13603 Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:30pm
By David Gill
Personal care products manufacturers will look for new ways to raise the bar on design and innovation in 2008, as they seek to grow sales in what has become a highly competitive industry.
That the heat is on personal care product manufacturers became evident earlier this month, when Helen of Troy released its financial numbers for its fiscal third quarter. The company’s sales slipped by 1.4 percent in the quarter. “Our personal care segment is facing a challenging sales environment, which we anticipate will continue at least through the first half of the  calendar year,” said Gerald Rubin, chairman, president and chief executive officer, in a Webcast to financial analysts following the release of Helen of Troy’s third-quarter numbers.
More specifically, Helen of Troy said many of its retail customers suffered from a slowing down in same-store sales, which spurred them to reduce inventories in their pipelines. In addition, sales of grooming and wellness appliances slipped, and other manufacturers expanded their product-line offerings in both categories.
Yet Rubin held out hope that business in personal care products would improve this year. “I would say that our business is competitive, but it is also very steady,” he told the financial analysts. “We have not lost any market share … so we are looking forward to a better year coming up because of a lot of the new products that we have.”
Based on what other manufacturers see for 2008, new products, design and innovation will play just as powerful roles in determining the industry’s health this year as they did in 2007.
Shannon Jenest, senior manager of public relations for Philips Consumer Lifestyle, described 2007 as a watershed year for innovations in a number of personal care products, including men’s shavers and electric toothbrushes—and 2008 will see vendors continue to strive for the new. “There’s still more room for design and innovation in 2008,” Jenest said, “and not only for the sake of design and pleasing aesthetics. With grooming products, it’s the marriage between design and innovation that makes the products work better.”
Design and innovation have taken on added performance for the industry, given the fact that the U.S. economy is headed for a lag period and consumer spending may suffer as a result, according to Fred Koeller, vice president of marketing for Andis Co. “Both will be important, especially in a marketplace with a tighter economy,” Koeller said. “Design and innovation can provide compelling stimulus to purchase when real and understandable benefits can be communicated to the consumer.”
Koeller also believes that consumers will show an enhanced interest in professional-grade grooming products in 2008. “There will be a growing awareness and concern about daily styling practices and their effect on sustaining healthy hair,” he said. “Consumers will become familiar with the technology being promoted, and will work out what works and what does not.”
Stacey DeFelice, senior public-relations coordinator for Conair, cited the demand for professional-grade appliances as a trend to watch this year. “The hot trend is supplying the masses with professional-quality items available at retail stores, and making styling appliances that all coordinate,” DeFelice said.
One of the Conair entries into this trend is the Infiniti Nano Silver program, which was introduced last summer. This line includes a ceramic styler, a 1-inch straightener, a 1.75-inch straightener and rollers with a cord reel. As DeFelice stated, all of the items in the line are color-coordinated in white and silver.
How personal care products are merchandised by retailers is another item on the vendors’ watch list for 2008. “We think there’s room for growth here,” Philips’ Jenest said. “We need to prove that personal care is a full-year category. In terms of men’s shavers, retailers think that Father’s Day and the holidays are the only key periods. But these items are birthday gifts as well, and birthdays happen all year.”