The hair industry is undergoing one of the most profound changes that we have seen in a very long time. Chinese investors now own the two of biggest US hair replacement distributors and are becoming increasingly active in local marketing and sales. Meanwhile, salon owners report that uneven hair quality continues to be a problem even as prices keep rising. Managers and owners are looking for answers. That is why The Journal interviews new and existing hair companies to bring readers news about new products, new technologies and new business opportunities. In April 2014, we met with Dimples, a company that began in the United Kingdom and recently extended operations to North America. Dimples, formerly “Leading Hair” was founded by Bijan Todd, and is now managed by his two sons, Michael and James. Michael oversees the company’s creative work while James focuses on the marketing. Bijan continues to play a key role in strategic planning and coordinates his hair business with other production and distribution companies he owns overseas.
Hair & Skin Journal: Bijan, this is a family run business, but before you introduce Michael and James, we’d like to go back to the beginning and follow you down the track that will lead to the personal care group you run today
Bijan Todd: As a young man, I was never an academic student; but I was practical. I was always trying to make money for myself rather than asking my father for an allowance. I used to buy and sell pens and things like that to other students. I had a commercial instinct from an early age.
HSJ: This is characteristic of many entrepreneurs. Richard Branson used to have a newspaper route.
BT: Before I was ten, I was already making money selling caterpillars. We had mulberry trees near our house and I noticed these caterpillars on them. So I pulled off some of the leaves, put them in a jar and put the caterpillars in there. Then I started selling them to my friends at school. I learned to keep the larvae, so the following year I increased my inventory. Soon I was making good money because I didn't have any expenses.
HSJ: You had a strong commercial instinct at an early age, but it’s a big step from silk worms to hair replacement. How did that come about?
BT: I started my career in the textile business, but I really wanted to go into business for myself. It didn’t take me long to learn that you needed deep pockets to compete in the textile market. They had a lot of money and I didn't. So I began looking for something else. Well, about that time I used to go to lunch in a local café… and one day I met this girl. Do you want to hear the story…?
HSJ: … A quick word of reassurance – nothing you tell us will be printed without you seeing it first. So with that safety net, please carry on…
BT: Well, I was going for out for lunch every day and I see this girl with beautiful dimples. Her name was Denise and we would nod and smile each time we met. Then one day she told me she worked in a wig boutique. She explained how much she paid for the wigs and how much she sold them for and it didn’t take me long to realize that there was a good profit to be had. It was a great fashion business. Every woman had four or five wigs in her wardrobe and was prepared to spend a lot of money to acquire them. The more I learned, the more it appeared that this was a perfect business for me. So I asked Denise, "If I open a shop, will you come and work for me? That was the beginning of an exciting relationship… and a not so exciting introduction to retailing.
HSJ: So a chance encounter brought you into the world of wigs and hair and changed your life.
BT: Exactly. At the time, I didn't know the difference between synthetic and human hair, but I went and rented a shop, painted everything and put down a carpet. I am a bit of a handyman, so I made a nice area for trying on the wigs and Denise promised she’d join me next month. One month passed, then another and nothing happened. So I decided to go to her house to see what was going on. Her mother answered the door and I explained, "I’ve invested a lot of money in the shop. Everything is ready but your daughter keeps making excuses.” That’s when I learned that Denise and her boss were working deliberately stalling so my money would run out and I would not be able to compete with them.
HSJ: But you pressed ahead anyway...
BT: I had no choice. I was already committed. I had a lot of learning to do. I started reading all the trade papers, looking at the ads and learning about wigs and hairpieces. Then I went to London and I bought a few wigs. I wanted some top pieces too, but I couldn't find anybody. Then I looked in the Yellow Pages and I found a guy who was working from his home and I went and knocked on his door. I said I was opening a shop but didn’t have a lot of capital. I told him if he would supply me with a few top pieces each week, I would pay for everything on Sunday. I was looking for one week’s credit to get started. He looked at me and said, "You’re a young man. You want to start a business and I trust you.” So he gave me a box of top pieces. I took them home, interviewed a hairdresser, and on Saturday I opened the shop.
