MN: Madame C. J. Walker created a blend of hair products that, combined with her marketing savvy, made her America’s first self-made woman millionaire. But first she had to create a winning product. How did you arrive at the specific ingredients you use in each of your products?
MLD: As a cosmetologist I have used many different products which gave me the insight on what I would put into my own. My goal was to create as natural a product as possible. I also wanted to create a product that was safe for children.
MN: What was the biggest challenge you faced as a business owner? How did you overcome this challenge?
MLD: Capital – as a business owner you can have a dream. However, you have to face reality while working to bring your dream to fruition. I had to be very creative when it came to securing capital, generating cash flows and spending money on Oria’s O’shay. I started small; I easily handled small growth. Then the business started growing and I couldn’t meet my demand because large companies don’t pay you a check up-front. You deliver the product. The company sells the product and then you get paid 30-90 days later. To bridge cash flow gaps, I started doing events. At some events I made $500. At other events I made $5,000.
I am reaping these rewards now because I laid the foundation. I worked hard. I got up at midnight and started working, creating my products. I’d get a few hours of sleep and then get up and go back out and market. I was a one-woman show, developing, marketing and selling my products. Today we ship products to celebrities all over the world. Oprah has requested Oria’s O’Shay. I shipped products to Oprah two weeks ago, at the start of May 2012. To succeed in business, you have to lay your ground work.
MN: When did you realize that you had a viable business and what did you do to celebrate this milestone?
MLD: I realized I had a viable business when customers were buying my products for $22 at a flea market in North Carolina in 95 degree heat. It was then that I decided to take my products straight to Whole Foods! I literally walked in the grocery store and asked Whole Foods to sell my products; they agreed to give my products a try. It was that simple. When Whole Foods recognized me, that’s when I knew I had something. I celebrated when I came back to Philadelphia and realized I had winning products. It took me between 6 to 9 months to get my products on the shelf. Once I got on the shelf, I started getting in more stores. Now my products are in 23 Whole Foods stores.
MN: Tell us about the specific advantages of patenting your products and making them available through chain stores like Whole Foods versus only creating a website and selling your products direct to consumers online?
MLD: You gain validity when you get your products into chain stores. In many people’s eyes you’re validated as a business owner when your products are sold in major stores.
MN: Marketing, building brand and connecting with consumers is key to business success. Tell us about three to four effective online and offline marketing strategies you use to continue to grow Oria’s O’Shay?
MLD: I get out and meet my peers and customers. I’m continuously being heard and seen. I attend industry events. For example, I’m doing a Bronner Brothers Show. Before I started attending larger events, I attended local events. Now that the business has grown I can afford to go to bigger events and get more exposure. We are also doing a chain of mall kiosks in Virginia. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. To connect with consumers I also do television and radio interviews, have a website and I fulfill professional speaking engagement requests.