Lisa Price is unapologetic about the growth of her beauty brand, Carol’s Daughter.
After the Carol’s Daughter retail division sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and closed five of its stores last year, many customers were confused about the state of the business. Its focus, Price says, had turned from selling out of its own stores to selling out of bigger retail channels. (Its stores in Harlem and Brooklyn are still open.) And then in October 2014, the brand really went big. Enter L’Oréal,which acquired the natural hair and skin care line.
Had Price sold out? Was Carol’s Daughter over? Definitely not, says Price, the company’s founder and CEO.
“I started in my kitchen, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, with $100 and sold to the largest beauty company in the entire world. I am not ashamed about that at all,” Price told The Root. “I haven’t turned over control to someone else. It’s still my brand, and I’m not abandoning her and putting her in someone else’s hands.”
In an interview with The Root, Price sets the record straight about her company, talks about how her family encouraged her along her business journey, explains why L’Oréal is the perfect company to expand her brand, and reveals who helped her learn how to get out of her own way.
Tell us about your family background and heritage.
My [maternal] grandparents came here, and they raised their children in a close-knit family in a somewhat close-knit community. They were in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was an immigrant neighborhood, but it was a mixture of Caribbean-American, Italian, Irish, but through church and other social groups, they had connections to other people from Trinidad, from Barbados and so forth. So my mother and aunts and uncles grew up with a sense of their heritage but also knew that to succeed here, they had to assimilate here and work according to the ways of where they were. When they had children, myself and my cousins, we were raised more like brothers and sisters. So I grew up with a very close relationship to my cousins. I didn’t notice until I was in school and older that my other friends didn’t have such close relationships with their cousins. They would find it odd that I spent so much time with my cousins. It’s how we grew up. Extended family was a big thing.
Tell me a little about how your family has encouraged you along your journey.
When I started my company, I always felt like I had family support. In the beginning, my husband and I didn’t have children. I had my mother’s support and my husband’s support in starting and building my business. As our family grew, and we had children, it was like operating within a team. I had brothers and sisters who worked for me. I had cousins who worked for me. I had an uncle who worked for me for a little while. A couple of people had mini-careers within my company. There was always someone who you could call on. Not in a take-advantage type of way, but there was always this understanding of ‘we’re all in this to support each other.’ So I never really felt alone in what I was doing. I knew that I always had support around me in the very early stage, where every single penny counted. If an uncle could make a delivery for you, that was $75 you didn’t have to give a truck driver. You could give your uncle some gas and some chicken.
What were some of the challenges that you faced early on?
Figuring out the best way to get the work done. Not having had a career in that industry, I was sort of learning on the fly. My background was in television and film production. There were a lot of things that I learned that were on-the-job training. Another challenge, of course, was access to capital, having to make a little bit of money go a long way. But the biggest obstacle I always say is myself. Your own fears and doubts about what you’re capable of doing and what you’re able to achieve and what people will allow you to do. There were a lot of scenarios that you create in your own head. For me, being an entrepreneur and somewhat defying those odds forced me to think beyond the scenarios that I would set up for myself in my head. Getting out of my own way was probably my biggest obstacle.
You mentioned going from TV production to starting the business. What was the moment that made you decide to go after what you really love to do, full-time?
The moment came when there just wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything. I had started the company in 1993, and I still worked in television and film production, and I was due to give birth to my first child in March of 1996. I stopped working in February to give birth to him. When I got to that point, where, ‘OK, I’m going to be home with a newborn baby. Do I take maternity leave and then go back to work? Can I fit everything in on just the weekend? And if I fit it in, how much will I be able to grow?’ The math of it just didn’t make sense. I was basically going to go back to work to get a paycheck to hand over to the babysitter.
What was it about L’Oréal that made them seem like the right company to help build your brand?
I had met with them in January 2012, a very preliminary conversation, nothing that seemed like it was going to lead anywhere, but it was just like they were curious and wanted to meet me. Prior to that meeting, there were always two companies that I had at the top of my list that I thought would be ideal for a permanent home. And L’Oréal was one of them. In meeting them, I had that butterflies-in-the stomach, goose bumps, hair–standing-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling. I knew the first day when I walked in that this is where I want to be. I didn’t know how or when, but I just knew it. I’ve had that feeling in my life before. When I met my husband for the first time. I knew he was the one.
