Carson Gets A Makeover

With an African American management team in control, hair care giant Carson Products has repositioned itself for growth.

company’s mission was the first order of business for Carson following the acquisition. “It was awfully important to broaden the scope of Carson’s market,” says Keith. Two months after the purchase, he and 41 other Carson employees–from the executive level to the mail room–convened for a week-long strategy meeting to define the new company’s goals. According to Keith, some of the best ideas came from staff who worked in production or shipping.

The chairman and CEO remembers one defining moment in particular. “I was in a breakout group when a woman named Virginia Stephens, from shipping, came up with an idea that changed the entire focus or our company,” he says. “Our mission statement had been for the new company to become the leader in ethnic hair care, but this woman suggested that, with Carson’s brand name and history, we should broaden our scope to become the leader in ethnic personal care.”

From that one suggestion, Keith and the other employees were able to develop a five-point growth strategy. The plan calls for Carson to increase its share of existing markets by upgrading products like its Dark & Lovely and Excelle relaxers; increase global expansion by broadening its presence in Africa, Europe, South America and the Caribbean; create new product categories, such as cosmetics and bath items to be sold under the existing brand labels (e.g., Dark & Lovely makeup); develop a salon-exclusive product line for the U.S. market; and acquire production facilities and other ethnic personal care product brands.

Much of the company’s growth strategy has already been put into effect and is being financed through existing cash assets and capital generated by the South African and U.S. stock offerings. Last year, in order to attract buyers to existing products, Carson repackaged and upgraded products for its Dark & Lovely, Excelle and Magic Shave lines. The company researched and developed a relaxer process that significantly reduces the chance of error and overprocessing, which was added to both the Dark & Lovely and Excelle relaxers. As a result of these improvements and the hiring of a dedicated sales staff, Carson increased its 1996 fourth-quarter sales by 33% over the previous year’s fourth- quarter sales.

In August, Carson began selling its new line of Dark & Lovely cosmetics (which includes lipsticks, powders, eyeshadows, blushes, foundations and nail polishes) through drugstores and retail chains such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. The company expects to reach first-year sales of $5 million. With the ethnic cosmetics market projected to grow 15% this year, beauty consultant Alfred Fornay, former beauty editor for Ebony magazine, says that Carson could indeed reach its goal.

“They’re really dealing with making a quality product for their price point,” says Fornay, who explains that Dark & Lovely cosmetics will be competing with other drugstore lines like Posner Maybelline’s Shades of You, and Black Opal. “Their foundation colors are good, and that’s still an issue with women of color.” Fornay notes, however, that Carson is not quite on the cutting edge in terms of cosmetic product

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