How to start a hair business?
Starting a hair business is often portrayed as a quick rich scheme. This pipe dream is peddled by hair companies offering dropship programs who profit from your lack of industry experience. Don't fall for it. Equip yourself with a unique value proposition, a solid financial model and a reliable hair wholesale supplier in order to build a sustainable and profitable hair company.
About the author Janice Wilson, JD + SDE:
Janice dropped out of law school to tour as a professional dancer with Wynton Marsalis and Michael Bublé. After dancing internationally for six years, she managed to sneak back into Columbia; graduate; then practice real estate law, focusing upon mixed-use urban development. After a few years, Janice was recruited to lead a development project in Cambodia. For her contributions, she was awarded a grant having nothing to do with real estate, but to instead manufacture a new export.
Janice pioneered hair sourcing and production in Cambodia, while providing employment for women at-risk. Being the first American to have established primary operations in the country from which human hair is sourced, she gained a unique and powerful expertise in the collection and production of human hair products. Further, due to her creative branding strategies and offerings, Arjuni become a trendsetter in the hair supply industry. The social enterprise was deemed Asia’s best in 2014 and featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Essence and BBC. Having built the first successful e-commerce website in Cambodia and raise three rounds of funding, Janice served as an advisor to the Cambodian Minister of Commerce for two years.
Check out more about her origin story in Huffpost.
Is hair extensions a good business?
I'll be candid. It's a tough business.
- Whether hair suppliers, hair vendors or hair retailers, there's no shortage of unscrupulous players in this game.
- Despite what hair dropship companies would have you believe, a stash of startup cash is a must.
- Wholesale virgin hair is a scarce resource. The rate of consumption outpaces its growth rate. As a result, the cost is always increasing.
- Most human hair is sourced from tonsuring, the practice of shaving all of one's hair on the scalp, as a sign of religious devotion or humility. You'll need to be good with that.
- Everybody and their Mama is selling hair extensions. And most use the same playbook. Without creativity and a unique value add, it's tough to stand out in a crowded market.
- Investment firms and banks find the hair industry high risk and even undesireable. Consequently, raising external funding or getting a loan is tough. (But not impossible. I've done it.)
- There's no easy path. With dropship programs, you've no control over quality or branding. With hair suppliers, you've the challenge of managing inventory.
- Vanity is always on trend. And recession proof.
- Because there exist so many unscrupulous players, companies with strong ethics and excellent customer service gain fierce loyalty.
- If you tailor your offering to fulfill a unique need, you can justify higher pricing.
- While startup funding is a must, it's not as cash greedy as other businesses with physical inventory.
- It's a business you can literally start anywhere. Even your home.
- If you love all things hair and giving the gift of a make-over, there's no better business.
How much can you make in the hair business?
You can make millions of dollars annually. However, just like other industries, that level of success is rare and belongs to the top percentiles. But I think the question you really want to ask is, "Is it true that I can make six figures?"
I've seen drop shipping companies suggest that with one or two sales each day for one year, each sale averaging $200, it's easy to make nearly $150,000. But what they don't share is:
( a ) how tough it is to find 730 customers; or
( b ) they're talking about revenues. Not profit.
And that's an entirely different ballgame.
Revenues versus profits is an important distinction. Let's say that you were selling an average of 7 ounces for $200. Let's then say that your dropship company sold the hair to you for $42 per 3.5 ounces. That $84 for 7 ounces. Your $200 in revenues just became $116 in profit per sale. And your $150,000 in annual revenues just became an annual profit of $84,680.
But that's just the cost of the raw hair supply. You haven't taken into consideration the cost of creating a mechanism to sell the hair, which could be anything from a pop up store to an e-commerce website. Nor have you included the expenses to brand and package your product; accept returns, pay sales tax, offer customer support; or advertise and market. Before you know it, you're scraping by on minimum wage.
