Your manufacturer can be your greatest ally when starting your salon’s own private label product line. Learn how to make the most of this important relationship, ensuring you get products that you’re proud to put your name on.
You’ve been thinking about starting your salon’s own private label product line, maybe a line of polishes named after your clients or several signature scrubs to match your pedicure themes, but so far, that’s how far you’ve gotten — just a few thoughts. With this article, get the inside scoop from private label manufacturers (and from salon owners who’ve successfully launched their lines) on how to turn your private label dreams into reality, as they help you navigate this time-intensive, but powerfully profitable, way to build your brand and your bottom line.
CHOOSING YOUR MANUFACTURER(S)
The first step is to set aside time, and lots of it, to research private label manufacturers before ultimately picking the best supplier for your line. “I’ve probably talked to virtually every private labeler in the country between the opening of my salon to now,” says Roula Nassar, owner of Roula’s Nail Spa in Houston, whose private label line includes polish, bath salts, lotions, and other skin care products. You can start with our buyers’ guide at the bottom of this article, and, to find more companies that specialize in the product types you’re most interested in, do Google searches with phrases like “private labeler skin care” or “private labeler nail care.”
During your first conversation with each potential supplier, make sure to ask for samples of their products. Most suppliers will give you these at no cost. (If you’re planning on tweaking the basic formula with custom ingredients or scents, ask for samples of the base product to start.) Let your nail techs try these products out during actual services, then get their feedback on what they like and don’t like about each of the products.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to the suppliers you’re seriously considering, you should make every attempt to visit the manufacturers’ facilities in person. This way you can check their facilities for professionalism, meet face-to-face with the salespeople and chemists who’d be handling your products, and see, touch, and feel the entire product line. “We have approximately 800 polish colors that we stock, and the only way to really see all of those colors is to visit the showroom in person,” says Edward Pelenghian, president of Fontana, Calif.-based Cosmetic Industries Inc., a private labeler of nail polishes and treatments. “It’s also the ideal time to view the assortment of bottle, cap, and brush options.”
Though choosing one manufacturer for all of your products is certainly more convenient, you may want to consider using multiple manufacturers if your product line will be diverse — if it will include, say, both nail care and hair care. Sara Spallino, owner of Beauty Bar in Toledo, Ohio, uses one supplier for her hair care products, one for some of her body care products, and another for her organic body care products, so she can take advantage of each manufacturer’s area of expertise.
Finally, before signing a contract, make sure you understand the minimum order requirements. “You don’t want to find yourself buying shades you’ll have to throw out,” advises Buddy Rose, director of private labeling at Forsythe Cosmetics, a Lawrence, N.Y.-based private labeler of nail polish and color cosmetics. You’ll want to start slow, then increase your order size as you learn how well the products will sell.
CREATING THE PERFECT PRODUCTS
Product development is one area in which manufacturers excel, and yours should be able to guide you extensively with this process. “I came with a general idea of what I wanted, but it was a collaborative process to narrow down the exact product types, ingredients, and fragrances,” Nassar says. She does recommend that you approach the manufacturer with a vision of what your line stands for — like natural ingredients, fun scents, older clients, etc. — to make the best use of your time. Cosmetic Industries’ Pelenghian recommends that salon owner clients come to him with a knowledge of “what types of colors and treatments they most frequently use, and what type of clientele they have,” he says. “Then, we guide you through what you might want.”
Also, make sure to ask your manufacturer if it has trend experts on staff who can talk to you about the current and possible future best-selling products. “Our chemist is on our trends board, so he’s available to talk about the latest trends that are out, or coming out, for skin care, baby, color, and fragrance,” says Vonda Simon, president and CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based SeaCliff Beauty Packaging & Laboratories, a private labeler of lotion, bath gels, hair products, hand sanitizers, and other skin care products. At Forsythe, six to 12 new stock polish colors are released every season based on fashion trends. Your manufacturer should also be able to advise you on what products and colors are popular in your region of the country.
Your manufacturer will also be able to walk you through the two routes you can take to create your products — stock formulas and custom formulas. Stock formulas are existing formulas your manufacturer has developed that are private labeled as is. You simply pick out the products you want — such as a stock Cadillac Red nail polish, and put your company’s logo on it. The plusses of using a stock formula include no R&D costs, a tried-and-true formula for which the manufacturer is already familiar with the shelf life and other chemical qualities, and usually a quicker turnaround in ordering and receiving your products. The downside is no creative control over your product.
The other route is customizing your own products. This usually means taking a company’s stock formula and tweaking it, such as by adding or subtracting ingredients, changing the fragrance, or adjusting the viscosity of the product. Bambi Montgomery, owner of Honey Child Salon and Spa in Chicago and HIVE Salon + Spa in Los Cabos, Mexico, custom formulated her line of facial products so they would match the theme of her salons. “We’d substitute honey for another ingredient or we’d add the honey to an existing product,” Montgomery says.
