Modern Exclusive: Gail Federici, Creator of Color Wow, Keeps Solving Problems

Gail Federici, chief executive officer of Federici Brands LLC, created the Color Wow Root Cover Up, a professional range of products in seven shades. An entrepreneur who looks for real problems to solve and holes in the marketplace to be filled, Federici has had tremendous success in the beauty industry. She partnered with John Frieda to launch Frizz-Ease and Sheer Blonde and, today, she has given consumers the answer to the issue of grown-out roots and has offered stylists a product that they are not just willing, but want, to retail. MODERN SALON spoke with Federici to learn more about her consumer-driven approach to product development.

MS: Tell us about your entrepreneurial beginnings.

GF: In the 1970s and 80s, I worked at Zotos in the education department and then as VP of Corporate Communications. While I was there, I was very involved in positioning of products and I worked closely with the chemists.

I met hairdresser John Frieda in 1988 when he was a guest artist at one of our large education events. At the same time, I was getting restless and wanted a new challenge. My friend, Ann Bell, and I were looking at starting an advertising agency but then I began talking with John. He had some products but he needed help packaging them for the market; Boots was interested in carrying them. I started consulting with him. When he was asked to make a television appearance in London, he was told by another advisor that TV would tarnish his upscale image but I said, if you’re serious about your products, you should definitely do this. He did and the reaction was amazing. Consumers were calling all the Boots stores, looking for the products, and John, who was still doing so much editorial work and running three salons, asked me to be his partner. Ann and I moved to England to get things up and running, and to see how it would go before bringing it to the U.S.

MS: And it went well. You had enormous success with John Frieda Frizz-Ease and Sheer Blonde.

GF: Necessity is the mother of invention. I have very problematic hair and I I’d always been looking for ingredients that were good for my hair type. I told John I had an idea for a product for frizzy hair.

At that time, there was a real hole in the market and retail was ripe for the picking. Unlike skincare, which was and is created for all different skin types, shampoos and conditioners were one-size-fits-all. There was nothing exciting about the process of shopping for these products and nothing that answered the needs of hair like mine. We saw a problem and set out to solve it. It’s much more interesting and authentic than jumping on a bandwagon.

After twelve, very exciting years, we received an offer to sell that we couldn’t refuse.

MS: What led to launching Color Wow Root Cover Up?

GF: We had been doing other things—music, skincare—and we knew we didn’t want to come back into hair care unless we had something we could offer to solve another problem. In our offices, those women of a certain age all had something in common—a stripe of root that would show as their color faded and their hair grew out. If there was something out there that satisfied people and that worked, we wouldn’t be seeing that stripe. I set out to find something that looks like hair, feels like hair and will stay on until it washes out. There was the problem of getting it to adhere, getting it to reflect, getting the pigments right but after three years, we nailed it. And it is perfect for professionals. 

When a colorist takes so much time with a color service and then ten days later it doesn’t look as groomed and polished and those resistant greys start to show, it’s a problem. We wanted to make Root Cover Up part of the whole consultation. The stylist works with their client and matches them with the right color and offers it to them to take home. 

We’ve been selling it for two years and it doesn’t take away from the salon or the professional, but offers them something more they can do for their guest.

MS: What has been the response from the hairdresser?

GF: We knew it was a success when we saw in our John Frieda Salons that the stylists, who so often say they don’t like selling products, were feeling like a hero when they recommended it to their clients. They weren’t pushing another shampoo or hairspray onto them; they were offering their clients something so easy that would take them through that period when roots first start to show but they can’t get to their stylist. Plus, stylists said that sometimes they are away on vacation but with Root Cover Up, they don’t lose a client to another stylist or salon.

Lots of blow dry bars are raving about it, too. It is a professional service they can offer and it’s especially good for them because it’s dry. After you have spent time getting hair smooth, the last thing you want to do is to start spraying something wet onto the hair.

MS: What has been your distribution strategy?

GF: Word spread very fast. With the internet and social media, everyone sees what you are doing so they were mad to get their hands on it. We are working to keep up with demand. We sold it into ULTA, it’s in 60 countries, and I have been doing kick-off meetings with distributors around the world.

MS: How are you reaching out to the hairdresser?

GF: We went to trade shows and would bring hairdressers from the John Frieda Salons to our booths to demonstrate because seeing is believing. The brush is small and it’s a precise but very quick process.

We’ve also done TV commercials for the Root Cover Up and that drove customers into salons asking for it. The stylists find out about it through their clients. It’s unusual to advertise on TV for products to the trade but that is part of our strategy, to have customers ask for it.

MS: What’s coming in 2016?

GF: We spent the last two years trying to open the markets and trying to address the demand. We’ve been playing catchup. This year we will focus on the shampoo, conditioner and styling products. Two commercials will be launching soon in different markets.

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