December 20, Kao Corporation announced its acquisition of Oribe Hair Care from Luxury Brand Partners (LBP), the Miami-based company behind artist-driven beauty brands including R+Co, Smith & Cult, IGK, V76 by Vaughn and Pulp Riot.
In this exclusive interview with MODERN SALON’s Editor in Chief Alison Alhamed, LBP CEO Tev Finger, and Dan Langer, Chief Marketing Officer and President of E-Commerce, share their thoughts on the launch, growth and acquisition of Oribe; insight into the mind of an entrepreneur; and the exciting future of LBP’s portfolio of booming brands.
MODERN SALON: Firstly, we extend a massive congratulations to you both on this big news. How does it feel to sell a brand? Do you go through stages of grief and mourning? Do you get FOMO?
TEV FINGER: There are definitely stages. The analogy is it’s very similar to having a child. When you have the baby, they’re in diapers, they’re peeing and crapping on you… there’s a big investment there—there’s not much you’re getting out of the relationship besides love. Then they walk for the first time, and it feels similar to when the product arrives from the vendor for the first time and you see what you’ve created. It’s an incredible feeling to see something go from a plan to an idea to an actual product. Eventually that child goes to college, gets married and moves out of your house—that’s the evolution if you’re in the brand-building business. For entrepreneurs, it’s a happy day. But just like parents, it’s also a sad day because the Oribe brand is something I’m so connected to, and we built it for almost a decade. To watch it go out the door you want it to be successful—but this feeling supersedes ownership. With Bumble & bumble, we build it and sold it and, even though it’s been 14 years, I still have a connection to Bumble; I still feel a sense of ownership. When we sold Becca [to Estee Lauder in 2016], I fell in love with the team and the people and the product. To this day, when I see Becca I feel like that’s my baby. With Oribe it’s more emotional because I find that the older you get the more emotional you get. You could say, “Oh we made a lot of money, who cares.” But the older you get, the more attached you get to things. One of the things that helps that loss is having a roster of other incredible brands to focus your energy on. You can’t deny it—we live in a world where money is a scorecard of your success in business. People get weird about money, but it shows, as a scorecard, how great you did in your career. Getting that money is great, it’s a resource that we can influx into LBP. It’s exciting to think about what new things we can do with that money, what new brands or new concepts we can introduce.
MS: So you don’t see yourself being an empty-nester anytime soon.
TF: Right. We have a ton of children. One left, our eldest. And we loved them, but they’re gone. So let’s focus on the other babies.
MS: Continuing your analogy, where is R+Co in its life cycle? Is it in puberty?
TF: R+Co is definitely going through puberty. When you launch a brand, it still has to figure out the direction it’s going in order to make sense in the market, and figuring out where to pivot because, as the product grows, the market changes. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, that’s what’s most exciting. When we launched Oribe, it was very different from how the brand eventually morphed. Even looking at the past five years, Oribe has changed a lot. We’re at that point with R+Co, and we’re working out the pieces to it, but expect some major pivots in that brand.
MS: Where do you imagine LBP putting its marketing efforts moving forward?
DAN LANGER: Among our roster of brands, each one is incredible and has its own unique marketing approach. On Oribe, we had a lot of activity in trade media. Pulp Riot had a lot of digital and social marketing efforts. Each brand has a dedicated marketing team creating campaigns totally tailored to its core DNA and end consumer. Tev and I both recognize that we’re a part of an incredible industry, and we’ve always loved working with trade. We felt like insiders, as opposed to outsiders. With each brand we touch, building a community around that brand is so critical to us. Going forward, we’ll continue to market across all kinds of marketing mediums that create a connection and dialogue with our users.
