#94. Moroccanoil took a single product and gave it a global footprint. We talk with co-founder Carmen Tal about how she popularized oil-based hair care through traditional distribution methods after making a discovery of her own. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Check out the full transcript below.

Richie: [00:00:07] Welcome to the 94th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, a show about the rapidly changing consumer economy. This episode is brought to you by Loose Threads Membership, which gives you actionable analysis, insights and events that drive growth, and Loose Threads Espresso, your energizing and high-pressure filter for consumer news—in context. We also have a newsletter that features the latest analysis of the consumer economy from Loose Threads. Check it all out at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:35] Joining me today is Carmen Tal, a co-founder of Moroccanoil, a haircare treatment she popularized after using what was then a product from a small Israeli business to fix her own damaged hair.

Carmen: [00:00:45] Unfortunately, today hair suffers a lot because of diet, because of environmental factors—all kinds of things. And, the trends are changing so people have different needs to style the hair. It’s very dynamic.

Richie: [00:00:58] Carmen realized that she’d hit on something when her own hairdresser was using the product for many other clients even though it was only intended to be used on her. She and her then-husband got the distribution rights to the product and brought it to North America. They eventually bought the whole company in order to scale it globally, using traditional distribution methods that are often derided today. Here’s my talk with Carmen Tal.

Richie: [00:01:25] Why don’t we start. Just talk a bit about your background in terms of what you were doing before Moroccanoil.

Carmen: [00:01:30] Yes.

Richie: [00:01:30] And then we can talk about Moroccanoil.

Carmen: [00:01:32] After school, I moved to Canada. I moved to Montreal to learn English. I obviously learned English and French because I decided to go to Montreal, which is a bilingual city—lucky for me. While I was there, I married someone and I stayed, so I started working. I went into fashion. I started in sales and I became a buyer and the manager for the flagship store of Liz Claiborne and it was an incredible experience. I was in the fashion industry for about 15 years. Time passes so fast that I forget. After that, I divorced my first husband. I married my second husband and I had three children with him. At that period of time, I stopped working. For about ten years I did not work. I decided to be a full-time mother. Fantastic experience, but of course, after a while, especially when you have worked and studied all your life, it’s not enough to become just a mother. There are other things in life.

Carmen: [00:02:38] I met this hairdresser [who] used to do my hair near the neighborhood where I live and he needed some investment to open a little salon in that neighborhood and I thought it was an incredible opportunity for me because it was near my house. It wasn’t a strict schedule. I could work whenever I wanted. But, of course, it doesn’t work as you planned. What happened is that it was a really full-time job because you have to manage purchases and clients and hairdressers. It’s a big job. So I started that venture. It wasn’t an easy one because I’m not a hairdresser. I did not come from the industry and it was challenging, but I learned so much. I think [despite] everything that I’ve learned, little [did] I [know] that it was in preparation for this big adventure that was coming, which is the Moroccanoil.

Richie: [00:03:32] Yeah. What were some of the big surprises you were learning?

Carmen: [00:03:36] The big surprise is that it’s hard to find talented hairdressers, particularly if you’re going to be working in a neighborhood where clients are demanding and they know what they want. That was one of the biggest challenges. Back then, for some reason, all the hairdressers were not that into their jobs. They used to take it easy. So they wouldn’t come to work or all kinds of little things that weren’t of my liking. Sometimes a little stealing here and there whether it’s time, whether it’s products. It’s just frustrating because you come from a world of trust and it just doesn’t happen all the time. So that was challenging. It wasn’t challenging to get clients. It wasn’t a challenge to sell products. It was mostly the people working with you.

Richie: [00:04:27] So you now have the salon that you’re helping run and then bridge the story into how Moroccanoil starts to begin.

Carmen: [00:04:37] I am a true believer that everything that happens to you is for a reason, for a purpose. It sounds a little bit cheesy, but it is what it is. I truly believe that the universe sends you things for you to do something with them. So, while I was in the salon, one of the hairdressers who was very experienced, all the time did a phenomenal job, dyed my hair and did a horrible job. Horrible. Usually my head is kind of like honey, little highlights, brown, never too dark and that’s the way I like it. I am very specific for my hair. First, they left it very orange and I went like, “Oh my God!” So she said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened, overexposure,” whatever. I said, “But how do we fix this?” So, to fix it, they put a semi-permanent color that made it very black and, of course, the hair becomes very dry and dehydrated and in a horrible condition. I was very frustrated. So I went to see another colorist to see [if] can we do something because I wasn’t ready to cut my hair. I had a wedding to attend as well. I had my whole wardrobe planned around my hair. It was so frustrating.

