July 2009

Jerry Tyler

Blue Highways | by Jerry Tyler


Case # PPD (Professional Product Diversion) Noir Perspective

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind...

I was at my place, Los Angeles. After a hot shower to wash the 10 haircuts off of me, I put on a Teddy Wilson /Lena Horne CD circa 1939, made a chilled martini, three olives, then contemplated dinner and what movie to watch.

When I made the move to my computer to check emails, I spied a note from my editor. I write for major beauty publications and I was getting my next assignment. June…. Investigate product diversion.

I let my mind wander just what that was going to entail when a late night phone call jarred me back to attention with this exchange: “J, What are you doing?”

I should know, but I don’t, this case eludes me. “So what are you going to do?”

I will go where this case takes me, whatever journey I have in store. “Go get’em J,” Goodnight, I said and hung up the phone.

So began my journey on the case of Diversion that haunts the integrity of our profession.

After talking to many industry leaders including salon owners, product manufacturers and other key players it seemed the more I tried to get a handle on this open cold case file, the more it took on the personality of the classic film noir detective cinema from the 1940s to present film themes. (Film noir is a cinematic term used to describe certain stylish Hollywood dramas).

Watch Dark Passage 1948, The Big Sleep 1946, or The Big Steal. Then there was Chinatown, True Confessions, The Black Dahlia, LA Confidential and Mullholland Falls.

These movies and the times they speak of are a walk on the dark side of life. Much of what I see in this quest is also in the case of diversion.

While talking to most of my contacts, there was a consensus that they appreciated the interest in the diversion of professional salon products and recognized the negative financial and ethical impact of this practice to all or most involved. After all, there are whole industry associations built around fighting diversion.

The other shoe would drop and I was advised to tread lightly, walk softly, don’t state the obvious. I knew I was walking on the razors edge between uncovering the truth and finding a proactive solution that doesn’t help one facet of the industry at the expense of the other.

I discovered there are no single solutions to this challenge, just as it turns out in the noir films, the secrets revealed can help you but in most cases what seems to be the right answer is not what it seems.

So let’s take a look at the evidence. Like in noir films every new perceived discovery only reveals a new mystery to solve.

Much of the great noir writers featured the notion of the little guy fighting against a world that has turned on them and no one but they can see the negative impact that is created.

My salon uses two salon-direct products. When I go to Target, CVS or Loehmanns and see my stylist-direct product on the shelf at the same or lower price point, I feel a trust has been violated; not necessarily by my chosen brand but by the system that fails to protect the integrity of the product we place our profession reputation on.

When former niche brands become big brands, the demand needs supply. When the supply exceeds the demand of the target market the product has to go somewhere. So where it goes is the question of diversion, not why?

In this case, who wins? Quite frankly, nobody. The professionally-prescribed product loses the value of the brand, and possibly the long term relationship with their salon partners. The salon that is banking on the sale of salon prescriptive to enhance their bottom line and offset the high cost of doing business sees their profit margin threatened by losing sales to a retail outlet.

The reality is that the expansion of any brand once it has saturated the original target market based on the demand created for it, will move the product either by default, as in diversion, or by design in bringing the product to the next broader market level, i.e. over the counter.

While the dream of any designer-driven product may be to have their product stay in the original niche market, once they sell to a bigger entity there is a change in what the new parent company’s demands are to expand the market share. This happens particularly if there is a drop in sales in that niche market or the market has been saturated and there is no foreseen growth. The usual direction is to expand the market to satisfy their shareholders who are looking for continual larger market growth.

The real conclusion is that when we think there is no real solution to this diversion dilemma, nothing is further from the truth. We are a constantly evolving industry, always embracing new trends and technologies to stay ahead of fashion and to stay relevant in an ever changing landscape.

When we see fashion change and our clientele demands progressive change, we rise to the occasion. If seeing your brand that was once a cutting-edge product, outside of the sphere, it may be time to find the next new leader in products that is as cutting edge as the product line you left behind.

If diversion really is an issue then we also need to make constant and continual change our mantra. By partnering with salons to grow the product within, rather than looking for other sales outside the professional market, existing product manufacturers can maintain the high standard of their brand and remain true to their smaller niche market.

It is now well past midnight and I hope this case eventually comes to a positive conclusion where all players involved can prosper equally and uphold the integrity of both the professional salons industry and its professional product partners working together for an abundant future.

Jerry Tyler’s column Blue Highways is his “Road Less Traveled” perspective on the solutions and challenges facing the beauty industry. Jerry Tyler has been a stylist since 1975 serving as the former artistic director for Vidal Sassoon Academy and currently as Director of Education for Carlton Hair salons. He is also a licensed cosmetology instructor and has served as President of the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.