MEMO INTERVIEW: Tony Cuccio, CEO, Founder of Star Nail

Tony Cuccio, CEO, Founder of Star Nail, a beauty company based in Valencia, CA which has grown to include Cuccio Naturalé, Cuccio Colours, Cuccio Veneer, All Star Nails and Cinapro Nail Creations, spoke with MODERN SALON about how the development and transformation of his company corresponds with changes in the beauty and nail industry. As he celebrates several milestones this year for his companies--15 years for Cuccio Naturalé, 33 for Star Nail—he still arrives at his desk every morning at 4:30am.

How did Star Nail get its start?

The nail market really started in 1980 with acrylic nails. Women want their hands to look good and they can’t all grow good nails. Artificial nails gave them beautiful nails, right away. In 1981, I was selling lipstick and nail polish on Venice Beach with my 17-year old brother. The nail polish was private label and that enabled us to get into the wholesale business and into nail salons that wanted their own polish. We started going to distributors with artificial nail products and got into the full service nail business in 1984 or 85.

The name was created because we wanted to cash checks with salons and we needed a company name so we took letters from my first name, my brothers and my wife’s—Steven, Tony and Roberta.

What was your point of difference?

Our niche was having quality products at reasonable prices –half or even less than everyone else--and we did well in that niche for 10 years. I was the first to import from China and made my first 10 million dollars that way.

We also invented a lot of products: The nail corrector pen in 1981, sanding blocks for nail technicians in 1983, disposable pedicure slippers in 1989, the Cuccio Earthstone Lava Pumices in 1995. In 2011, we invented DETOXSOAK using magnesium sulfate and epsom salt.

Why did you launch Cuccio Naturalé?

In 1999, I was working with a consultant who said that if RC Cola had put a billion into advertising, there would never have been Coke. I realized that STAR Nails was pigeon-holed as a ‘cheap’ brand because we had private label and we were inexpensive. If I wanted to become number one, I would have to start a new company and create a different perceived value of my product. I started Cuccio Naturalé.

The nail industry was changing and the spa industry was taking hold. I knew people would have to compete by changing their nail salons to nail spas. The start of Cuccio Naturalé was a positioning marketing move to compete with OPI and Creative Nail (CND) and to raise the perception of my new product and to go where they were not, into the spa industry. Today, it is sold in 120 countries.

What are the biggest changes in your business and your category that you have seen over recent years?

One of the biggest is that we’re really becoming the professional choice by default as other companies are being acquired by multibillion dollar companies who don’t understand the nail business and whose focus is to go retail.

We do 15 million a year with Sally Beauty Supply with our company All Season Nails. We keyed this brand to retail because we don’t have to divert or sell to a different marketplace. We can continue to grow our brands and keep our integrity with the professional at the same time.

In the nail business, pedicures are becoming more main stream. It used to be that only women in California or Florida would get regular pedicures but now it is a personal hygiene trend and not just a fashion trend. And in the last three years, soak off gels have doubled the nail business.

Our direction in the last five years has been to continue to put out quality products in great packaging. We’re getting more and more into the spa and wellness end of the business because that is where we feel the whole industry is headed.

What are you concentrating on today?

I do three international summits a year, one in Taiwan, one in London and one in Costa Rica. They are motivational business seminars, talking to the nail technicians about how they can make more money and how they can raise public perception of them and their services. They have been really popular and we’ll have anywhere between 200 to 1,000 attendees.

We’re launching a new product at Cosmoprof Las Vegas. It’s a Transdermal Nail Cover, a base coat that never allows gel or polish to touch the natural nail and you don’t need a solvent to remove it.

Final word?

Everyone always thought hair was bigger than nails and that nails was the red-headed step child. Hair has been around for so many years and nails didn’t start until 1979. But that has changed and it going to keep evolving.