Diversity Woman Magazine

WIN 2017

Leadership and Executive Development for women of all races, cultures and backgrounds

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20 D I V E R S I T Y W O M A N W i n t e r 2 0 1 7 d i v e r s i t y w o m a n . c o m We Mean Business > We Mean Business going to be my path. I was working hard to move up the corporate ladder. Every- one seemed to be looking out for me to make sure I was on the fast track. en I experienced a supervisor who was just my worst enemy. No matter what I did, he was not happy. I felt trapped. He put me on a corrective action plan, and I was afraid. Was he committed to using that plan to get rid of me? I was a single mother, and I had rent to pay, along with private school tuition. He had my des- tiny in his hands, and I didn't like that feeling of not being in control. at was what sparked my entrepreneurial pur- suit. en no one could tell me how far I could go or how much money I could make. He wound up being reassigned overseas. at was my opportunity to leave the department. I got another po- sition with a good manager, and because of my performance, I got a raise and stock options. But I started thinking, "It's go- ing to happen again, and just as before, I will have that level of uncertainty." It was an awakening, an extreme wake-up call. DW: Why CURLS? MD: I have curly hair, and the brand I liked didn't have a curly line, and other products didn't work. I had mixed dif- ferent organic ingredients in my kitchen sink trying to figure out the best hair solution for me. I knew a lot of women were in the same boat, so I saw that as an opportunity. I kept my corporate job, and I invested $30,000 of my sav- ings in my company. I hired a chemist to work on the formula. Every dollar I made at CURLS went back into the business. I took a full-time job in phar- maceutical sales to get a more flexible schedule, and I would come home in the afternoon and work on my business. DW: Did that feel risky? MD: Yes! e biggest risk was leaving that steady paycheck. By then, I had a four-year track record of CURLS's sales increasing every year, but what if that stopped after I left my job? It felt risky, but when you put all your eggs in one basket, you work hard to make sure it is cared for. DW: What made CURLS take off ? MD: We got started before social media. We didn't have Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to advertise our brand. It was about guerrilla marketing. We gave out a lot of product to get the word out. Now CURLS has 10 full-time employees. I moved my headquarters from near Sac- ramento, California, to Frisco, Texas [a move that reduced taxes and put the com- pany closer to its manufacturer and major clients]. I still have an office in California, as well as contractors. And we still use some of those guerilla-marketing tactics to stay close to our customers. We have young women on our street teams, in Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, LA, San Francisco, Toronto, Paris, and London. ey go to events and into schools and interact with the customers. ey give out samples big enough that the women can use a product for a few days and really see how well it works. ese girls are foot soldiers, educating the public. DW: What were some milestones? MD: The highlight of my career was the day I met with the Target buyer, who was looking to revamp the ethnic cate- gory. Her products in that category, the legacy brand products, were down year over year, and she was looking for some fresh brands to relaunch and bring life back to that category. So she brought us in, and three minutes into the presen- tation she said, "I love it, I'll take it all." I have never made a sale so easy in my life. That really did kick off the success. All the other vendors that didn't want my products before came crawling. DW: So now you can breathe easier? MD: Not at all. e competition is so fierce on the shelf. If you have a good brand and decent sales, but you're not selling well against your peers, you could lose your shelf space. en you'd get a very hefty bill and all your products back. It's not a guaranteed place there for life. Every year you're reviewed. You have to keep it fresh or you will go away. DW: What is your leadership style? MD: I know that I can't be as aggressive with one person as I can be with another, so I communicate with a type A personal- ity employee one way, and then with the younger girls that I manage, I soften up. DW: What do you look for in an employee? MD: As the company grew, I figured out I needed look at a personality, beyond skills they put on paper. I look for people who give their all. If someone is the kind of person who says, "is is not my job," you won't work out. It's really about the attitude, the personality, and the ability to go above and beyond. It's about their ability to want to do the job well. DW: What's your next challenge? MD: When Target first picked us up, we heard mumblings about its big plans for bringing on [rival] national brands, like Pantene, that were moving into the nat- ural hair market. I was a little worried. ese competitors have deep pockets and wide shelf space, which we didn't have. But I realized that our consumer was going to stay with us because we're authentic. is brand was created for the consumer by a consumer. e products are organic. e fact that we're still growing and expanding says that it takes more than a big brand coming in and doing copycat brands. It re- ally does need to be authentic. DW Sheon Wilson is a writer and editor in Durham, North Carolina. [My supervisor at Intel] had my destiny in his hands, and I didn't like that feeling of not being in control. That was what sparked my entrepreneurial pursuit.

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