Carmen: [00:05:48] So, when I was in Israel, my sister-in-law took me to a salon to do my hair for the wedding. The stylist then introduced to me what is today the Moroccanoil treatment. It transformed my hair in ways that I’ve never seen. I was used to using products. I know what good products would do to the hair. But this was incredibly transformative. I was like, “What is this?” First of all, it smelled incredible and left the hair soft and manageable. I had never thought that was something that could be possible. I didn’t think much of it. When I left the salon, he said, “Take a bottle with you to Canada and, when you do your hair, tell the hairdresser to apply it the same way I did it.” He gave me the instructions. I come back home. I take two little bottles. In the meantime, I’m looking at the bottles and I’m smelling the product. I’m just using it every day because I was in love with it. I get back home. I gave it to my hairdresser to keep it so every time I do my hair, they can use it in my hair. A week passed by. I go to the salon and the bottom is half empty. And I said, “What happened?” He said, “Listen, this is such an incredible product. It makes my life so easy.” He started selling me the product and I said, “Oh, really?”

Carmen: [00:07:10] So then I start thinking this could be a good opportunity for me to do something with this. I talk to my husband and I said, “Can you talk to the people in Israel to see if we can have the distribution for Montreal? I would like to do it.” He wasn’t very interested in doing business with me because the salon business wasn’t doing that well. It was so—

Richie: [00:07:33] The thing in front of you wasn’t going.

Carmen: [00:07:35] Right. So I ask him, “Can you please, can you please?” I don’t speak Hebrew, otherwise I would have picked up the phone. You never know if they do speak or not. I sold the salon in the meantime. So one day he needed to go to Israel for something else. And I said, “Could you please, please just, if you have a minute, go to see the people?” So he went to see the people and he’s an incredible business man. He immediately saw the opportunity. He interviewed a couple of salons in Tel Aviv and all these salons were preferring to work with this product to more recognized brands in the market. So he came back and he told me, “Okay, we have the distribution for North America. What are you going to do now?” And I go, “Oh! I said Montreal!”

Carmen: [00:08:23] That was the beginning and I feel that we were given an incredible opportunity and I think we took it and made it work even without knowing what we were getting into. Somehow… I think at times, that was the best thing that happened because sometimes when you know too much, you fear more. When you don’t know and you’re given something that needs to happen, you go for it and you do everything possible to make it work because you believe. You are in love with it and [it’s] almost like adrenaline is driving you to just look at the positive things and go for it.

Richie: [00:09:02] When you found the product, it was a different brand? What was it called then?

Carmen: [00:09:06] Back then, it had a horrible name. I think it was called Praxis.

Richie: [00:09:11] Okay. Very medical sounding.

Carmen: [00:09:13] Exactly. The bottle was the same. The label was different. The product was about 90% the same. We just tweaked the fragrance, the texture of the product itself. But it was pretty much the same product.

Richie: [00:09:26] Gotcha.

Carmen: [00:09:26] The first thing we did is change the name, change the label and get a marketing strategy and a sales strategy. That was the first thing that we did. We had one product. It wasn’t that we had a brand or a line of products. It was just one product.

Richie: [00:09:42] Before you came along, was it just a local Israeli, under the radar brand that only hairdressers and some select people knew about? It had a small reach it seems, no?

Carmen: [00:09:53] Yes. It was what we would call here a basement, a garage operation.

Richie: [00:09:59] Oh, really?

Carmen: [00:10:00] Yeah. Very small. There was a chemist behind [it]. There was a hairdresser and a businessman behind [it]. I think it was mostly the chemist person who had an ability to create beautiful products. Even afterwards, he created a couple of very good products for us. And then the business people saw something good and they were selling it door to door pretty much in Tel Aviv and then a little bit outside of Tel Aviv. Israel is a small country. So that was probably like a—

Richie: [00:10:35] Small business.

Carmen: [00:10:35] Yeah, nothing much.

Richie: [00:10:35] Very cool. Then you and your husband come along, you get the rights for North America and then you said the first thing you did was try to figure out how to market it and change the name. Where did the name come from and how did you come up with it? And then how did you start to think about the marketing since you only had a product not a brand?

