Kirker Gears up to Put Shine Back in Nail Polish Sales

Kirker Enterprises, one of the largest custom manufacturers of nail enamel and nail treatment products, is betting on a return to positive growth in the nail category.
The 70-year-old company just purchased the 9.4 acres of land and more than 190,000-square-feet of manufacturing and office space in Paterson, N.J., that it occupies. There are plans to add new equipment over the next six to 12 months to help Kirker arm its partners with products to keep turning the category around.
“Ownership of the previously rented space alongside the addition of new equipment will allow Kirker the ability to expand production and better serve our customers,” said John McLaughlin, the firm’s president and chief executive officer. “We have our heads turned to Kirker’s long-term growth strategy.”
The investments come as Nielsen numbers for the 52-week period ended Aug. 11 show nail sales off 1 percent. Although in the red, the category is improving after being down in the double digits two years ago. Kirker has a road map to keep positive momentum flowing.
“The market has had a few down years. There has been a lack of innovation in nail over the last few years,” said Matt Heuer, the company’s executive vice president of sales and marketing. “The market is really hungry for that.” There are two pieces to bringing newness to nail, he said — one is the color and trend story, but the other is chemistry. Real innovation in formulas has been lagging, he said. “The industry needs something more than just trend color.”
Kirker is answering the call with 24 percent of its employees dedicated to unlocking new nail formulas. Two new platforms are in the works. One is an exclusive acrylic polymer that is more flexible than the hard and brittle formulas currently on the market. It will be used shortly in tandem with brand partners. The other is a replacement technology for gel manicures that doesn’t require UV curing. “It is also less aggressive on the nail,” he said. While consumers love gel manicures, some shy away because of damage. “We’re driving growth not only for Kirker, but our nail brand partners.”
Many of the new products, such as the acrylic polymer, are coming out of Kirker’s new Creative Studio 55e, a collaborative space for its marketing and creative departments. Unveiled in June, the new workspace is designed to help generate unique ideas for new products and plans to bring them to market. “Having an imaginative space to work in really fuels our ability to bounce ideas off the wall and think freely about ways to improve our products and engage with our customers,” said Brittany D’Ambrosio, director of marketing at Kirker. Brainstorming in the studio also helped develop new products for 2019 and 2020, including a neon splatter concept.
Beyond the nail lacquer advancements, Kirker is revving up its offering in nail treatment, an emerging sales generator for the category. “Treatment is stronger than ever. Gel removal from the salon can be damaging so we are pushing the best products that are 100 percent geared toward healthy nail,” said D’Ambrosio. The company, in fact, is looking beyond just the nail category to find newness. “We don’t just think nail. When we formulate treatment products, we look to the entire cosmetics industry, skin care, hair, makeup and serums, any buzzwords or ingredients, for inspiration,” she said.
That’s resulted in a collection of treatments called Nail 911. “We have a portfolio of products that are unconventional. Usually, when you think treatment, you think top coat or base coat. We’re trying to find the next big thing. We’ve created a ‘hottie of the month,’ where we send out a blast once a month of whatever product is hot for the month to get the excitement out there and promote healthy nails.”
Kirker is also geared toward serving the needs of megabrands as well as emerging companies. Startups, said Heuer, require a different set of tools than legacy brands. That includes keeping abreast of changing formulation requirements which recently include eliminating certain chemicals. In recent years, ingredients such as formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide and xylene have been removed from some nail formulas.
While more and more contract manufacturers are launching their own brands, Heuer said that’s not Kirker’s goals. “We don’t want to compete with our customers for shelf space and we need to protect their brands.”
Kirker was purchased in 2012 by RPM International Inc., which also owns Rust-Oleum and other subsidiaries. The publicly traded company has annual sales exceeding $5.3 billion.

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