needs are located in one department. This could serve as a model for supermarkets, which, he said, have yet to realize the sales potential of men's grooming in general and men's hair coloring in particular.
Steven Adler, president of Fiske Industries, Orangeburg, N.Y., which makes hair mascaras and paints for teens under its Fira Cosmetics brand, agreed that drug chains are at the forefront of the category.
"Drug is more receptive to new things and they know the numbers that can be reached," he said. "When it comes to fashion items, supermarkets are usually hesitant, which is probably a mistake because the markup and volume on a new fashion item are extraordinary."
Adler, whose company sells primarily through drug and mass but also has distribution in Pathmark Stores, Carteret, N.J., and Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif., urged supermarkets to take more risks in testing new products. "If they can find a way to run more tests, they'd feel more comfortable going with what works," he said.
Earlier this year Fira launched Freak Streaks, a line of body and hair paints in lipstick form, that it is promoting via ads in Seventeen and YM magazines, and on its Web site, firacosmetics.com. Adler said Fira expects to bring in between $7 million and $9 million in sales of teen hair-coloring products in 1999 alone.
"We've been increasing every year, and we expect to continue to increase," he said. "I don't think [teen hair coloring] has really started yet, but you never know with kids."