Carmen: [00:10:50] The name was—it just came. We were looking at other brands and some brands are called by the name of a hairdresser because they’re inspired by a person who believed in something and other brands have just a clinical name. We went over and over how people used to refer to the product in Israel. So when you went to a salon, they would say, “I’m going to use oil of Morocco.” They call it oil of Morocco. The translation would sound like the oil of Morocco so we started calling it Moroccan Oil. Two words. One day my husband and I are talking and I said—we said—I never like to take credit. We said, “Moroccanoil sounds really good. In one word. It’s just strong and exotic and I like it.” And then you say it a couple of times and then go for it.

Richie: [00:11:48] Gotcha. It was the nickname, almost, of the product.

Carmen: [00:11:51] Yeah, it was almost the nickname. You say “Q-Tip” and then the brand comes. Little we knew that it was going to be an inspiration for a lot of other brands.

Richie: [00:12:02] Yeah.

Carmen: [00:12:03] Practically, we created that category of the argan-infused [oil]. We didn’t have a marketing strategy immediately. First we had a combination of marketing, selling strategy that was similar to what were they doing in Israel. They would take a sample because we believe that the best way to promote a product is trying it. This product is very sensorial. You smell it and you feel incredible, then you put it in your hair and it just feels incredible and it’s a beautiful bottle. It is very sensorial, I find. The moment that the hairdresser it puts it in the hair and the consumer smells, it’s just a whole experience. It’s impossible that you’re not going to like it. So what we did is, at the time, I had two friends of mine who were not working then and I said, “Listen, I’m doing this and I wondered if you’d be interested in selling it? This is my strategy.” So it was very organic at the beginning. What I did [was] I google: “How many salons are there in Montreal?” I pretty much divided the city in two; the east and the west. One girl would do the east, the other girl would do the west. Downtown we did half and half because it would be unfair to just—west is different than the east. So they went door to door downtown. They were very excited because—you know when you start something from scratch and you’re part of it and you’re making a change and they’re part of the change? People like that. The adrenaline was so high every day that we went to work and every day we discovered something different, something new.

Carmen: [00:13:44] In a matter of about two, three weeks, people had started calling asking for the product and [it was like] music ringing. It was an amazing experience. So we started selling them. First, it could be one bottle then we decided we can not break the box so it would be by six. It was just going and going and going and it was like, “Wow.” My husband decided that we would go to a trade show in New York. This was January and the show would be in February and we had no time to do anything. He pretty much tells me, “We’re going to a trade show so you need to create a booth.” And I go, “What’s a booth?” That’s how ignorant I was about the whole thing. We created this most beautiful booth. Really beautiful. We wanted to give it a modern Moroccan feel. It wasn’t just the Moroccan with the happy colors. It was more like the white, Mediterranean feel of things. People are attracted to beauty. We were selling beauty and, lucky enough, we know these beautiful hairdressers that were physically beautiful, spiritually beautiful. They were incredible people [who] are still with us to this day. So we took this army of talented, beautiful people to the booth. We were in the back of the trade show where all the knick-knack people are. We weren’t with big brands because we were no one. Suddenly, people started coming because, again, beauty is attractive. We had one product so we had to merchandise one product. We needed to make it pop. We were busy. I remember that we started selling and we didn’t even think that we would possibly sell anything. And that was it. I signed the first distributor for New Jersey and, after that, distributors came in. Every day, people [were] knocking at the door and we were like, “What is happening?”

Carmen: [00:15:50] It was very busy for the first five years building the brand. When I look back, I’m amazed [that], with so little, we did so much. I think, again, the beauty is that we were so much in love with this brand, so much in love with the product. It was such a spectacular product. That did half of the job. And then [not] knowing so much I think, again, helped us a lot because you just go for it.

Richie: [00:16:19] It’s interesting. A lot of new companies today will launch with a single product and then they’ll sell it for a few years and then they’ll start adding a lot of other products. Other brands will start with a bunch of products and then try to figure out what works. Was it somehow focusing or freeing for you to only have one thing to sell versus having all these different things that you had to try to get people to pay attention to?

Carmen: [00:16:41] I don’t think we even thought about that. We got this one product that we needed to do something with. The brand had three other products in Israel, but in order to bring them [over], [it requires] registration, the FDA regulations. There’s a lot of things that you have to consider before bringing them. So we did a little bit of marketing research. What would be the next product? It’s inevitable that when you like something, the consumer wants to have more of it. It’s just human nature. If something is good, you want more of it. The benefits of the argan oils are incredible. The fragrance is fantastic so people wanted more. Honestly, it’s not that it was better to do more. We just had one.

