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Winter 2007 Curl Crazy

Hair-styling appliances—curling irons in particular—are “one of the hottest product categories we’re seeing right now,” says Marc Birenbaum, executive editor of Beauty Store Business magazine. Curling and flat irons account for 30 to 35 percent of all electrical hair appliance sales, according to Professional Consultants and Resources of Plano, TX, which estimates total market sales for 2005 at $1.7 billion.

In the specialty retail market, sales of one curling iron in particular are really heating up. “This product stops women in their tracks,” says Renzo Composto of his company’s ceramic curling iron. Composto is CEO of hair styling product manufacturer Enzo Milano, based in Irvine, CA. Currently sold through eight kiosks in southern California, the popular curling irons are exceeding all the company’s sales expectations, Composto says. Sales have been “absolutely amazing.”

What makes these curling irons sell is the technology inside, says Gino Tan, president of Ginalli by Enzo Milano, a company established to sell Enzo Milano’s curling irons through specialty retail locations.

Unlike other curling irons on the market, Enzo Milano’s irons use a ceramic Tribostatic™ heating element that heats up quickly while maintaining even heat throughout the curling iron for longer periods of time, which means users get a consistent result curl after curl. Not only that, but the Tribostatic™ heat resistor inside gives users an instant curl that lasts much longer than a traditional curling iron, says Tan.

Yet because of its Teflon-coated barrel and Tribostatic™ heat, it provides a protective barrier between the heating element and hair, the iron won’t damage hair during the curling process, Tan adds. And because each iron comes complete with a Kevlar glove, users can hold their hair in place on the iron to speed the curling process without scorching their fingers.

The Roots of a Hair Empire

imageThe Enzo Milano curling iron was developed about 12 years ago by Composto’s cousin, a well-known hairdresser in Italy. Lacking any sales background to launch the new product, the stylist turned to his American relatives for assistance. Composto, who had held several sales positions, and his father, Russ Composto, a sales veteran, stepped in to introduce the curling iron to professional hairstylists in the US. Along with his business partner, Vincenzo Sorrentino, Renzo launched Enzo Milano in 1996.

Because the Enzo Milano curling iron was designed by and for professional hairstylists, the pros were quick to appreciate the iron’s superior Tribostatic™ technology and features, and sales took off right away. With sales rising consistently each year, Composto and Sorrientino were pleased with the professional market’s response and looked forward to many years of solid, climbing sales—until one day Compasto noticed his three sisters and girlfriend using the curling iron. Without any training, the women had no trouble producing salon-style results at home. Composto and Sorrientino quickly realized that the product had potential in the direct-to-consumer retail market.

They decided to test the idea with a booth at the Orange County, CA swap meet in 2001. “The rent was low and the traffic high” at the swap meet, explains Composto. They were “astounded” at the resulting sales and decided to pursue the retail market with a mall-based location. Within several months they secured a cart at the Irvine Spectrum in Irvine, CA. Sales in the first month there topped $60,000—making theirs the highest grossing cart in the mall, says Composto. They also continued exploring the fair circuit, opening a booth at the Pomona Fairplex in Pomona, CA.

In the first 14 days of business sales exceeded $107,000. If there was any remaining doubt about the retail market’s potential, it was squashed in Pomona, Composto says.

The Ginalli brand

imageBut not every aspect of the business was running smoothly. Back at the Irvine Spectrum, although the curling irons were selling extremely well, the company was encountering staffing issues. Trying to serve both professional and retail markets simultaneously required more manpower than the company had anticipated.

Fortunately, the partners’ retail neighbor at Irvine was Gino Tan, an experienced specialty retailer who was managing a successful airbrush tattoo cart. Tan saw the partners struggling with staffing issues and knew he could help.

He approached them about managing their cart. “He told us he could run it a lot better than we could, since this was his specialty,” recalls Composto. The partners were unsure, but decided to give Tan a chance. To their delight, as soon as Tan took over as manager, sales increased “dramatically.”

With Tan as manager, the company opened eight more carts and kiosks in malls throughout southern California. In addition to managing Enzo Milano’s kiosks, Tan also ran 12 of his own locations, selling a variety of products and services.