The more that I did my research and due diligence, there was an understanding at L’Oréal on the importance of the customer. And there’s a commitment to multicultural beauty. There was also general respect for the entrepreneurial spirit of the brand and a very sincere desire to not fix anything that wasn’t broken. I just knew that I would feel comfortable here and that I could thrive here.
What is the main thing that you want your customers to know about this acquisition?
From my perspective, what I look forward to is a day where these things are a bit more comfortable within our community. I feel right now that there’s a need for us to covet brands and experiences that we feel are ours culturally, which I completely understand. But in the world of business, you don’t necessarily have the luxury of existing in that way. My brand was a very small brand. In order for it to grow, any business, regardless of the ethnicity of its founder, needs to have investors and the founder of that business has to have an exit strategy. Sometimes that exit strategy requires an acquisition. In other cultures, it’s not viewed as a negative thing. Unfortunately, it is in ours, because there is so little that we feel we own. So I understand that need to covet, but I look forward to the day where we can just approach it purely on a business perspective and understand that me being able to do this puts me in a different position, it puts my family in a different position, it puts the brand and the conversation of the multicultural community in a different position. It gets us all closer to whatever that ideal situation is that we’re looking to achieve.
It is a business success story, and it is something that I’m extremely proud of and will not, in any way, shape or form act like it’s something that’s inappropriate.
I started in my kitchen, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, with $100 and sold to the largest beauty company in the entire world. I am not ashamed about that at all. I still come to work every day. I haven’t exited the company. I haven’t turned over control to someone else. I still go on air and sell on the Home Shopping Network. In a lot of ways, my life has not changed, because it’s still my baby. It’s still my brand, and I’m not abandoning her and putting her in someone else’s hands.
What can customers expect to happen next from Carol’s Daughter?
We definitely have new launches. We have a new hair care line called D that is launching in April. We have our first hairspray under the Monoi line that launches in April. Our kids line launched in a promo fashion at the end of 2014 with Target, in conjunction with the Annie film. Now the individual products will be available in March. There is a lot of newness that will come at the back end of the year. And that is all Carol’s Daughter newness. There won’t be any new products that benefit from the L’Oréal influence until 2016, because it just takes time for all of those processes to be integrated. Everything that we have coming up this year is stuff that we have been developing on our own.
Who would you say has influenced your journey the most? And what words of wisdom do you keep with you today?
I know this sounds cliche: Oprah. I remember television before Oprah. I remember television after Oprah. There was something so familiar about her. She made you feel comfortable. She let you into her world. She showed you what she was thinking about, what she was doing, what she was going through. And you felt like you went through it with her. I initially just started to gravitate to her. Then later, when she became “Oprah” and it was like the church of Oprah, in addition to her wealth and her power and the power of her show, then she started to look like an example of leadership. I remember when her show ended and OWN was beginning. In 2011, she showed the behind the scenes of the final season of the Oprah show, and for me, that was the ultimate experience of watching someone and learning from their behavior. It wasn’t so much that I was sitting in front of the television learning how to be a better leader. It was watching her interactions with her team when I appreciated how she was herself. Where she needed someone to be different from her personality. There was someone there to be that. But her role was very clear. She was the passion. She was the heartbeat. She was who the viewer connected to.
And for me, it was kind of like that within my brand. I was not the financial strategy person. I was not the inventory expert. I didn’t study marketing in college and could walk into the room to tell you the best way to market a product. But I am the brand. I am the voice. I am its passion. I am its orator. I am the keeper of all the stories and the recipes. There’s leadership within that.
For me, that’s why she is such a big influence. It’s really somebody you are able to learn from without ever really sitting down and having a conversation with them. It really is just learning from her example.
In 25-30 years, what do you hope will be the Carol’s Daughter legacy or the Lisa Price legacy?
As far as Lisa Price goes, I hope to continue to be, because you did this, I did this. Because you were there as an example, I was able to do such and such. That’s something that I hear from people today. It’s one thing to hear from somebody who just started a cupcake business 14 months ago and your story gave them the courage to do it. It will be another thing for it to be 20 years from now and that cupcake business is still around. And they used my company and what I did as an example. Most important, I want the brand to still be available. How amazing would it be right now if we were still able to walk into a store today and still be able to buy Madam C.J. Walker’s products? I look forward to, 30 years from now, someone saying, ‘Yeah, that’s my great-grandma’s product.’ But also, in 25 to 30 years, I don’t plan on not being around.
I’ll be young at 83. A curly gray ’fro cleaning the shelves at a Carol’s Daughter store.
It will be a beautiful thing.