Richie: [00:17:23] Right.

Carmen: [00:17:23] And we built around it. If you ask me today, I think it’s better to have less than more. But if somebody has a concept that requires ten or more products, it’s a concept. That’s a different story.

Richie: [00:17:36] So you started this in 2009, into 2010, [when] it’s starting to really take off and so forth. So I assume… you [were] ordering inventory from Israel?

Carmen: [00:17:44] Right.

Richie: [00:17:45] What did they think seeing this thing start to go?

Carmen: [00:17:48] Okay. First of all, after coming to the trade show, we figured that that company wasn’t able to supply for us. The demand was too large for the little guy so we decided to buy the company and open a factory to create more products. We bought the rights. We bought the company and we built [a] manufacturer in the north of Israel. That was the year after. Some of the people stayed in the company as consultants. One of them actually was our COO for a period of ten years almost.

Richie: [00:18:26] Before, you didn’t have to manufacturer, right? You would just place the orders. Now you have a factory and so forth. What sort of lessons did you learn after you took over that operation? Because it’s a lot more work.

Carmen: [00:18:37] From doing everything, what do you learn, again, is better control. You learn from when you start—the initial idea of a product to when the product is finished, it takes a lot more. When you just order a product from a contact manufacturer, it’s like, “Oh I would like to have a hairspray.” And you just give them your thoughts of the hairspray and they do it for you. When you manufacture all the way from one drop of this and what’s the size, what’s the package, how’s it going to be shaped, it’s much better.

Richie: [00:19:11] You mentioned before that the opening into the product was letting people try it and that, once they try it, once a hairdresser uses it with them, they generally have a very good reaction. From a marketing perspective, did you have a message so to speak? How did you talk about the brand or was it just like, “Hey, just try this. Trust us, it’ll be good.”

Carmen: [00:19:29] We created a pamphlet, like a flyer, like a small little piece of paper with information. What the product would do and what it contained. But mostly the marketing strategy was, “I’m going to give you this. Try it. This is the way you use it.” We used to put it in the palm of the hand and just smell it. Of course, people react immediately to the sensorial. We say, “Let us know how you like it.” It was pretty much very organic. Not pushing… “I’m not gonna give you a price. I’m not going to tell you anything and if you want more information, here is a a little bit more information and the phone number is there. Give us a call.” That was pretty much [it].

Richie: [00:20:09] A very relaxed sale.

Carmen: [00:20:11] Very relaxed, very relaxed.

Richie: [00:20:13] Was it nice to not have to yell and scream about how good it was or that you had to use it because people would just start reacting?

Carmen: [00:20:20] I think everything should be like that. I believe that when there is a good product, you recognize it right away a consumer. Brands don’t need to scream, “Buy me!” Particularly when it comes to beauty, especially today. At the time that we launched the brand, social media wasn’t there, so there was more word-of-mouth. It was more putting the product in the hands of the right people [who] could talk about it. And then, of course, we had a PR agency that helped us a little bit more. We did a lot of education. It was a little bit more work. Today, we launch a product [and] we have the influencers, the bloggers, the social media. It goes faster. Nevertheless, lucky for us that we have already cemented the reputation of the brand. So we don’t have to work as hard as knocking doors. Now, it’s a hundred doors instead of one door.

Richie: [00:21:12] Right. Do you prefer it now or then?

Carmen: [00:21:15] I cannot compare because I’m older and I’m not much into the social media arena. I’m learning and I think it’s just an incredible tool. Oh my god, it opens so many doors. I like the old-fashioned way of doing things. I like the human contact. I like shopping in a store. I like having the conversation with somebody about something. I think both have good and bad. Today, we manage to do both. We still have people in the field. We have educators [who] touch people one-on-one and we have an incredible social media platform that touches a lot of people—these kind of conversations that also bring us more followers. I don’t think it’s one against the other. I think both had a good thing and I think my personal opinion is [that] changes are good. I think you have to embrace changes and learn about the changes and get in the wagon. Otherwise, you’re gonna miss your momentum.

Richie: [00:22:17] Absolutely. So, in 2010, 2011, it sounds like the business is working quite well. Were you surprised that it was going as fast as it was going?