NHJ: How was your first day in the hair business?
BT: I opened the shop and at 9:00 am and at 10:00 am nobody had come in. 11:00 am, 12:00pm, same story! I was kicking myself. Everybody had told me, "Stick to the textile business," but I didn’t listen and went into something I knew nothing about. Finally, instead of sitting in an empty shop getting depressed, I decided to go for a walk. There was a secluded spot not far away and I sat down and began to think about life and watch the trees grow and stuff like that. I was feeling sorry for myself, but I wasn’t ready to give up. When I returned it was around 2:30 pm and I saw two customers trying on wigs. That was the best day of my life! My first day in business and I sold two wigs!
HSJ: So there was no marketing, you simply got lucky.
BT: Nothing. I was so green in the business!
HSJ: What happened to Denise, the dimples lady?
BT: I didn’t hear from her for many years, then one day I was sitting in my office and my receptionist told me a lady was outside and wanted to see me. So I asked her to come in and it was the lady with the dimples. She said she was sorry about what she'd done and told me she was now divorced and she needed a job. I gave her the name of a some friends in the industry and wished her well. Since then I’ve moved to Los Angeles and started a new life, but the name ‘Dimples’ lives on as a reminder of my introduction to the hair business.
HSJ: How did your wig shop fare after those first two sales?
BT: The store was in a small village. Not an ideal location, but I couldn't afford a better area. This was 1968. Little by little my business began to grow and six months later I opened a second shop in Altrincham. This was an exciting time. I was courting my wife and a year later she came to England and we got married. I worked hard, followed my instincts, and within one and a half years I had three shops. I opened a fourth shop in Bolton shortly after - then suddenly the market changed! It was now 1971 and people started selling wigs at deeply discounted prices. A price war erupted! I guess it was inevitable. You had a high profit item that could be mass-produced at very low cost. When wigs were expensive, they were a novelty item and women were prepared to pay a premium for the glamour and convenience. But as production ramped up, the novelty disappeared. Soon it was a free for all.
HSJ: You were the owner of four wigs shops. How did you adapt?
BT: The first thing was to recognize that this was not going away. It was time to move on. I closed my shops and decided to move upstream into the wholesale business. Rather than sell one customer at a time, I would supply the beauty professional. Hairdressers had a broad business base because they had service income and revenue from beauty supply products in addition to ladies wigs. This would become my more secure clientele. To diversify further, I began focusing on people who really needed help with their hair; hospitals and studios working with cancer patients.
HSJ:About this time, you took another big step, this time into production and distribution.
BT: That’s right. My main supplier was located in Japan and one day, they decided to close the business and offered to sell me their inventory and customer list. I said I would buy their stock at the same price I was currently paying, but I would need time to pay. I didn't try to discount the price because they'd been so good with me. I paid for all their stock within two years. That's how became a manufacturer.
HSJ: You also manufacture skin lotions and beauty products. Were they part of the deal?
BT: No, that was a separate venture. I had concluded that the hair industry is a limited market. Business was going well, but I saw an opportunity to expand into personal care for women. It was a good decision. We now have over 100 people working in that industry and we are supplying beauty products to 52 countries.
HSJ: Many hair loss professional today would like to diversify, but don’t know how to start. What has experience taught you?
BT: Opportunity will find you if you are open minded. But you have to be ready to seize it when it presents itself. It happened to us at a time when we knew we had to take control of our own destiny and were ready to invest to make it happen. A company approached us about the suntan market and offered to sell us their business, but we learned they'd been distorting their figures. So we instead of buying them, we started our own business.
HSJ: Do the personal care products help support your hair business?
BT: Yes, in many ways. Production most of all. We manufacture beauty products, body lotions and hair products like shampoo, conditioner, and fiber oil spray all at the same factory in England.