Having written all the above, six figures is possible. But not with two sales a day each averaging $200. You'll either need to sell significantly more hair. Or increase your value add and your price. I recommend the latter.
How much does it cost to start a hair business?
So many factors can impact this answer.
- Are you sourcing your own raw hair supply; purchasing it from hair suppliers; or participating in a drop shipping program?
- What quality of hair will your customers want to purchase? Do they require truly virgin hair? Or will "good quality" hair get the job done?
- How much are you clients willing to pay for your product?
- How quickly can you turn over that product?
- Are you customers paying in full or paying a deposit before the hair is shipped?
- How much will you spend on branding and packaging?
- Do you have technical skills to spin up your own website and process payments? Or will you need to hire a developer?
- Do you have a unique clientele to which only you have access? Or will you be competing with the thousands of other companies for the same customers?
All of these questions and more will need to be answered before you estimate what sort of start up cash you'll need. But I understand the need to have some sort of number as a benchmark. I wouldn't even humor starting up a hair extensions business unless I had $5,0000 in the bank. And I'd feel even better with $10,000.
Do I need a business plan?
I'm actually not a big fan of business plans. They're cumbersome; typically written too early in the process; and when finished, almost immediately irrelevant.
With your first start up your hair company, it's important to be nimble. You'll need to try different sales tactics and channels as well as try different hair suppliers and programs. Most will fail. And imagine if you take the time to write a business plan for each tactic, each channel, each hair supplier and each program. You'd always be writing and never actually building a company.
But that doesn't mean that I believe in winging it. I'm a huge fan of cerating financial models that help my students make sane business decisions as I find my own unqique business formula that works.
How do I brand my hair business?
One thing that I've noted in coaching others to build their own successful hair extensions business, is that they are too quick to either:
( a ) spend a hefty chunk of change on a professional designer; or
( b ) don't take branding seriously enough and hire the cheapest bidder.
What's cricial to note is that for starters, you are the best person to develop your brand.
Hair branding is so much more than a logo or packaging. It's the visual representation of the experience you offer your customers. Before hiring anyone, you'll need to have a clear understanding of who your customer is and what's the experience you intend to create for them.
Once you have the customer and experience dialed in, picking color palettes and fonts becomes significantly easier.
How do I promote my hair business?
If you think that promotion means you put a Wordpress site on the Internets and ask an IG influencer to try your product, you'll be sorely disappointed with the outcome.
Unless you're handy with Search Engine Optimization, Google won't give your website the time of day. And everyone is tired of the IG influencer card. It's been played too many times and creates skeptism rather then trust.
So what's left? Your customer and your unique value add. If you can find where your customers congregate and share with them directly the value you create, then you'll find your efforts result in sales. And by congregrate I'm not talking about Facebook. I mean places that cater specifically to your customer such as meet ups, conferences, community outings and special interest gatherings.
Am I ready to start a hair business?
Yes, if you read this entire article and are still undaunted.
Yes, if you've a passion to run your own business on your own terms.
Yes, if you realize that starting a hair business is more than about hair. It's also about business and your keen to learn all facets.
Yes, if you've a unique skill or a unique perspective that can add value to a hair extensions product.
Yes, if you're willing to get creative and find a customer who's been underserved.
Yes, if you're not afraid of hard work. But also know that me time is necessary to refresh the toolbox and the soul.
Yes, if you've money in the bank and won't be in financial jeopardy after making a mistake or two.
Yes, if you undestand that business is aboutserving and delivering on your commitments.
If you're read this far and your all in, I'm excited for you. Running your own company, and especially a hair company, is an incredibly challenging, but also incredibly rewarding experience.
But make certain to educate yourself before you jump into the fray. Find yourself a local coach, an industry mentor or join my online course of motivated Hair Moguls in the making. Leveraging the experience of others, including their mistakes and triumphs, will catapult you to your own success sooner and with fewer road bumps.
Keen for more guidance?
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