Carmen: [00:22:30] It’s hard to answer that question. I’ll tell you why. First of all, unfortunately, my marriage didn’t work. It wasn’t because of work. It was other issues. I was so busy in between moving to New York, in between my divorce, in between young children [whom] you had to take care of that I didn’t even grab that momentum of, “Oh, we are successful.” There was so much work to be done. I used to be very hands-on when it came to education, even meeting distributors to talk about the brand. I think it’s only recently, when I walk around even in other countries and I see the brand so well positioned in beautiful salons, that I feel very happy and blessed and like, “Wow, we did it!” It’s a very good feeling.

Richie: [00:23:19] At what point did you start to go outside of North America? Because now the brand is available globally, but at what point did you start to say, “Okay, we should start selling in other countries besides the U.S. and Canada”?

Carmen: [00:23:32] Funny enough, we were one of those brands that would be approached. When we headed to a show, let’s say, in Las Vegas, which is a more international trade show, we had distributors coming from other countries asking us to have the representation for their countries. We were very lucky that way. The first country that came on board was the U.K. and they came to us. It was like, “Oh, this is a different ballgame. This is completely different now.” You have different regulations, different marketing strategies. It changes. So we’ve been changing. All the time we change. We have to accommodate the needs constantly from employees to divisions to anything.

Richie: [00:24:19] So, today, as I’m sure you know, a lot of brands launch on the Internet and they say, “We’ll never sell through wholesale. We’ll never open retail. We’ll never work through distributors,” and they only do it through their website. It sounds like the distributors were crucial to Moroccanoil’s success and growth and so forth. If you were to launch the brand again today from scratch, would you do it the same way you did or would you try only selling online or something like that?

Carmen: [00:24:44] A hundred percent the same way. I would go with the distribution. Distributors do an amazing job because they have the relationship with the hairdresser. Again, I believe that the experiential, the sensorial, the touching things, it’s so important. I think the first impression is what counts. Online you’re going to see, but you’re not going to feel, you’re not going to smell unless you already know about this. But, for the first time, I want this hairdresser to tell me about it and then I make the decision where to buy it. Hopefully, it would be available somewhere else.

Richie: [00:25:18] So what year did you start selling online?

Carmen: [00:25:21] I think about two, three years ago.

Richie: [00:25:23] Okay, so more recently.

Carmen: [00:25:24] Very recently. Yeah. We thought about it really well. We respect the hairdressers. We want to make sure they have the business intact. We don’t want to disrupt too much. But, again, you have to be ready for the changes. The consumer wants to buy a product. The consumer already knows your product. She doesn’t necessarily go to the salon, so she needs to be able to find it wherever she wants to find it.

Carmen: [00:25:49] Are people going to salons less now?

Carmen: [00:25:52] I wouldn’t say that but I think you have the younger generation that [is] very product savvy and they hear from their mothers and they hear from a friend [who] goes to the salon or they go one time to the salon, but they’re not going to go again until another five months to cut their hair. So they’re different type of clients so you have to—

Richie: [00:26:11] Be where they want.

Carmen: [00:26:13] A hundred percent.

Richie: [00:26:14] So into 2012, 2013, 2014—what are you focused on in terms of what are your priorities for the business as it is three-, four-, five-years-old at this point?

Carmen: [00:26:27] First of all, we made a lot of changes in terms of administration, the management, how we were running the company… We moved to New York to run everything that has to do with education, marketing and PR. For several reasons. First of all, you’ll find more talent in New York and it’s a city. It’s so alive and to bring a client to New York, it has a lot more weight. Then we kept the office in Israel. We kept the office in Montreal. So most of that organizational part was very important in the growth and we continue doing that. We started with an office with three people in New York. Now we have about 60 people and we have three floors and we have an academy that is constantly busy with education. [In] Israel, we had one small factory. Now, we took the other side of the factory. The office moved to a bigger building because also they have about 40 people working there, just in the offices. So it’s very dynamic.

Richie: [00:27:33] Did things change from a sales perspective?

Carmen: [00:27:36] It’s always changing. You have to understand that we built everything from scratch so there was no marketing division. It was pretty much myself and somebody else trying to figure out, “What do we do next?” So then we built marketing in the New York office and we built PR. We built education. We built social. We built ecommerce. We were building and we continued building. It’s just neverending because you just grow. It’s a beautiful opportunity. I’m glad to say that we are expanding always.

Richie: [00:28:10] Talk a bit about the evolution of the educational piece in terms of—it sounds like it was something you focused on a lot in the beginning but then, as it went on, you formalized it into the academy. I’m curious to hear about the journey of how that developed.