HSJ: Do your wigs and hair additions still come from Asia?
BT: Yes, but we’ve diversified our hair goods. We now supply the National Health Service in England, which is the social program that provides medical services and prosthetics to men and women. We have developed special wigs for people who have cancer. This has become a big business and we now have agents in England, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, and other countries. We also make wigs for children suffering from alopecia or cancer. In the past, they would put women’s wigs on kids’ and they looked like a mop. So we developed a special design just for those little patients.
HSJ: Are you considering expanding your medical support program into North American?
HSJ: There is a campaign underway to try to get insurance companies to reimburse the cost of a wig. Is this something you would support?
BT: Definitely. In England and most European countries, the government will pay if a patient cannot afford a wig.
James: There are charities in the UK that provide additional support. A portion of our sales goes to support the “Marie Curie Cancer Foundation” and “Little Princesses.”
HSJ: After building your business in Europe, you made the decision to relocate to the US. How did that come about?
BT: We used to come to L.A. when my children were small. England is a nice country, but the weather isn’t the best. Every night you go home, watch TV and go to bed. But here, when we come home from work it's just the beginning of the day. We go out or we invite friends over. It wasn’t a difficult choice. I decided to keep my businesses in England and to start over in the United States, but my wife wasn’t so sure because we had a nice home and lots of friends. So I asked her to give me one year and promised her if she didn't like it we’d go back with everything. That was in 1993. We’ve been here ever since.
HSJ: What about the new US business?
BT: I commented earlier that when you are ready, opportunity will find you, and that’s what happened in LA. One of my friends ran Conair, a manufacturer of hair dryers and a small wig business called “Leading Man and Woman.” I’d met him at trade shows in Korea and Hong Kong and he was ready to sell the hair system division. I bought it right away.
James: We started as “Leading Man and Woman,” then we changed the name to “Leading Hair.” Now we're going back to our UK roots and using the brand name, “Dimples.”
HSJ: What sets Dimples apart?
BT: We try to be more specialized. We are not in the fashion business. We work with customers that have a real need.
James: The product we market here is for high-end hair restoration and wig boutiques. We offer three categories of human hair: ‘Bronze,’ which is remi, ‘Silver,’ which is European hair that's colored, and ‘Gold,’ which is virgin European hair. Our focus is high quality, well-colored or virgin hair.
HSJ: James, when did you join the management team?
JT: I've always been involved in the family businesses, but it wasn't until the last couple of years that I have been able to commit one hundred percent to hair. I enjoy the customer side most. I love talking to customers and hearing what works for them.
HSJ: Does Dimples have a distinctive culture?
JT: We are a British company. We come from a country with a proud monarchy and we try to maintain those traditions and standards in everything we do. We’ve been in business since 1968, so we must be doing something right.
HSJ: Looking forward, what can Journal readers expect from Dimples in the months ahead?
JT: We're going to focus on the ladies’ Bronze, Silver and Gold collections, with top pieces, French tops, mono tops, and wigs with French tops. It’s all about quality.
HSJ: Could you describe the characteristics of each collection?
JT: Under the ‘Dimples’ label, we have the ladies range and this is our focus right now. We have the Dimples Bronze remi collection offering remi hair in full wigs, medical wigs and top pieces in various hair lengths and base sizes. Then there's the Dimples Silver collection, made with all European hair. And for the even more discriminating, we have the Dimples European Gold collection featuring all virgin hair. It's never been colored or processed. It’s the best there is.
‘Leading Man,’ our men's line, comprises stock and custom hair systems. We're held to very high standards in order for our products to receive European certification and we practice the same quality control for all our North American clients.
HSJ: Finally, as outside observers, what do you see as the biggest opportunity in North America today?
JT: Consistency and quality. Quality is going down; hair is becoming scarce. There's always an opportunity for the person who can offer a superior product.