When Mahisha Dellinger set out to launch her Elk Grove, California-based hair care company Curls L.L.C., she anticipated a few kinks. And with determination and business know-how, Dellinger managed to solve not only her own hair dilemma but also the hair frustrations of others with what seemed like unmanageable curly tresses. In 2003, its first year, the fledging company went on to gross $86,000. Now, seven years later and with $3 million in gross revenues for 2008, the 36-year-old looks forward to taking her business to even greater heights.
Here are Dellinger’s five business strategies for securing sheer success.
Don’t be afraid. Launching into a market already heavily saturated can be intimidating, so it’s best to find your niche. Although, there were more established and consumer-trusted ethnic hair care companies when Dellinger first came on the scene, it didn’t stop her. Dellinger says she was confident Curls products possessed a new and innovative spin. And by focusing on multi-ethnic women with curly hair initially, she was able to reach an otherwise ignored clientele.
Utilize all of your resources. “We started out six years ago before the popularity of Facebook, Myspace, and the other social networking sites,” says Dellinger. “However, we still used digital resources.” She and her team aggressively went into chat rooms and online forums promoting the products, which led to developing a large client base from grassroots marketing. Thus, marketing your business online can be an easy and cost-efficient way to build a buzz for a new product or service. Add to that a mentor and you create an advantageous synergy twice over.
Dellinger worked with SCORE, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and the formation, growth and success of small business nationwide. “SCORE matched me with a mentor that was a retired hair care company executive,” recalls Dellinger, who sought out someone experienced in her field. “He was very helpful and provided excellent insight.”
Connect and stay connected. “We connected with our clients through online focus,” Dellinger says. “We also attended hair shows to meet and talk to curly-haired women. We listened to their needs and adjusted our products to fit. Dellinger, who still tests products on customers to ensure they are meeting their needs, attributes much of Curls’ success to listening to customers even as the business grew. “If our customers are satisfied with our product they not only continue to purchase it, but they also spread the word and encourage their local hair salons and stores to carry it,” says Dellinger.
Do your due diligence. Starting a business is an enormous task. Dellinger advises that all entrepreneurs research the market they want to launch into thoroughly. Knowing about the industry can save you time, money, and energy down the road, she adds. “Starting off as an unknown brand we received a lot of ‘no thanks’ from salons that we wanted to partner with,” says Dellinger. But instead of taking the rejections as a defeat, they motivated her to push forward and target other companies. She adds, “Research the more established companies, find their mistakes, learn from them and capitalize.”
Make a great first impression. “You want to make sure everything that will touch your customer makes a good impression,” Dellinger advises. She encourages entrepreneurs to hire individuals to handle the aspects of their business that they cannot. From packaging to marketing, experts can ensure that all components of your business come across as professional and worthy of the consumer. She adds, “You do not want to come across as a small company on a small budget even if you are.”
For more on Mahisha Dellinger and Curls L.L.C., check out the July 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.