Carmen: [00:28:24] At the beginning, you educate pretty much the distributors on the product itself and the distributors would educate salons, their salespeople. Then, eventually, we had more products. We needed to include more education that catered to stylists. So we’d have classes in the distribution academies or offices or we would just take a space and get 200 hairdressers in one space. So then we decided to have an academy to teach classes because a lot of hairdressers go to beauty school or they learn on their own because [it’s] the family business and they learn from very young. But the hairdressing industry has evolved a lot and there are different techniques, different tools. There are different ways to do hair. We want to encourage these people to continue growing. The academy, at this moment, creates a lot of curriculum for different skill sets of hairdressers. That’s what we provide, almost like a school. We take people from all over the world. We work with sales and the distributors. We sell the classes. People love coming to New York. Imagine somebody from Chile and they send five people and somebody from Peru, another five. We get a class of 20 people from South America or Korea. It looks fun.

Richie: [00:29:54] At what point did you introduce the second product? What was it? And how was it received?

Carmen: [00:30:00] The second product is still there, the same product and it sells amazing and it’s a wonderful product called, “Hydrating Styling Cream.” It’s just a styling product that, again, [has] the same benefits. It conditions the hair, helps you to style easier. It gives a little bit of hold so if you want to have a curl, it would hold the curl a little bit longer. And then we had a hydrating mask that is too hydrate the hair and to really give it that boost that the hair needs when it’s abused. So those were very complimentary products. It was really nice to sell a little package of three things. Now I had more room to play in terms of marketing, merchandising. At least you could play a little bit. So that was fun. Those three products, to this day, are our bestsellers.

Richie: [00:30:47] Why do you think that is?

Carmen: [00:30:48] They were just products made with integrity—not that the others are not. They’re just very real products, very simple products. That’s all pretty much what you need.

Richie: [00:31:00] From a product development perspective, you now had three that were going well. Where did you go from there? Did you continue to develop more? Did you try to evolve the existing ones? And then how do you think about how to expand, if at all, on the product side?

Carmen: [00:31:15] We were very open to listen to the stylists out there. We had brand managers and educators [who] were in the field constantly. So we would always, “What else would you like to have? Why do you like these products?” It’s the one-on-one. The inevitable was to create a shampoo and conditioner so then you have a full-care category for your hair. We created a shampoo and a conditioner and we kind of rested a little bit there. I think for about a year, we had those five needs for the hair and then we started thinking, “What else are we going to bring?” So you start bringing the basics, which [are] products that are very needed in a station. Very organic, very one-day-at-a-time, but fast, because you need to bring things in a matter of two years. Every product takes about between two to three years to come to the salon or to the retailer. So a long process.

Richie: [00:32:14] And is that because of just time and regulations?

Carmen: [00:32:15] Everything. First of all, you need to experiment with the formulas. You need to test the formulas. You need to test the packaging. You need to test all kinds of things. By the time you launch, two years pass by—minimum.

Richie: [00:32:30] So it sounds like the ethos or the reality was [that] you can’t rush this, so might as well make it perfect versus trying to get something half-good quickly.

Carmen: [00:32:39] Absolutely. First of all, we had three incredible products that were giving us sales [so] that we were very financially stable. We had the luxury of taking our time to think, “What’s the next [thing]?” One of the best things that we did is that we split the load of work. My ex-husband took care of all the business operation part of it and I was the one doing the creative. We didn’t bother each other and I think that was great because sometimes when you have too much—we’re very independent individuals and we trust each other. We have always, even to this day—even when we’re not married—I trust his sense of business, his judgment to do things and his integrity as a businessman and he does trust my taste and my ability to communicate to people and make the right decisions for the brand. That’s been really instrumental to the growth.

Richie: [00:33:37] Absolutely.

Carmen: [00:33:37] Because a lot of companies have this tension of “sales is the one driving,” “marketing is the one driving.” I think one of the things that we have created in this company is that culture of working together as a team. If something goes wrong, it goes wrong for everyone. It’s not just sales. It’s not just product development. I always quote—I remember I saw the movie “The Martian.” I don’t know if you saw it. It impressed me tremendously how people working as a team can achieve something so incredibly big. Imagine, we’re just talking about products here. We’re just talking about selling something. If they could achieve, as a team, rescuing this person. It’s fictional but, nevertheless, it’s the ability to work as a team.

