Plugging Into Profits: Heat Tools Have Never Been Hotter

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\"RRWhen I meet women for the first time and they find out what I do for a living, I brace myself for the inevitable flood of questions.

“What’s the best eye crème?”

“Does retinol really get rid of wrinkles?”

“Maybelline Great Lash – that’s one of your desert-island must-haves, right?”

Lately, though, all the queries from my newfound friends and acquaintances have been about trendy hair tools. Just within this past week alone, I’ve had two inquiries about Simply Straight — one of those “As Seen On TV” gizmos that allegedly changes your life.

Having not tried it myself, I didn’t want to give a thumbs up or down to the ceramic straightening brush generating so much interest. But in a show of solidarity, I did share that my own life-changing gizmo – the InStyler Rotating Iron – had recently konked out after years of faithful service, and that I might just be looking into buying a Simply Straight myself. I live in Florida, the Frizz Capital of the U.S. Hair-smoothing is at the top of my To-Do list.

Across every conceivable demographic, gorgeous locks are a global obsession. And as we increasingly YouTube our way to expertise in every nook and cranny of our lives, it makes perfect sense that we’re keen on getting very, very good at styling our own hair. If we can contour like a Kardashian, and splash, mask and serum our way through a 10-step K-beauty skincare routine, why shouldn’t we learn how to execute flawless beach waves? (Even guys are getting in on the DIY act; BluMaan’s “Messy Pompadour” tutorial on YouTube has been viewed more than 3 million times.)

For anyone who isn’t blessed with naturally amazing hair, state-of-the-art heat tools are the special sauce. Yes, the right liquid styling products – blowout crèmes, thermal protectant, hairspray, etc. — are also crucial to achieving the desired look, and there are great ones at every price point. Sadly, that isn’t the case with heat tools. With heat tools, you get what you pay for. Ask anyone with a pile of $20 drugstore dryers collecting dust in the bottom of the bathroom cabinet.

Thus is it wasn’t a huge surprise to learn that Coty just ponied up $510 million for 15-year-old, London-based GHD (Good Hair Day), purveyors of some of the most beloved flat-irons on the market. After nabbing Wella and Clairol from Procter & Gamble last year, Coty has been building up its salon-centric Professional Beauty Division, a group that also includes Sebastian and System.

Shifting From the Salon to Store Shelves

For many pricey hair tool brands, the goal is to add distribution channels and widen the buyer base. Though once primarily purchased by professional hairstylists at trade shows and beauty supply stores, styling-savvy civilians have been clamoring to get their mitts on them, whatever the cost. And a few business-minded hair pros, including editorial and celebrity darlings Luke Hersheson and Harry Josh, have even launched their own lines.

Although I personally can’t stand the term “premiumization,” there’s no question that’s what’s taking root in the hair tools market.

Let’s just take a look at blowdryers, the meat and potatoes of this sector. On the Sephora website, there are more than 20 on offer. Excluding the mini travel versions, they range in price from $80 for a Sephora Collection basic number to $399 for the much buzzed-about Dyson Supersonic. (Yes, that Dyson. The same dude who brought you the bagless vacuum cleaner.)

Most of Sephora’s dryers are in the $150 to $200 ballpark, with a few, including the one I happen to use – the T3 PROi Professional – clocking-in at north of $300.

Understandably, many of the nearly 200 reviews of the Dyson dryer on Sephora.com mention price. And unfortunately for Sephora, its liberal return policy seems to encourage a lot of what I call “beauty tourism” – trying the hot product du jour just for fun and then sending it back. Still, there’s quite a bit of thoughtful analysis in the reviews. And more than a few “keepers.”

Katie from St. Louis, for instance, says she couldn’t get a real bead on the dryer’s frizz-busting capabilities until she tried it on her nine month-old golden doodle. Apparently the pooch needs to be hand-dried after every bath. “The dog usually looks like a total frizz ball after drying,” Katie writes in her review. “But after using this, he isn\’t at all and his hair just has nice wave/soft curls.”

The final verdict? “Love.” Katie will be keeping her new state-of-the-art $400 heat tool, and both she and her golden doodle couldn’t be happier.

It’s tough to know why Coty seized on GHD as a heat tools acquisition, bypassing other well-regarded professional brands like T3, Bio Ionic and TwinTurbo. Or even a consumer brand with traction, such as Beachwaver, red carpet hairstylist Sarah Potempa’s innovative range. With Beachwaver, a purchaser would get not only great products that retail for a reasonable $129 to $199, but the star power of Potempa herself, a major charmer.

I would add Harry Josh to my consumer must-buy list, but I think he’s found a happy corporate home – at least for the moment – with DermStore.

All of which isn’t to say that GHD wasn’t a “get” for Coty. With fiscal 2016 sales of $216.3 million, and a slew of awards to its credit, it’s clearly a solid enterprise with major potential for expansion.

While the statistics game is a murky one to dabble in – depending on which outfit is doing the compiling, the numbers can bounce all over the place like a fresh can of Wilsons – the global hair market is massive. By one estimation, it’s at $83 billion this year. Of that number, heat tools is obviously a much smaller slice of the pie than liquid product. But make no mistake: It’s a hot category.

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