The arrangement worked well at first, until Enzo Milano’s professional clientele learned of the opportunity to buy the same curling iron for less at a local mall. Seeking a way to separate their professional and consumer businesses, Enzo Milano decided to create a retail iron for the consumer market in order to separate the two divisions. This was going to take time, and the company feared it would have to pull out of the specialty retail market for a small period of time.

With Tan knowing the potential of the product, and not willing to wait, he attemped to create his own line questioning the Enzo Milano patents and rights to the product.

Subsequent price wars and confusion in the marketplace about the true originator of the ceramic curling iron led to a yearlong legal battle with imitators over the company’s registered patents. Now resolved, Enzo Milano has decided to produce a private-label partnership called Ginalli by Enzo Milano, owned by both Enzo Milano and Ginalli Milano. This new partnership was created only for the specialty retail market.

“The new line called Ginalli by Enzo Milano is manufactured by Enzo Milano at the same Enzo Milano factory that currently produces all of the other curling irons,” says Composto. “This ensures that the iron is made with the same quality and original parts as the previous and current Enzo products.”

Ginalli by Enzo Milano retail products also carry an unprecedented lifetime warranty that Enzo Milano offers on all its professional products, which no other curling iron manufacturer currently offers, says Tan. But copies continue to be a concern but not a threat for the company, which fears its brand will be damaged by inferior knockoffs. The company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect its patents against copies, and will continue to do so, Composto says. “If it doesn’t say ‘Enzo’ on the iron, it’s a copy,” he says.

In addition to forging ahead with its specialty retail outlets, Enzo Milano has also added several other hair styling products to its line. While the company earned its reputation for innovation among celebrity hairstylists for its curling iron, customers can also create square, triangular and combination curl-and-wave hairdos with Enzo’s other irons.

The company’s flat iron—especially the Piastra model, which is the only flat iron on the market using patented technology to dry and straighten hair quickly—has earned kudos from clients and stylists in the US and abroad. Another tool for drying and styling hair simultaneously is the Enzo Magic Hand, a handheld device that concentrates airflow from the hair dryer around the brush for quicker results. This device also allows users to flip hair in or out.

Educated Customers are Best

Whereas customers a decade ago might not have considered purchasing hair styling tools at a kiosk, today they’re very willing when they see the quality of the product, says Composto. “We’ve been in the beauty industry for 10 years and in that time, I’ve seen a dramatic change. Consumers today are very aware of the differences in quality and performance between professional and consumer grade products. They no longer want a $20 iron that doesn’t provide the same look as they get at their hairdresser’s, so they are willing to pay more. Our products use patented heating technology, which means a longer-lasting curl without the extreme heat and damage to the hair.”

Customers, who are generally women ages 18 to 35, don’t have to wait to get home to try out a Ginalli by Enzo Milano iron, since all kiosk staff are trained to fully demonstrate the product’s capabilities onsite. The kiosk itself is designed to feel like a mini salon boutique, complete with chair and shelves lined with styling products by Ginalli by Enzo Milano. “Selling one brand, instead of selling multiple brands like a beauty supplier, is key for the overall look of the cart and the customer’s experience,” says Composto. The streamlined appearance reinforces the professional, upscale Enzo Milano brand image.

Although Enzo Milano was founded to serve the needs of professional hairstylists, creating a joint venture to market the high end curling and flat irons to consumers has been key to the company’s growth and bodes well for its future in the specialty retail market, Composto says.

The company’s curling irons are now sold through eight company-owned, mall-based kiosks, plus approximately 150 owner-operated carts and kiosks in the US and UK. In 2007, Tan plans to open an additional 20 Ginalli by Enzo Milano company-owned kiosks in the US. In fact, the outlook is so positive for the company that sales are expected to grow another 300 percent in 2007.

Marcia Layton Turner -- Turner writes frequently for business publications. Her work has appeared in Business Week, Business 2.0, MyBusiness and numerous trade magazines. She is also the author of Emeril! (John Wiley & Sons, 2004).

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