Richie: [00:34:26] You mentioned something before which was, as you developed the products, the focus was filling out the station, you said, which I assume referred to the hairdresser station. What is it like developing a product and building a brand for almost two different groups of people? Because you have to please the hairdresser, but you also have to please the consumer at the end because, if they don’t use it, there’s no point in that. Do you find that they wanted different things or needed different things? Or they had very similar aspirations or things that they needed from it?

Carmen: [00:34:56] I think they both have the same needs. I think hair has the same needs. One of the things that works for both is the ease of use. When you have something uncomplicated that gives you results, it’s good for the hairdresser, it’s good for the consumer, pretty much. Everything from that point on was the base of creating the products that we have today.

Richie: [00:35:20] So then if we work our way up to the present, in terms of the last two to three years, when did you know that you needed to launch ecommerce and how did that go? And then what other priorities have there been for you in the last few years?

Carmen: [00:35:35] We’ve thought about ecommerce for a long time. I think it took us about two years to make the decision. We consulted with our distributors to make sure that that they would be okay with the decision. We created programs where people buying online would be directed to a salon near them. We did all kinds of things that were considerate for the salon, not to disrupt the salon business. So it took us about two years and it was a business decision mainly. And, again, thinking of [where] the consumer wants to buy. We received so many phone calls every day before having the online [channel]. Emails [saying], “Can I buy it online?” Some people live far away from a major city that has it, but they can get our products shipped to them. It was a decision that was inevitable to take.

Richie: [00:36:23] Did it actually improve the salon businesses and distributor businesses?

Carmen: [00:36:27] It did not affect the business of the salon and, in some instances, helped the salon because people who started buying online go to the salon [and ask], “Can I buy it? Can I use the product?” I think it’s a good thing.

Richie: [00:36:39] Yeah.

Carmen: [00:36:39] It really was a good thing. You just have to be sure you do it right, that you think it [through] well. What kind of ecommerce are you going to have?

Richie: [00:36:46] And then, in terms of other priorities, what else were you spending time focusing on in the last few years and even this year?

Carmen: [00:36:54] Today, I focus mostly on product development and I work very closely with the marketing department and the PR department and education. I continue doing the same but I do less of the “housekeeping” as I call it. I do less of the “doing it myself.” Now, as a team, we come up with an idea. I sit with the right people and then we do marketing research. It’s done properly. It’s not so intuitive anymore. It has to feel right. First of all, most the products that we create are created to address a need or to address a problem. Unfortunately, today, hair suffers a lot because of diet, because of environmental factors and all kinds of things. The trends are changing, so people have different needs to style the hair. Color is changing. It’s very dynamic.

Richie: [00:37:49] You said before that you really helped define the category as well in terms of a lot of the oil-based hair treatments. Is that exciting? Is it funny to see all these other companies popping up trying to do similar things? How do you look at that part of it?

Carmen: [00:38:03] At the beginning, sometimes I compare [it with] when somebody copies you. It’s supposed to be a compliment because you look good or because [of] whatever they like about you. But you don’t like it somehow because it was your identity. It was your own thing. So I think it’s the same with us. Somehow it feels like a compliment. Absolutely. But on the other hand, you have no idea the amount of lawsuits that we’ve been through, the amount of money, unnecessarily, that you had to spend with lawyers trying to defend the brand from poachers, copying from the name, from the packaging. Name it. It’s just a nightmare. I think in the past two years, it calmed down and I think we solidified our name and I don’t think we need to fight as much for the space that we have. I think people know who we are. People go and shop for the brand for what it is and not a copy. It was very difficult, very hard. That was a difficult part.

Richie: [00:39:05] Yeah. I guess it means you’re doing something right though.

Carmen: [00:39:06] Right. But, again, it has a good and a bad side. But we have an incredible legal team. We had to have a legal team in-house. The sad part is that all of that money can go into development. It could go into better things, education. And then you have to spend it defending yourself.

Richie: [00:39:23] But in a way though, that also is money well used to defend what you’ve built.

Carmen: [00:39:28] A hundred percent.

Richie: [00:39:29] So did you sell the company or do you still—

Carmen: [00:39:31] We still own the company.

Richie: [00:39:32] Still own it. Okay, so it’s totally yours still.

Carmen: [00:39:34] You build the company not to sell a company. You build the company because you believe in the company and in a brand, in the product. People have approached to sell. I don’t think it’s the right time. We didn’t think about it. We’re having fun and, as long as you’re having fun and you wake up in the morning and you’re happy to go to work—

Richie: [00:39:53] Why change anything?

