Having brought the first commercially available shampoos to market in the early 1900s, Schwarzkopf is looking to remain head and shoulders above the competition thanks to smart technology.
The company outlined its vision for the salon of the future at an event in the German city of Dusseldorf last week with a new handheld scanner that is to be rolled out to hair professionals and retailers across Europe later this year.
The scanner is part of a series of solutions intended to take the guesswork out of figuring which products and services work best for individual clients.
It uses infrared and visible-light sensors to enable hairdressers to test the health and quality of a client’s hair at the molecular level. It does this by looking closely at the moisture levels, the “true colour” and overall condition of an individual’s hair to understand just how healthy it is and how various treatments might affect it.
The readings from the device are then analysed by a proprietary algorithm that is built using machine learning. From this, personalised shampoos can be created for clients that helps repair hair damage. In addition, a linked augmented-reality app can highlight exactly how a change of colour would look on an individual before they get it done.
Schwarzkopf picked up two highly-sought innovation awards at the Consumer Electronics Show – the world’s biggest technology event – earlier this year for its ground-breaking hair analyser.
The company, whose parent Henkel employs more than 400 people in Ireland, started as a family business in 1898 in Berlin. In 1903 the pharmacy was the first to introduce "power shampoo" to the market. It followed this up four years later with the first commercially available liquid hair-cleaning product.
Schwarzkopf now has hair products in use in thousands of salons across more than 150 countries. Despite this, Niels Daecke, head of digital marketing at Henkel's beauty care business, said the company was looking to turn the salon experience on its head with the new SalonLab solutions.
“We will be launching later this year, starting with a small number of hairdressers first because this needs to be tested in a real market environment to see how they will work with it, how to price it and to iron out any technical issues that may arise,” he said.
Daecke said the products would help it secure more leading hairdressers as customers, something which he said was critical given how competitive the market is.
Schwarzkopf also expects the technology could also be a big hit with retailers.
“We’ve had pop-up stores in some big drugstores for this and it has worked well as a big sales promotion,” said Daecke.
While he thinks SalonLab is something that will prove to be popular with the public, he adds that a consumer version of the handheld is unlikely in the near future, however. This, he said, is largely because it is hard to see consumers using it frequently enough to make it viable.
“We started looking at this primarily from the point of the consumer but in considering use cases we saw that it would potentially be of better use in salons where it might get used 10 to 20 times a day than anywhere else,” said Daecke.
“We did consult with a device maker on a possible B2C [business-to-consumer] version but it is a bit more tricky to establish a use case because unlike, say, a toothbrush, which gets used all the time, you wouldn’t expect people at home to be checking the condition of their hair as often.”
Focus on personalisation
Schwarzkopf is hardly the first beauty-focused company to turn to technology to keep ahead. There are any number of players looking to give the sector a makeover with new tools such as smart mirrors. However, much of the tech-led innovation to date has tended to focus on skincare and cosmetics, rather than hair.
According to a report from Deloitte published last year, tech is particularly important at the top of the market. The consulting giant estimates that the prestige beauty market is now worth about $78 billion a year and growing with much of that coming from innovative products that focus on personalisation.
Established beauty companies now derive between 15 and 20 per cent of their revenue from products introduced within the last three years. Not surprisingly, companies such as L'Oréal, LVMH, Estée Lauder and Schwarzkopf have all upped their spend on internal innovation. In addition, they are keeping their eyes on new entrants through investments in venture funds and accelerator programmes, and outright acquisitions.
“I think SalonLab is a game-changer. It is all about redefining the way both hairdressers and their clients experience beauty in the hair salon,” says Daecke.
Whether he is right or not remains to be seen of course but one thing is for sure: haircare has come a long way from power shampoo.