Maria Lee-Driver: Maria Lee-Driver is a Virginia native who combined her beauty industry experience and passion for serving others to not only found Oria’s O’Shay, Incorporated in 2008 but to do what was necessary to turn the company she started in her kitchen into a success. In 2010 Maria inked a deal with Whole Foods, placing her natural skin and hair products on chain store shelves. Endorsed by four doctors, Oria’s O’Shay products are sold worldwide and used by growing numbers of women, men and children. Maria is committed to providing consumers with products that promote long-term healthy, beautifully radiant skin and hair. She talked to Madame Noire about her path to business success.
MN: Is Oria’s O’Shay, Incorporated the first business that you started? If not, please tell us about other business ventures you were involved in.
MLD: I started my first business, Re-Ons Designing Impressions Hair Salon, in my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia when I was 19-years-old. I operated the salon for 18 years. Then I opened a cosmetology/barbering school. The salon was on one side of the building I owned, while the school was on the other side. I operated the school for four years. Because the business was located in a predominantly Caucasian side of town, I learned to be creative to attract clientele. For example, I also operated a tanning salon. During our peak years we generated close to $300,000 annually.
The name of my current business derives from my first name (Maria). My relatives used to call me and say, “Oria.” When I moved North to Philadelphia, I opened a children’s salon. While naming my Philadelphia based hair salon, I used the nickname my relatives called me. After conducting some research, I later discovered that Oria is an Irish name. Our first manufactured products are getting shipped to Ireland.
MN: When did you start Oria’s O’Shay and is it true that you started your company out of your kitchen? What were those early days of running your business like?
MLD: Yes. It’s true; I started Oria’s O’Shay in my kitchen and made a lot of mess. I’m a licensed cosmetologist. I buy strictly from distributors. When I operated my salon in Philadelphia I bought all my hair products from distributors, a favorite being Jane Carter. The last time I placed an order with the distributor, I kept being told that the product was on back order. But that’s not all. When I went home every day I passed a Muslim shop that sold Shea Butter.
Wanting to get hair products for my customers while the distributor’s products were on back order, I ordered jars of the Shea Butter and mixed chemicals with the Shea Butter, creating my own products. Clients in Philadelphia started using hair products I sold on their skin. They came into the shop and told me how well the products worked. Customers told me that the cracked heels of their feet were healing. Before I got the customer feedback I didn’t know the product I created was for the skin. I focused on creating a product for hair.
I made the products for 3.5 years myself then I landed a manufacturer. A wound care surgeon has endorsed Oria’s O’Shay. Customer testimonials at http://www.oriasoshay.com are phenomenal.
MN: Businesses cannot succeed without capital. What resources did you use to finance your business and how much did you initially invest in Oria’s O’Shay?
MLD: To start the business I utilized money I made from my hair salon – maybe $2,000 to $3,000. Since I launched Oria’s O’Shay I have invested more than $100,000 in the business with travel and marketing to spread the word about the products. More importantly, I invested my heart, sweat and tears into the business. I never thought about stopping. Family and friends also helped as they could.