How to Choose the Curly Hair Products that Fit Your Needs
by Lilly Rockwell on Friday, July 31, 2009
The Styling Hutch in Plano, Texas, has made a name for itself for its expertise in cutting curly hair. So when owner Claudia Phillips was looking for a line of products to use and sell at her salon, she wanted to make sure she chose one that covered the gamut of clients who walked through her door — from wavy to super kinky.
After using products by Ouidad, a New York stylist who has been a pioneer in curly hair care, she decided to get her salon certified to use Ouidad products and cutting techniques. Phillips says she tried several lines, but across the board, nothing else compared to Ouidad.
“The fact that I can use the whole line for all of our clients was my major consideration,” Phillips says. “There was something for everyone, and it really works. Clients go out looking good, which makes us look good. People come from the other side of the Dallas Metroplex to buy more products.”
Walk into a random selection of salons, and you’ll see that the hair-care products stylists use vary dramatically. Their product choices often are influenced on such factors as the type of salon a stylist works for, the season, the clientele, environmental leanings, nearby competitors and even the economy.
For many stylists, picking which products to use can be an overwhelming task. How do you cut through the marketing hype to pick which products to offer clients and which ones to discard? Stylists say this task is made especially difficult when dealing with curly hair. A product that works well with wavy hair won’t necessarily help someone who has tight corkscrew-shaped curls. And often the choice may go beyond the product to the type of support a company offers, such as training.
Some salons carry one line, such as Aveda, exclusively.
In some cases, a stylists may work for a salon affiliated with a certain line of products, such as Aveda, Redken or Bumble and bumble. Others stylists may have more leeway, picking products based on the preferences of their clientele and their own personal likes and dislikes. That may mean picking and choosing products from a variety of brands to find the products that meet particular needs.
Some stylists have intricate methods they go about to select hair-care products.
Teresa Callen, who opened her Menlo Park, Calif.-based Image Arts Salon this year, said she frequently receives sample shipments of new hair-care products and sends some time through them to decide which ones to use. But this can be a chore, she says.
“When you work with a product you have to know it as intimately as the lines on the back of your hand,” explains Callen, who has worked as a hair stylist for more than 25 years and specializes in cutting curly hair. “Some of it is trial and error.”
Callen acknowledges she has made “a ton of mistakes” over the years.
“I first use them on my head, then I have my friends use them,” Callen says.
This process takes two to three weeks, and then her friends deliver what they don’t use and provide feedback. She also has a few select clients try the samples.
“Some clients are brilliant at giving feedback and they love to get new products,” she said.
Jessicurl is among the lines Teresa Callen sells in her salon.
Callen currently offers Jessicurl and DevaCurl products, but keeps a close watch on which products sell faster than others. If sales drop “so bad I can’t move it off the shelf,” Callen’s solution is simple: she stops carrying it.
Picking the right product line can really enhance your business, Callen says, bringing in customers that are loyal to that brand. “In the long run, it can be lucrative,” to stick with a certain product line, she says.
Other hair stylists prefer to switch it up, bringing in new lines to attract clients.
That was the case for American Mortals Salon, a 9-year-old salon in Philadelphia. Co-owner Kimberly Bond says she tried a wide variety of product lines before pursuing Bumble and bumble, after watching one of the company’s “Hair Stories” videos, which documented the company’s history.
“We were riveted,” says Bond. “It was the first time my husband (co-owner of the salon) ever related to something like this. It was amazing to witness a company that had a culture so similar to our own culture. They created a product line based of need from their stylists’ experiences.”
American Mortals made the switch three years ago, and retail sales have responded dramatically, tripling from what it was before they became affliated with Bumble.
“We’re selling more retail than we ever sold before, and we have better access to training,” said Bond, who is a big fan of the company’s Curl Conscious line for curly hair.
Hair stylist Cristin Armstrong, who works at New York City-based Takamichi Salon, loves to try new products.
“I try to keep current and ask my clients what they are using,” she says. “I’m always curious what people are using and what is new.” Armstrong spends time researching new products as well, pouring over reviews online and flipping through style magazines to learn about new products.
Hair stylists said they learn a lot about new products by asking their clients what they use. If they hear a certain name pop up frequently, stylists say they will try it out on their own hair and look into carrying it at their salon.
Some stylists prefer to develop and sell their own products, a trend that has been particularly apparent in the curly niche. Curly hair guru Jonathan Torch, who opened the Toronto-based Curly Hair Institute in 2005, has designed his own product line Curly Hair Solutions.
Torch said developing the product line was key to improving his business. If somebody has curly hair, it needs cutting very seldom, while straight-haired customers may need their hair cut more frequently. Curly-haired customers are more apt to buy styling products and targeted shampoos and conditioners more often, he said.
Salons and stylists that cater to both curly and straight hair say they must offer a wide range of products for their clientele because their needs vary.
Tiffany Anderson-Taylor is in charge of retail sales for Essentials, the St. Petersburg, Fla. salon where she works.
“The lines we carry we felt were more appropriate to handle everybody’s needs,” she said.
Her salon carries DevaCurl, Aquage and Brocato product lines.
“Deva was one of the first to stand up and say ‘look, curly hair is different and you need to respect it for being different,’ ” she said.
In some cases, the decision is based on more than just the product in the bottles. It may be the brand recognition, the business support or the training that help a stylist or salon make the decision to choose one brand over another.
Bond was attracted to the business support Bumble provided as well as the continuing education. “You could see they really supported their salons,” she says.
Being a Ouidad-certified salon has helped The Styling Hutch attract clientele from around the country, says Phillips.
“That affiliation gives us credibility among our curly clients that we know what we’re doing with curly hair,” Phillips says.
Sometimes a salon has to take competitive factors into consideration, such as diversion. This refers to the controversial practice of professional hair-care products finding their way into grocery stores and pharmacies because of lax distribution processes. Walk into any supermarket, and there will be an aisle full of brands that used to be found exclusively at salons — a trend that angers stylists and cuts into their bottom line.
Essentials will only offer products that can’t be bought at your local supermarket, which enhances the allure of the salon, Anderson-Taylor said.
Now that many consumers are paying attention to how “green” their purchasing habits are, many stylists prefer to offer products made organically. Stylists say it’s important to read the product labels to figure out which products truly adhere to organic principles and which don’t.
Cala Renee, who runs her own salon in Beverly, Mass., says she carries the DevaCurl line in to cater to her curly-haired clientele, but also liked the product line’s emphasis on natural plant-based ingredients.
“I searched for a line that is all organic,” said Renee, whose salon specializes in curly hair.
Cala Renee carries Sukesha products in her salon.
She also carries Sukesha, which contains no sulfates and focuses on plant-based natural ingredients. And she offers the Aquage line, which uses organic ingredients from seaweed and algae extract. “I’m trying to go as green as possible.”
Representatives visit her salon every two weeks, she says, pushing new products. Like many stylists, she uses the products on herself first before she’ll consider using them on her clients.
Still, no matter how great a product is, if it’s too pricey, she doesn’t offer it, adding that a salon’s price ceiling can change depending on its location. She also monitors what her competitors are carrying and at what prices.
With all the attention Renee pays to the products she carries, she said she still isn’t sure that they ultimately drive clients to choose her salon over others.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s the product line that gets the people into the salon,” Renee said. “I think it’s the reputation of the hair-cutting and curly hair specialists.”
She hesitates a moment and adds, “And then, they love the Deva.”