Bad Hair Days

Today, few ethnic haircare products are owned by black companies. Their decades-long legacy has been lost to mainstream manufacturers.

“Also, large companies have to be concerned with meeting Wall Street’s earnings expectations. Smaller companies can just be innovative.”

To others not as brazen as Luster in their fight for retail space, survival means taking it all back to where it began-the salon. “That’s where this industry started. It didn’t start in retail; it started in the professional market,” notes Michael Joshua, whose father founded J.M. Products in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1977. J.M. Products manufactures the Isoplus brand.

Dudley Products Inc. (No. 88 on the be industrial/service 100 list with $30 million in sales for 1999) markets to salons as opposed to retailers. Founder and CEO Joe Dudley’s success proves that it’s a viable outlet.

“We are concerned about the acquisitions but we are not threatened,” says Ursula Dudley Oglesby, vice president of marketing and legal at Dudley, which also owns 16 beauty schools, Dudley Cosmetology University, and the DCU Inn in Kernersville, North Carolina. “We have two totally different market bases. Our market is totally through salons. Carson does mainly retail establishments.”

The professional market is a reliable one, but the major companies have a strong foothold there too. Many majority-owned companies are also able to offer salon owners more marketing options.

Edith Younger-Huff, owner of the salon A Cut Above in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was a faithful customer of Dudley products for seven of the 14 years her shop has been in business.

Recently, Dudley began selling products online, which infringed on the strictly professional relationship it had with the salon owner. In addition, Younger-Huff says Dudley refuses to advertise and doesn’t promote salons on its Website, in contrast to some majority-owned companies.

Younger-Huff also sells Avlon products, created in 1984 by a Pakistani named Ali Syed. Avlon’s products include the KeraCare brand and Affirm, which is a professionals-only relaxer system. Younger-Huff says Avlon lists her shop as a retailer of its products on its Website.

“In two weeks [after being listed], a woman called who had visited Avlon’s site looking for their products locally,” recounts Younger-Huff. “The customer purchased six or seven products at my shop, then made a hair appointment. Then she came back and got color.”

A Cut Above’s orders from Dudley have sunk from approximately $400 to $100 a week.

“The lifeline is innovation,” says Lou Roppolo of Lou Roppolo & Associates, a Montvale, New Jersey, beauty industry consulting firm specializing in the ethnic market. “If you are innovative and resourceful you can survive and be of value to the marketplace,” Roppolo says.

Other survival tactics include broadening the scope of the products to lotions and cosmetics, to name some options. In addition, some suggest expanding the market.

“Besides black people using relaxers, there are a lot of people-Hispanic, Asian, European, Indian-whose skins aren’t black that want to get their hair straightened or take the wave out of their hair,” says Washington. “There’s a multicultural, multitextural trend that black companies can tap into.”

Then there’s a large pool of people of color outside of the United States. “You’ve got to look at the other

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