In a more normal world, indulgence and relaxation often comes in the form of a visit to a salon or spa. But when those establishments shut their doors at the start of the pandemic, self-administered pampering became the only option.
It was good news for brands that create products that replicate the salon or spa experience at-home, such as keratin treatments, hair dyes, manicure or pedicure kits and more. Just like loungewear labels, these brands saw a near-immediate pandemic boost and they’re still reaping the benefits. Hair dye brand Bleach London saw its online sales rise by a whopping 600 percent in 2020, while Olive & June, which launched its at-home manicure kit in 2019, saw its 2020 sales grow 16-fold compared to the year prior. It also brought the launch of new products, like an at-home pedicure kit from Olive & June and entirely new brands, like Gussi, which began selling its at-home keratin treatment in January.
“Alongside making banana bread and a Zoom quiz, everybody seemed to be dyeing their hair a fantastical colour for the first time while they were in lockdown,” said Bleach London co-founder Alex Brownsell. “We were really here for that.”
But now, salons and spas, which have closed off and on since the spring of 2020, are reopening, perhaps for good. In many places, vaccinated customers don’t even need to wear a mask.
That reopening brings renewed competition for brands that capitalised on at-home beauty. Now, as their next chapter poses a fresh challenge, businesses are set to shift from marketing themselves as a replacement for salon services and instead as a complement to them, a positioning that will help retain consumer interest even with professional services available once more.
“Some people returned to the salon as soon as they could, but I think we are going to see a lingering tail of growth for these categories,” said Tiffany Hogan, principal analyst, beauty and apparel at Kantar. “There [are] opportunities to continue connecting with people who’ve tried these at-home services, but also acknowledge that some folks will want to go back to the salon, saying ‘Hey, you don’t have to completely abandon what you did last year, you can do both.’”
“Alongside making banana bread and a Zoom quiz, everybody seemed to be dyeing their hair a fantastical color for the first time while they were in lockdown.”
The At-Home Beauty Boom
The onslaught of growth these brands faced meant that quick business adjustments were necessary, whether it was rolling out new products or new services. Even salon brands that had previously feared losing business to at-home alternatives were forced to face the reality of salon closures with no end in sight. Gussi, for example, was born from the spinoff of a brand that created keratin treatments for salons that lasted up to six months. That brand had a formula in its arsenal for an at-home product that didn’t require the precision of a trained stylist’s technique but only lasted for six weeks.
“There was a feeling like it would cannibalise sales of the more expensive treatments,” said Danielle Waldron, Gussi’s chief marketing officer. “When Covid hit, they said, ‘Oh my god, we have the product, we should have been developing this all along, so let’s actually spin off a new brand altogether to bring this to market.” The summer and fall were spent developing the brand, its packaging and ethos before a January 2021 launch.
Now that salons are reopening, those cannibalisation fears are rearing their heads once again. With that, brands are evaluating how to position themselves in a post-pandemic world. Despite the services they offer, at-home salon service brands are marketing themselves as an addition to, rather than a complete substitute for in-person treatments — a particularly important mindset for brands that offer both in-person and at-home treatments.
“We don’t see them in conflict at all,” said Brownsell, noting that many customers will splurge on an in-salon treatment once or twice a year, and use at-home products to touch up their style throughout the rest of the year at a lower price point.
Avoiding direct competition also helps ease worries about cannibalisation on the salon side. Waldron said that when Gussi launched, they viewed it as a substitute, but as time has gone on, it’s shifted its approach, catering to the consumer who has been “keratin curious,” as Waldron said. In alleviating those fears, brands may find new opportunities: Gussi is considering exploring salon partnerships, a distribution method that could help it expand its reach.
What likely will shift after the pandemic is the value propositions that resonate with consumers. No longer can they tout being the only option, instead, they must focus on what they can achieve that salons don’t — namely, convenience and affordability.
Keeping the innovation that emerged during the pandemic will be a part of that. When the pandemic hit, Bleach London was set on the product front — the brand began as a salon in 2010 and launched products in 2015. Instead, it needed new platforms to leverage those products in a virtual world. The aim, Brownsell said, was to “replicate the salon experience on the web,” with features like online colour consultations.
Indeed, brands are banking on a future where consumers are increasingly inclined to try at-home options — and will need the tools to cater to those audiences. Olive & June, for example, has yet to reopen the doors at its three Los Angeles-area locations, instead choosing to focus on its product line.
“We know that the nail category has fundamentally shifted,” said Sara Gibson Tuttle, founder and chief executive of Olive & June. “Now that people can do it themselves, that shift is permanent. So while I would love a real-life experience in the future, we’re currently really focused on the product piece, because that’s what is solving the biggest problem in nails right now.”