When creating custom products, Montgomery says the best way to communicate with your manufacturer is to send them examples of products you already like, then tell them how you would change it. “We took the best professional products we were already using in our salon, and made them better,” Montgomery says. “I’d send in a facial product and tell them, for example, that I’d like it to be less oily or less heavy.” The manufacturer will create a sample for you (unlike the stock formula samples, you’ll most likely have to pay for these) and it will go back and forth with changes until you get the product you want.
During the custom formulating process, the manufacturer’s chemist will be working behind-the-scenes to make sure any changes you’re making are chemically sound. “For example, if you want to add coconut oil to a lotion formula, our chemist knows that the lotion has to be heated to a certain temperature before the oil can be added,” says Rudy Lenzkes, president and CEO of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based California Mango/Beautiful Feet, which private labels lotion, lip balms, and hair care products. “The chemists also take into account factors like pH, viscosity levels, and silicone percentages.”
Beauty Bar’s Spallino found her manufacturer’s chemists to be especially helpful in telling her what fragrance percentages were safe for use. “I would ask for .5% of a scent to be added, and the chemist would tell me that percent would hurt my clients’ skin,” Spallino says, then she’d adjust the scenting based on the chemist’s recommendations. The plus with custom formulating your own products is you’ll be selling truly unique products that clients can’t find anywhere else, but you’ll also be spending more time and money to develop the product line.
MAKING IT YOUR OWN
Naming your finished products is usually out of the realm of what a manufacturer will help you with. In some cases, Forsythe’s Rose says, the client will want to use Forsythe’s stock names or numbers for their polish names, but usually the client will opt to name the products on her own. Spallino says, “We’ll ask ourselves ‘what does it smell like?’ and then come up with a name like ‘Angel Food Cake.’” You can also choose to name products after their purposes, such as “Stay Firm” for hairspray or after your salon’s theme, such as “mocha” and “hot to handle” if your salon is coffeehouse-themed. If you need help coming up with the right names, you may want to hire a branding consultant.
The bottles and other packaging options, however, is something your manufacturer will definitely be able to help you select. Some manufacturers have their own stock bottles on site; others will refer you to recommended packaging companies who work with your product categories. You’ll be picking things like size, thickness, shape, applicator or brush, and cap. Some manufacturers will also let you custom design bottles (but keep in mind that this could make it hard to reorder the bottle and that not all manufacturers can fill every size and shape of bottle). Again, you should have a vision for what your line represents. “My vision was minimalist, clean, and natural looking,” Nassar says. “I picked simple clear plastic bottles with brown labels, which go well with my spa.”
Logo design, too, is an area where manufacturers are well-versed, often even having a full-time graphic artist on staff. Usually for a fee, your manufacturer will adapt your salon’s logo to fit on your product packaging or create a new logo with your chosen product names. Your supplier will also be able to recommend the type of label that will look best on your bottles, such as sticky labels, silkscreening, or hot stamping.
After putting all of the time and effort in developing your perfect product line, the retail price should let you reap some great financial rewards. Ask your manufacturer if they will recommend a price or a profit margin to you (most will); in general the minimum wmark-up is 50%. “We absolutely help salon owners with the price-setting process,” says SeaCliff’s Simon. “The profit margin could be as much as 80% or more but it all depends on their advertising budget and so many other factors.”
Assuming you’ve kept a strong relationship with your manufacturer to this point, you’ll be happy to have them by your side as your first order of products sells out and you’re ready to reorder (or add even more product categories to your line).
California Mango/Beautiful Feet
Huntington Beach, Calif.
Available Products: lotion, lip balms, hair care products
Minimum Order: 1,000 pieces
San Leandro, Calif.
Available Products: color cosmetics, skin, hair, nail, and body care products
Minimum Order: $50
Available Products: nail polish, nail treatments
Minimum Order: 500 pieces of color, 12 color minimum
Diamond Cosmetics Inc.
Available Products: nail polish, nail treatments, color cosmetics, eye and lip liner, mascara, foundation
Minimum Order: 5 gallons for custom polish colors, varies for stock colors (as low as $125), $500 minimum for nail treatments
Available Products: nail polish, files, creams, lotions, body gels, lip plumper, color cosmetics
Minimum Order: 10,000 glass bottles, to be filled fully or partially over a two-year period
Boyton Beach, Fla.
Available Products: color cosmetics, skin care products Minimum Order:$100
Available Products: polish, pedicure supplies, and custom products Minimum Order: none
Available Products: nail polish, nail treatments, pedicure scrubs, salts, creams, body gels, tips
Minimum Order: call for quote
Realys Inc./Tropical Shine
Huntington Beach, Calif.
Available Products: nail files
Minimum Order: 500 pieces
Rudolph Inc./Soft Touch
Available Products: nail files Minimum Order: 1,000 pieces
Seacliff Beauty Packaging & Laboratories
Available Products: lotion, bath gels, hair care, hand sanitizers, natural products, skin care products
Minimum Order: 10,000 pieces
Sheba Professional Nail Products
Dearborn Heights, Mich.
Available Products: nail polish
Minimum Order: none
Star Nail Products
Available Products: slippers, toe separators, polish, lotion, implements
Minimum Order: varies
Available Products: nail polish Minimum Order: call for quote
KEYWORDS: retail, profit margin, custom product, business, private label manufacturers