Carmen: [00:39:55] It’s good.

Richie: [00:39:56] Do you have any retail stores of your own or no?

Carmen: [00:39:58] No, we don’t.

Richie: [00:39:59] Have you ever thought about that?

Carmen: [00:40:01] We did, but we are very busy. One of my ideas is to have a flagship store, but we’re too busy, unfortunately.

Richie: [00:40:10] It’s a good problem.

Carmen: [00:40:11] Which one is more important? I think we’ll wait. We have beautiful salons. They look like a flagship store and we support those salons and those are our anchors in the retail.

Richie: [00:40:23] What has been the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned building the company?

Carmen: [00:40:28] The most expensive lesson is, again, I just told you.

Richie: [00:40:31] The lawsuits.

Carmen: [00:40:31] Oh my god. That was like—the cheapest I think is giving the samples to the hairdressers one by one, instead of spending a tremendous amount of money in advertisements. In other words, the oldest, the cheapest way of advertisements: word-of-mouth. I would say those two.

Richie: [00:40:52] What are you most excited about looking into the next one, two, three years?

Carmen: [00:40:56] Oh. A lot. I think, again, the beauty industry is very dynamic and is changing a lot. One of the most exciting parts is the packaging, changing some of the packaging, all the future projects that we are thinking of as thinking of more environmentally friendly packages. We always had friendly ingredients, but I think more and more companies are moving towards that. Another part that we’re very excited about is education, which is giving back to the community. In part, because you are educating people, by educating people, people have a better life and everybody’s happier and we have better communities everywhere. I think that is, alone, very exciting and a lot of work and it’s new, it’s fresh. You have to constantly be thinking, “What’s next?”

Richie: [00:41:49] What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about the company or the product?

Carmen: [00:41:53] I think the most misunderstood was that oil is heavy and I wouldn’t put it in my hair. Once you try it, you realize that, “What is this? It disappears and leaves the hair beautiful.” At the beginning, that was a little bit challenging to overcome.

Richie: [00:42:12] How did you end up [overcoming it]? Just, again, people had to try it?

Carmen: [00:42:14] Yeah. Once you try it, when you are in the trade shows and you see how you use it and people say, “Oh my god. This amazing.”

Richie: [00:42:22] Yeah.

Carmen: [00:42:22] So you see? We still need people!

Richie: [00:42:24] You need humans.

Carmen: [00:42:25] You need humans. You need the touch, you need the feel, you need to talk. It’s so contagious when you talk to somebody and, especially, when you love something so much.

Richie: [00:42:34] Besides launching ecommerce, is there anything that the internet and where beauty and so forth is today that has changed the way you think about the business or you approach it?

Carmen: [00:42:44] Social media is a big part that is growing for us. We are launching a blog. That, for us, was very important. I think social media is expanding and making a difference for us.

Richie: [00:42:58] It’s probably interesting also to see some of the hairstylists also have their own presence and they also have their own extensions as well that hopefully are helping the brand too.

Carmen: [00:43:08] Yes, absolutely. I think education plays a big part in that social platform. We have the “pro,” which is the professional site, and then we have the consumer. I noticed the biggest change, the biggest growth and that we have to constantly be watching what’s next because it’s so fast.

Richie: [00:43:27] Are the products now—are they all focused on hair? Or do they go into broader beauty as well?

Carmen: [00:43:31] We have body and hair and suncare.

Richie: [00:43:36] And do you foresee that expanding, or [will] those will remain the three focus areas?

Carmen: [00:43:39] I think they have so much room to expand that there’s no need for anything at the moment. I think this kind of brand has permission to do a lot more because of the category that we have created, which is oil-infused. It has the fragrance. It has so much going for the brand that I think, honestly, we have the permission to do more. But, again, I think it’s better to go slowly because somehow, when you run too fast, you can trip. I’d rather walk and then continue walking.

Richie: [00:44:08] Get safely to the destination.

Carmen: [00:44:10] A hundred percent. I think it’s no rush where you’re going.

Richie: [00:44:11] Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much for talking.

Carmen: [00:44:13] Thank you.

Richie: [00:44:18] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave review on iTunes—we always appreciate it. And thanks to George Drake, Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests including Tze Chun of Uprise Art and Zak Normandin of Dirty Lemon. Thanks for listening and talk to you soon.