Having made lemonade out of lemons since the day she was born, Mahisha Dellinger, CEO and founder of Curls Beauty Brands, put the recipe to the test when COVID hit in the spring. Just before it hit hard, she told our Brand Insider Summit CPG on Wednesday, the company started to import N95 and disposable masks, donating them to front-line workers at reasonable prices. "And we were able to stay open," she said.
Reliant on live events, Dellinger pivoted quickly to virtual, doing six events a month, including master classes, on how to recreate hair styles with Curls products, one-on-one conferences, talent shows and other "fun, engaging, educational, super-different events."
Dellinger brought a blast of energy that was evident even if her image on Zoom was unfortunately blurry at her end. She talked enthusiastically about how, as the pandemic wore on, skin care, hair care and demand for shirts and gaming saw amazing upticks.
And, while Curls had had trouble before gathering data from customers, now it could easily after customers registered with Zoom. "Now we can talk to them after," Dellinger said. 'If they sign up for a Type 4 class, that's the kinkiest texture, we know what to send to her after the class. It has enabled us to segment our data, collect it regularly and be more effective when we communicate after."
Growing her business from the ground up, Dellinger found her consumer in online forums early on. She went to events and trade shows where her she delivered trials to get the product into customers' hands. She was 100% ecommerce, hiring influencers to go to events, do sampling, teach and educate.
Then along came Target buyer Linda Sullivan, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, "and she got it." Sullivan saw that sales were declining and women of color were going back to having natural hair. Relaxer sales were going down. Sullivan was looking for underground brands and picked Curls as one of four to kick off a new category called multicultural.
"We all did phenomenally well," said Dellinger, with retailers that had passed her by now coming to her, realizing that women of color had tremendous buying power but were secondary when it came to hair care. Sullivan, she said, "was ahead of her time."
Dellinger advised brands looking to get into the demographic to be authentic. "You can't slap a label on a product." And she said diversifying key positions in corporations "is required. Otherwise, how will you know how to speak to her or him, if you aren't closely aligned?"