Conair Obtains ThermaCELL Rights

STAMFORD, CT— Putting aside a past fraught with legal difficulties, Conair Corp., based here, and The Schawbel Corp., based in Bedford, MA, have inked an agreement under which Conair has obtained the rights to sell ThermaCELL hair care appliances worldwide except in Japan. The outright acquisition consists primarily of the ThermaCELL cordless curling irons and butane-powered cartridges, as well as the Far East factory where they are produced, according to Conair product manager Robin Linsley. Conair also has the rights to sell any personal care appliance for which the ThermaCELL factory has tooling. ThermaCELL is a technology under which portable cordless heating products, such as a curling iron, are powered by butane from a replaceable cartridge. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Conair, which had exclusive distribution rights to the ThermaCELL hair stylers from 1986 to 1998, plans to eventually incorporate the Conair brand into the ThermaCELL line, redesign it, and reposition it at lower suggested retails. Conair may eventually seek to offer other products as part of the ThermaCELL line, but the cordless curling irons and cartridges clearly are seen as the crux of this agreement. “ThermaCELL is part of the heritage of the overall styler category,” said Linsley. “Although it is a niche, there is a dedicated ThermaCELL user base devoted to using this product because there is no plug.” About 15 million ThermaCELL hair stylers and 60 million cartridges have been sold in the U.S., according to Schawbel president and CEO Bill Schawbel. “Conair is the world’s largest personal care appliance company,” he told HOMEWORLD BUSINESS®. “They can really take the cordless hair care farther than anyone else.” Conair, which has greater marketing and distribution might, could possibly transform what has been a promotional product line into a full, year-round business, Schawbel said. “They can price it better, go deeper into SKUs, be more promotional, and tie it to other products they have,” said Schawbel. It was only mid 2001 that Schawbel and Conair, far from being business partners, were at each other’s throats, with Schawbel obtaining a preliminary injunction that prohibited Conair from making or selling cordless hair curlers that Schawbel claimed infringed a ThermaCELL patent. “That’s history,” said Schawbel. “We moved beyond that.” The companies, in fact, resolved that dispute in late 2001, with neither company providing details of the settlement. “Everything has been resolved,” said Linsley. Helen of Troy distributed ThermaCELL for a couple of years under its Revlon brand when the original distribution agreement between Conair and Schawbel was terminated. Going forward, Conair has a two-pronged strategy in place to govern its takeover of the ThermaCELL line. First, Conair wants to maintain distribution of the products, primarily curling irons and replacement cartridges, which ship in most retail channels. “We will transition existing inventory and continue to service retail accounts,” said Linsley. Then, in about three to four months, Conair is planning to relaunch the products under the Conair brand, using the ThermaCELL name as a secondary brand. “The product will be branded Conair although I will incorporate the ThermaCELL name on the packaging,” said Linsley. The products also will be repositioned with lower retails. As of now, the ThermaCELL stylers retail at around $19.99. Conair is looking to reduce the ticket to $14.99. Replacement cartridges, retailing for around $5.99, will maintain their price structure. “Purchasing the line [from Schawbel]enables us to market ThermaCELL at a pricepoint that is viable for the product,” said Linsley. “It will definitely enable us to increase distribution.” Linsley said there would not be a major overhaul in terms of a redesign of ThermaCELL product and packaging. “We will basically bring the line under the Conair umbrella.” Going forward, Conair could expand the ThermaCELL technology into other products. The agreement, in fact, entails that Schawbel and Conair will work together on research and development for new portable personal care appliances that use the ThermaCELL technology as the centerpiece. Schawbel, separately, plans to expand ThermaCELL into other product categories outside of personal care.