For Top Stylists, Reality TV Is the Best Form of Advertising

'Split Ends,' Other Shows Help Boost Product Lines in Highly Competitive Industry

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CHICAGO -- In the world of celebrity stylists, a few things are certain: Everyone has their own product line, and it takes a lot to get noticed -- unless you're on a reality show.

Photo: Privé
Laurent Dufourg, owner of Prive, says the reality TV show 'Split Ends' is a 'major boost' for his brand and salon.

The dizzying array of professional salon products, which account for a little more than one-quarter of the $12 billion hair-care industry's sales, makes it tough to stand out for even Frederic Fekkai, who owns salons in New York and Los Angeles and sells his wares at Nordstrom and Bergdorf's, and Beverly Hills' uberstylist Umberto Savone, who sells a line of curly-hair products at Target. That's where cable-TV programs such as "Split Ends" on the E network and "Shear Genius" on Bravo come in. They build brand awareness and offer free product demonstrations to millions of viewers.

'Major boost' for one stylist
"It's a major boost," said Laurent Dufourg, owner of the Privé salon and hair-care products, who values the publicity it gives him at $1 million or more. "It brings a lot of recognition of the brand and a lot of new clients to the salon." After doing an episode on "Split Ends," for example, Privé opened two new salon accounts in Texas.

"Split Ends" takes a stylist from a well-known salon, usually in New York or Beverly Hills, and swaps him or her with a hairdresser from an unknown beauty parlor in Anytown USA. Mr. Dufourg sent Tammi Jensen from his salon out for the show. Now, he said, she has a MySpace following dependent on her for hair advice.

"It's step one in positioning yourself against your competition," said Suzanne Grayson of Grayson Associates, a consulting company for the beauty industry. "There are plenty of hairdressers out there and plenty of stylist lines, but most of them don't have a decent budget for advertising."

Ms. Grayson said most people wind up on QVC or doing infomercials. If a vendor is lucky enough to score a spot a reality show, it gets really tricky.

Maintaining momentum
"It's very difficult for someone starting out to get into all of the salons, [but] if they make a name for themselves on TV and get into mass distribution, that's it," she said. "Then they have to sell, and then they need professional marketing to maintain the momentum."

It's not just the products that sell on these shows. Mr. Dufourg said his salon is getting more business. While glitterati can afford his cuts every four to six weeks, he said many suburban housewives will shell out once or twice a year for a new look. "You find in the beauty industry, people save their money and don't care what it costs," he said.

Mr. Dufourg was approached by the show's producers to participate. His agreement, he said, was due in part to the limited commitment. Mr. Dufourg said he turned down the opportunity to be the star of "Blow Out," the show that catapulted Jonathan Antin from celebrity stylist to hair-products magnate. Mr. Antin's line is now sold at Sephora and Victoria's Secret.

"It was all day, and for too long," he said. "I would never put my people or my clientele through that."

And what about that clientele? How do celebrities feel about sharing once-exclusive stylists that now mix with the hoi polloi? Mr. Durforg said he has not had a problem. In fact, he said that during his interview with Ad Age, Tea Leoni was downstairs in foils mixing with the other customers.

For younger salon owners just beginning to build their brands, the road to reality isn't so easy. After all, catering to the celebrity clientele that made you famous is an important component of staying that way.

Caught producers' attention
Marco Pelusi, who opened his West Hollywood salon two years ago, launched an eponymous product line last fall. Mr. Pelusi was approached by "Split Ends" producers in part because of his Robertson Boulevard location, and also because he'd been making the rounds at celebrity gifting suites.

Last year Mr. Pelusi met with producers, auditioned for the show and did a callback audition tape at his salon with one of his stylists. Then he didn't hear anything.

"It's the cruel world of show business," he said. "I don't know if we have enough drama in our salon for that show."

In the meantime, Mr. Pelusi may go the QVC route, proving that he can hack it in front of the cameras before tackling prime time.
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