Taking Stock: Interview & Update with Conair VP Alan Stockman
MODERN gets an update from Vice-President & General Manager, Conair Professional (BaByliss PRO, Satin Smooth, Rusk, One’n Only) Alan Stockman. We asked about his current focus and Stockman says it is to "grow the business, innovate, facilitate, communicate, cajole, coerce, question, know when to lead, know when to follow, synthesize, analyze, and in case you missed it the first time, grow the business!" We liked this answer so much, we asked more questions about his role and about where he sees Conair and professional beauty headed in the coming year.
M: HOW HAS CONAIR CHANGED IN RECENT YEARS?
Stockman: Conair Professional has evolved enormously. We have consistently improved and expanded our core portfolio. We’re also in many more categories and businesses than we were previously. There is a never-ending search for the “better mousetrap” in any form we might find it. Rusk Deepshine Hair Color and One ‘n Only Argan Oil Hair Color are two examples of extraordinary successes in very competitive markets. We found the opportunities and drove them. Satin Smooth used to be just a depilatory wax line and has grown into a multi-category, multi-million dollar personal care powerhouse. The recently launched HydraSonic dermal cleansing technology spotlights our persistence, focus on performance, and vision combining to redefine the marketplace.
We constantly look to where products, categories and businesses need to be: brushless motor technology in professional styling tools is a perfect example. Longer life, quieter, more powerful, smarter performance… these are the advantages of well-designed brushless engine tools. We incorporated these advancements into our cornerstone items like the Italia Brava Dryer, the FX811 Volare X2 Clipper, and the MiraCurl.
The challenge is competition, and mature, saturated categories. At Conair Professional, we fight complacency. We spend time with and listen to customers, we’re responsive. We realize that saving money is very important but MAKING MONEY is more important. We evaluate the market, we make decisions and we do business. We understand and embrace change. When we make mistakes, we clean them up and move on. When we succeed, we drive and build – onward and upward.
M: HOW HAS CONSOLIDATION IMPACTED YOUR BUSINESS?
Stockman: Consolidation of distribution (and manufacturers) has had enormous impact, both positive and negative. Combining different strengths and resources in a more unified manner can be very powerful and effective for everyone. On the other hand, fewer choices can sometimes lead to weaker customer focus, less innovation, and a business that bounces more sideways than one that puts its head down and drives forward. Think of water: Nothing better to drink on a hot, sunny day. On the other hand, a foot of it in your basement - -not so good. It’s not so much the fact of consolidation as it is what we all do with it.
Reaching customers is so different and more difficult. It’s also opportunity. Fragmentation has grown. Specialization (blow bars like Dream Dry in NY, boutique color salons, spa service growth) has gained momentum. Booth rental continues to expand even into traditional full-service salon geographies. Store counts have climbed. All of these are double-edged swords. We strive every day to crack the code regarding connecting to and influencing all of our customers. Our business and customers have grown tentacles; we need to make sure we do as well.
Distribution is significant but in many ways, it’s like any other challenge we navigate. You try to pick your partners well (and I believe we have). Adjust when the circumstances or opportunities warrant it. Make sure your customers are serviced well. It’s important to always try to look ahead, which can be extraordinarily difficult when everyone is so busy. But you have to do it. Effective distribution is brutally critical to our success, but we believe that with a sharp focus on product quality, innovation, technology, performance, and education, our salon customers will be with us.
M: HOW DO YOU SEE THE INTERNET IMPACTING DISTRIBUTION OF PROFESSIONAL PRODUCTS?
Stockman: The internet is a means to an end; it is not an end in and of itself. Successful merchants of any kind have come to understand that there’s not a zero-sum battle being waged by bricks & mortar versus the internet. The internet is an additional tool for engaging a business or brand with its customers. At Conair Professional, we view the internet as opportunity. Opportunity to connect with distribution, hairdressers, and clients. Opportunity for our partners to service their customers effectively. Opportunity to deliver education and information more easily and efficiently. The internet represents choice, connection, ease, and simplicity. We embrace its value-added and respect its boundaries.
M: YOU HAVE A PORTFOLIO OF BRANDS. DO YOU SEE ACQUIRING MORE IN THE FUTURE?
Stockman: Conair Professional has grown organically as well as through acquisition and expansion. Our success has come from many sources and we understand the importance of both external and internal growth. It is logical to assume that a well-capitalized company that touches customers in more than 100 countries throughout the world will continue to seek success wherever and however it can be found.
M: HOW DO YOU VIEW THE HEALTH OF PRO BEAUTY STORES?
Stockman: Beauty stores are thriving. However, the issue for our customers is market saturation, maturity, competition, ambiguity, confusion and lots of other difficult-to-navigate context. The challenge is for distributor stores to be able to differentiate themselves through what they offer and how they in turn service salons and hairdressers. We find that one size doesn’t fit all and work with each of our customers individually to help them realize their store goals.
M: ANY NEW CHANNELS YOU ARE LOOKING AT?
Stockman: New channels, per se, are not our focus. We are focused on our core mission of the driving the professional business via servicing, educating, supporting and connecting with our customers. We will always strive to reach salon professionals and their clients most effectively. Where that leads us and our business, we will follow.
M: SHARE THE BIG NEWS OUT OF CONAIR.
Stockman: The biggest news out of Conair Pro right now is technology, innovation, and performance. This very powerful trifecta is our product advantage in the market and a critical path to continued success. The Italia Brava dryer, the MiraCurl, The Volare X2 Clipper and the Satin Smooth HydraSonic mentioned earlier are great examples of what makes Conair Professional successful today and what will carve out our growth in the future.
M: FINAL WORDS?
Stockman: I tell this to my kids and to my business partners inside and outside Conair Professional: It is not important how many times you fail or fall down; it is important that you get up. Always. That is the measure of us as individuals and it is the true measure of success.