TF: To add to that, when building a brand like Oribe, you have to be a futurist, thinking five, ten years in front of you: You don’t build a brand because of what’s happening right now, you build a brand based on where you think things are going to move. As an entrepreneur, I’ve always felt it’s important to get outside of the salon industry to have more insights—thinking from a global, financial, social and technology perspective where knowledge is moving quicker and faster every day, you have to ask: Where is the salon owner and stylist and salon going to be in five years? One of the secrets to our success, is we give them something they don’t expect. Think of Bumble, Becca and Oribe—these were future brands. You have to think of where the industry will be when you’re running, not when you’re launching. When we launched Oribe, salons laughed at us. It was so difficult. They would say, “Who would ever buy a shampoo and conditioner for $100?” That was in 2009 during one of the worst economies in the world. We looked ahead at this great infatuation with luxury. Markets go in cycles, and we knew it was going to come out of that cycle in five or seven years and we’d already be running. People started making more money, economies were booming, and it became easier to spend $100 on shampoo and conditioner. Now we’re again thinking of where we’ll be in five years, and we do that by looking at the movement of the world. There’s a desire for more equality when it comes to finances, a desire to feel inclusive, not exclusive. And Oribe was a very exclusive brand. People don’t want to spend as much—they want a deal. Not a two-for-one, but they want a brand priced for their lifestyle. It’s very unusual to have sold two brands to Estee Lauder. We plan on being in this business a long time. We want to keep building incredible brands and exiting them. We want to make the exits bigger and bolder every time. This Oribe exit was a big one. When I was a kid, Burger King was a huge company in my mind. And Oribe just sold for a little over 1/3 of what Burger King sold for. It’s insane.
MS: Is there anything we need to know about how the leadership might shift?
TF: In January, we’re sitting down with entire executive team to really ideate from the events we host, to education, brand perspectives, and how we are going to do it. This is a great opportunity to reshuffle. One of the things we try to do when we hire people is we cross-train everyone on everything. We have really powerful people with huge bench strength. It’s good to look at the business every so often and make big shifts.
MS: How does this change impact the future of your education, ateliers, and the academy?
DL: Our events are incredible and they’re a huge part of our DNA. We need those community moments and to make opportunities for salon owners to come together and talk. The incredible thing about beauty is it's driven by newness, innovation and fun. There are always opportunities to create something unique and authentic because that's the nature of this creative category.
MS: What about your sales force? With the Oribe exit, will you be starting a massive recruitment campaign?
TF: That’s the hardest and biggest shift for us, the messiest area. We had one sales force selling all of the brands. With the Oribe sale, we had to segregate a certain element of the sales force and are left with 1/3 of our sales force. So now is the time to rebuild and add more people than we need so we’re ahead of that. It’s always been so important to be a little bit of ahead of where you are so you aren’t scrambling to fill a position you need. We can certainly function with the existing team we have with our business today, but who builds a business just for today?
MS: Tev, it sounds like you should be on Shark Tank.
TF: The Late Night with Tev Finger show actually is Shark Tank, you just don’t realize it. If you look back at all the brands we have, we met and interviewed them on Late Night with Tev first. We invited the IGK guys on, Pulp Riot as guests, Garren came on. And we look at them and think, “this guy is perfect.” It might look like we’re doing this quirky fun thing on the side, but we have a strategy to expose the industry to great talent with great character.
MS: Knowing you’re speaking directly to owners, stylists and the industry by speaking with MODERN, what do you want them to hear about how the Oribe sale changes an owner’s relationship with both brands?
DL: First and foremost, our heritage is in our love for salons and salon owners. We love Oribe, and Kao’s approach to customer service, product efficacy and quality was the perfect fit. For salon owners, it will be business as usual with Oribe—it’s the same great team, same incredible products, same philosophy and approach to business. For the brands in our LBP portfolio, they were all uniquely designed hairdressers in mind—for hairdressers, by hairdressers. Salons and salon owners won’t feel any ripple, and a big part of that is because we will always be sister brands with Oribe with each other’s best interest at heart. Oribe will always have a special connection to the people who helped build it. It's a brand and team that inspired us every day for the last decade. Put it this way: Everyone who worked on the brand will always have an Oribe product in their beauty rotation.