MN: How did you manage to launch a business, while holding down a full-time job?
Dellinger: After the situation with my job at Intel, I stayed on for about a year and a half. It took about nine months after that to do research, to sample products, and to get the website up and running. After that I quit my job there and began to work in sales for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. I was now able to own my calendar and I didn’t need to report to an office. I did that for three years and I was able to put the money coming in from CURLS, back into CURLS and that enabled me to not only grow the company but to also work independently. I think that is the wisest way to go when you are launching a business – especially while you are waiting to see if it’s viable. I am a risk taker, but more of a calculated risk taker. I decided to be smart about it and take the slow and steady route and that worked for me.
MN: At what point after launching CURLS did it really begin to take off?
Dellinger: The day Target called. That is when it went from one level to the next. A buyer for Target noticed that her ethnic category was underperforming. It was essentially stale and she wanted to re-vamp and create a new ethnic category. She found CURLS through social media along with Miss Jessie’s, Shea Moisture, and Jane Carter. All four brands were chosen to do a 105 store trial. Over time we all ended up going nationwide. It was great because I really wanted the retail exposure and before Target no one would take a chance on us. We were a young, fresh and what I call an underground brand – and getting that retail business from Target changed the landscape for all of us. At the same time, Target became a destination for natural hair brands. The store and our brands now see a lot of cross overs and it helped all of us – including Target.
MN: What was the strategy as far as growing your brand?
Dellinger: I am a very strong proponent of starting small because you can get your feet wet and figure out if your brand will be viable in the future. Had I began with Walmart like I wanted to, I would have lost my footing because that retail space is a different beast. I think it was great that we started with 105 doors. That is small enough to not be overly invested in one channel. While I think you should always be confident and optimistic, you also must be realistic with business and you need to start small, understand your brand’s growth and then expand slowly. So, with Target, it began with 105 doors, and then six to 10 months later it went to 400, and then it kept growing. Because the upkeep wasn’t unbearable, it was easier to scale up without losing footing. And now we are in Wal-Mart, Sally Beauty Supply and Duane Reade. So I ended up getting the retail stores I wanted – it just took a bit longer.
MN: What are your plans for your business’ future?
Dellinger: Growth. CURLS has begun to build a presence with salon retailers and boutiques across the country but we will also be expanding our products onto military bases in 2015. In just the last few weeks we also made a big move by transferring our headquarters from California to Texas. This will enable us to invest more into job course, and my employee base. It is also a beneficial location because the company is now centrally located with Sally corporate offices here and Walmart’s headquarters only a 45-minute flight away. The move just made sense in all areas. We also have a long-term strategic plan to increase awareness among multi-ethnic consumers and we are focusing on increasing product awareness in the future.
MN: What advice do you have for someone starting their own business?
Dellinger: Number one is do your due diligence and understand the market, and competition that you are entering into. Understanding your industry is key as well as developing a business model and a marketing plan. One way to do this is having a mentor. That helped me in so many ways. It saved me from pitfalls I could have dropped into and a mentor can suggest ways to avoid problems. I also believe you should not take on too much retail until you have a following because it can lead to a lack of marketing, support and stagnant sales. At the end of the day, you need to educate yourself and stay sharp with the industry of your choice. Keep your eyes open to the environment that surrounds you so that you can continue to grow your business.