Balms, Big Bucks and the Bandwagon
As mere humans there is much physicality to overcome. We have a multitude of bodily woes that must be conquered each day. From blisters, dry skin and bad breath to unruly curls, wrinkles and the need to deodorize. Armed with our age-defying lotions, hair-wrangling tools and arsenal of salves however, there isn't a personal care dilemma that can't be solved. We are vain creatures, and it's this vanity and fear that drove an age-old industry from the 19th-century days of Smith's Rose Bud Salve ("A reliable soothing salve for family and general use") to what it is today, a mega-industry valued at $40 billion dollars annually. The promotional side of the personal care industry has seen growth lately, but as with any large market surge, there are both major gains and major risks.
To say sales opportunities exist for a distributor in this arena is an understatement. Today promotional personal care products can target almost any market. Bill House, vice president, sales and marketing for Alexander Manufacturing, St. Louis, noted some of the popular venues for these products. "Health care facilities for people of all ages, cause-marketing fundraising events, public health departments, women employee gifts, ambulance service companies and doctor's offices," he said.
Brett Hersh, president, Admints & Zagabor, Bellmawr, N.J., also noted health care facilities. He further explained some specific product trends. "The USA-made [products] and nonalcoholic hand sanitizers have been very popular," he said. House offered an array of other hot products in this niche, such as emery boards, salon boards, manicure sets, hot/cold packs, mirrors and specialty spa items.
With recent incidences of flu outbreaks and increased wellness awareness, personal care items have enjoyed a significant boom in recent years, and with booms come crowds. "As is normal in our industry, now that a market has been established for this category, numerous suppliers have jumped in, making it a far more competitive segment, said Mel Ellis, president, HumphreyLine, Milwaukie. With the influx of new suppliers offering personal care products, there is much to be aware of.
"Most personal care items (lotions, sanitizer, lip balms, etc.) are considered a drug with the FDA and need to follow a specific set of safety requirements," said Hersh. Since the FDA lacks jurisdiction in overseas plants, the safety of imported lip balms, sanitizers, sunscreens, etc. is an open question, with potentially large product liability risks," explained Ellis.
Hersh gave an example. "Many imported sanitizers from suppliers who just added the product to their line are not containing 62 percent alcohol," he said. (The CDC recommends 62 percent alcohol to effectively kill germs.) "They are importing hand sanitizer and acting like it is the same as a calculator. We tested products from many factories in China and two out of 10 actually had the correct ingredients," Hersh said.
Ellis offered a similar warning. "I heard recently of an industry supplier offering an incredible deal on lip balms made in China. Apparently, the supplier could not tell which flavors were in the lot, so they sold them to distributors at cost in an effort to recoup their inventory investment," he said. "My question is, 'What else is in those lip balms that the supplier doesn't know about?' These products are regulated as drugs by the FDA, and the standards are very exacting in order to protect the consumer," Ellis continued. "With imported products, we know that we do not know what is in them. A distributor selling imported personal care products is taking a very large risk." When it comes to liability in the chain of supply, everyone is liable, including distributors.
While the risk of noncompliance in this product category is real, it should not deter you from selling personal care products overall. "The future is bright in this market," House said. "Personal care items that are useful tools for everyday life, are always appreciated and can be additions to any program, gift pack or fundraising event. We expect this category to become more important in the industry."