Ouidad, also know as the "Queen of Curl," was a pioneer in the hair business. We sat down with this celebrated hair stylist (and mom of two) to find out how she found her niche, how she balances work and family life, and what advice she has for other mompreneurs.
|Quick Facts: Ouidad lives in Manhattan with her husband of 28 years, Peter, and their two children, Peter John and Sondriel.
Ouidad (pronounced wee-dahd) is a pioneer in the hair business. In the late '70s, she worked as a stylist on the set of the Broadway show "Evita," where the Lebanon native gained a reputation as a curl expert (she was the only one on set who could manage wavy manes in this era of stick-straight styles). Not only has this designation stuck with her all these years later, but Ouidad has turned it into her trademark. While her husband wanted to open a restaurant back in the day, Ouidad won a coin toss, and with it the privilege to embark on her business dream first: So in 1984, the first curly hair salon was born in Manhattan.
Despite the skeptics (who included both bankers and beauty editors), Ouidad's success has continued to grow steadily. Her line of hair care products was the only one on the market specifically for curly hair from 1986 until 1996; she has honed two signature salon techniques, the Carve & Slice® method of cutting and the Rake & Shake styling approach; and today this "Queen of Curl" has two flagship salons, 63 certified salons across the U.S., a book, Curl Talk, and her own charity, Curls for a Cure, that matches contributions dollar-for-dollar and donates to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Did you always know you would be an entrepreneur?
Yes, my dad owned three extremely successful businesses and my mom managed all of them. Coming from that environment of "do it yourself" energy and entrepreneurship, it was just natural.
How did Ouidad come to be?
When I got married, I wanted to settle down in marriage and in business. Peter and I were both very energetic and very driven and we decided to open a business together. We were both very passionate about our trades. We decided that no matter who 'won' our coin toss, the other would have to support 100 percent, no turning back. So we made the commitment, shook hands, and flipped the coin - and heads was the salon.
What were the early days like?
The day we opened, the phone didn't ring. We looked at each other and said, "How are we going to pay these bills?" But little by little the word got around that there was a woman doing curly hair. Word of mouth was beyond belief.
Was there an "ah-ha" moment?
The tsunami of people knocking on the door to say "thank you." I would have clients that I would look up to-professional women like lawyers, doctors, judges - and they would say, "Thank you for giving me my life back."
How did you handle rejection from beauty editors who thought your idea wasn't viable?
I couldn't believe all of these naysayers were telling me what was and wasn't doable because it was something that nobody had ever touched. I offended a lot of them. It didn't get me many write ups. But after a while, they couldn't not acknowledge it, because it was happening. Yet there were just as many naysayers as people who said 'wow.' And now it's a huge segment in the hair care industry, and I feel like I gave something back to society.
How did your struggle with breast cancer change your perspective?
When I was going through it, it was very difficult. But the most beautiful thing that came out of it was that I was so helpful to my clients who had cancer. I was able to help take these women through their experiences and really be able to prepare them for what they were going to go through. Prior to having breast cancer myself, I was the cheerleader telling these women not to worry about their hair. I was drawing this fabulous picture - until I was faced with losing my hair.
What were the initial steps involved to getting it off the ground?
We recognized that we needed to do some marketing. Peter started standing out in busy areas where the subways were - for example, at the Hearst and Conde Nast buildings-handing out flyers. Also, when I opened the salon, I brought in my own homemade hair treatments. But then I took a few courses to learn about the chemistry and started producing products through a chemist.
What do you think was the biggest key to your success?
My passion and drive, and the realization of the anxiety that everybody was having because they weren't able to find how to manage their hair.
What's one piece of advice you have for other moms looking to start their own business?
You will always have people give you ideas, but try not to go off track. Stay focused and passionate. Also, the most important thing is to involve your family.
How do you manage the work/life balance?
When my children were younger, they decided to have a family meeting to tell me how angry they were that I worked so much. It was extremely difficult. I had to explain to them that I loved what I was doing, it was so important to me and it was what was feeding our family. So we made a calendar of the times that were the most important times for me to be there. The hardest part was really on Peter and me, because the kids always had one of us. We made sure that the kids were never cut short.
We just launched into all of Sephora USA, and it's my goal to have almost 100 certified salons this year. I'm also working on a lot of global and innovative projects.
For more information about Ouidad, visit www.ouidad.com.