The grooming category looks a little grim.
In response to the current economic slump, many shoppers are stepping away from costly items like reusable razors and upscale pre- and post-shave potions. Consequently, sales of such pricey products are down.
Instead, they are purchasing more affordable alternatives. Disposables are increasing in popularity. So are low-end gels, creams and lotions, retailers told SN.
“The economy is having an effect in many areas,” Larry Ishii, general manager, GM/HBC, Unified Grocers, Commerce, Calif. “While many customers are trading down to less-expensive products in other categories, shaving is a very personal thing so there is greater likelihood that a given shopper will continue to purchase what they usually like and use.”
Ishii believes that consumers will begin watching for sales on such items. This, he said, is when retailers should include them in ads and offer manufacturers' coupons.
At Fresh Encounter, Findlay, Ohio, shoppers have been cutting back for about a year now. Eric Anderson, co-president for the chain, isn't too worried though. Expensive primping and preening items don't fare well in the local market most of the time anyway, he said.
“Our stores are in more rural markets, so high end for our typical shopper is Pantene,” he stated. “That said, there is still some trading down going on in the category.”
Retailers across the country are experiencing a slowdown. According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, reusable razor sales decreased 8.7% to $71.2 million in supermarkets, and sales of replacement blade cartridges were down 3.4% to $322.6 million during the 52 weeks ending Feb. 24.
Shaving cream sales also diminished 3.6% to $122.7 million during the same period. Disposable razors, on the other hand, were up 0.4% to $217.8 million.
With this low-end trend in mind, some retailers are pushing economical grooming items. Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer, for instance, recently ran a promotion on Bic Soleil that offered a $5.99 mail-in rebate upon purchase of one Soleil razor, Soleil Shimmer Handle or a four-count cartridge refill.
The retailer's own brands of disposable razors were also on sale at the time, including its men's triple-blade Optimal 3 and Comfort Pro, and Meijer Radiance for women. The private-label promotion was a buy-one, get-two-free offer.
The same week, Plumb's, a western Michigan, Spartan-owned chain, promoted several Gillette reusable razors. The manufacturer's Fusion line — including a manual razor, Power Phantom and power trimmer — were sold for $9.99. Gillette's Venus Breeze and Vibrance trimmers also were on sale at the same price.
Shoppers are typically drawn to the hottest new reusable razor, particularly when the economy is booming, said Anderson. Quattro was all the rage when it first hit shelves at Fresh Encounter a few years ago. Now, disposables are the chain's big sellers.
High-end razors are still popular, but more often than not, with sticky-fingered customers.
“I thought that our shoppers were buying a lot of [reusables], but after running a sales report, I realized that they were being stolen,” he said. “Now, we have to keep a close eye on them because we don't want to drop them behind the customer service counter. That would just cause us to lose sales.”
At a recent retailer roundtable involving Fresh Encounter and several other supermarkets, and sponsored by the National Grocers Association, Arlington, Va., the topic ultimately turned to pilferage. Participating chain representatives admitted not wanting to put razors and replacement blades under lock and key, but many felt it necessary to keep would-be thieves at bay, said Anderson.
Certain products are steady sellers at Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., according to spokeswoman Mona Golub.
“The hottest men's grooming trends in our stores remain with Gillette and Schick razors,” she said. She added that Bic Soleil sells better than any razor made by Gillette or Schick in the women's segment.
Razors aside, shoppers consider shave creams, gels, moisturizers and lotions pertinent parts of a proper grooming repertoire.
At Price Chopper, men prefer skin balms and face-conditioning products made by Nivea, whose shave cream for men experienced a rise in sales of 6% to $2.5 million during the 52 weeks ending Feb. 28, according to IRI.
“Our male consumers also like Old Spice aftershave, and virtually any type of shave gel with fragrance is popular among women,” said Golub.
Wild Berry and Melon Splash are two of Gillette Satin Care shave gel scents. Another item, Pure Silk shave gel, smells like coconut and oats.
Fresh Encounter's consumers prefer a mixed bag of items. Low-priced brands are steady sellers among both men and women. Lately, however, male shoppers have upped their interest in grooming products, and some buy entire lines of shaving and skin care products there.
“The metrosexual trend is still very much alive and well here,” Anderson said.
Indeed, men's grooming is still growing, said Ted Taft, managing director, Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn. Overall, though, the category still has low penetration, he said.
“A major way to expand usage among men is to sell companion products that link to activities such as shaving,” he suggested. Taft advises retailers to cross-merchandise razors with aftershave lotions, anti-aging moisturizers and other pre- or post-shaving products.
Retailers wanting to boost sales should also consider whom they're really selling to. Many people don't know that the female is the core purchaser of new skin products for men in their households, noted Taft. This should be addressed when creating promotions, he said.
Jerry Friedler, former nonfood executive and current Boston-based independent consultant, recognizes another misconception regarding men's grooming products.
“Not only do women make purchases for men, they tend to buy more grooming gift sets at Christmas rather than Father's Day when retailers might expect to sell more,” he said.
While shelves should be stocked for the upcoming dad-centered holiday, having too many on hand will result in unwanted overstock, he added.
Whether it's the looming recession or a simple shift in purchase patterns, Jodi Nelson, general merchandising manager of health and beauty for Orchard Markets, Spring Lake, Mich., has noticed a recent decline in the number of grooming products sold.
“We've seen a huge decrease in razor sales, probably because people can get them cheaper at Wal-Mart,” she said. “Even disposables have slowed.”
Razors that sell best there include Mach III and Fusion for men, as well as Soleil for women.
Low-priced shaving creams and gels always move quickly, especially when consumer goods makers come out with packages touting 30% more or bonus packs of razors attached, said Nelson. Barbasol and Edge top the men's segment at the retailer's two stores, and Satin Care is the favorite among female shoppers.
“Aftershave is another staple that we carry, but we never sell much because a bottle usually lasts several months,” explained Nelson. “We also move a lot of standard lotions like St. Ives and Suave, which aren't very pricey.”
In the future, Don Stuart, managing director, Cannondale Associates, Wilton, Conn., expects retailers to see an influx of natural offerings in the category.
“I think there will be more growth in natural products and organics,” he told SN. “Consumers are concerned not only about what they put in their bodies, but also about what they put on them.”
“It is still early for natural/organic items in this category,” said Ishii. “It is a more technical category, particularly with respect to razors, so the business in general has not gone toward natural/organic items in a big way yet.”