CHOOSE BEAUTY: An Interview with Jim Markham, Founder of ColorProof
Founder of ColorProof Evolved Color Care, Jim Markham’s passion for the beauty industry has engaged and excited him for over 50 years.
Born and Raised: Farmington, New Mexico
Industry Icon: Vidal Sassoon and my mentor, Jay Sebring
Career Other than Hairdressing: I would have liked to have been a Venture Capitalist, to take companies and help to grow them. I really find that intriguing and love that side of business.
Now reading: “The Seven Stages of Money Maturity: Understanding the Spirit and Value of Money in Your Life” by George Kinder. Once you understand the value, you understand how you can use it to improve other people’s lives by sharing it, transferring it into charities and more.
Hidden talent: Master Checker and Pool player. At one point, I made my living playing pool and managed to survive that way.
Title of your autobiography: We Are All Designed to Succeed and to Win. Whatever you choose to believe in, I feel there is a higher being that made us all and gave us the choice over winning or losing. I choose to win.
At 15, Jim Markham was already a father, looking for a way to support his young family, but was too young for traditional employment. “My mother said, ‘Uncle Clarence did well as a barber’ so I went to Lubbock, TX to barber school and started cutting hair,” Markham says. What follows for this serial entrepreneur—Markham has been at the helm of brands that include Sebring International, Markham, ABBA Pure and Natural, Pureology Serious Colour Care, and, today, ColorProof Evolved Color Care—is a career that reads like a movie script. “I’ve had an interesting career and I’ve taken some risky steps along the way…but it worked.”
It began when he opened Markham’s Barbershop in Farmington, New Mexico and attended a razor cutting and styling class with his partner to sharpen his skills. “At the time, we were charging $1.50 for regular cuts and $2.00 for flattops, but people will pay a lot for just a little better, it’s not about how much better.”
This little better helped make his shop a success so Markham proceeded to challenge himself, further, by entering hair cutting and styling competitions. He was winning them, too, but medals don’t always equal money.
“I read in Playboy that hairdresser Jay Sebring was in California charging $50.00 a haircut and doing Paul Newman and Steve McQueen and I was winning all these awards and charging $5.00 and I said, ‘What’s going on here?’” Markham says. Sebring was also marketing his own product line and Markham called Sebring to ask about distributing it. “He said, why don’t you come out here and we’ll cut some hair and see if you want to be a Sebring franchisee.” Markham flew himself to Los Angeles (he was and is a licensed pilot) and experienced the lifestyle of a celebrity stylist, bonding with Sebring, styling famous actors and entertainers of the day and soon opened a Sebring Salon in Albuquerque, NM. Then, in 1969, tragedy struck: Sebring was murdered by followers of Charles Manson. Markham was asked to take over Sebring’s company and as President of Sebring International, he took the line out of retail and put it exclusively into salons, built up the brand and then sold it.
To launch his next line, Markham Products, he flew into cities, selected salons from the Yellow Pages and offered a demonstration of his products and his haircutting method. He opened 80 distributors this way. “I knew I had to succeed. If I started something I didn’t stop until it was done.”
After Markham Products, he opened ABBA Pure and Natural (“It was even more successful than the other two”) and toyed with the idea of retiring…and then the stock market tanked. “I wanted to work but no one would hire me because they only saw me as an entrepreneur.” So he launched another venture, Pureology, using sulfate-free, salt-free formulas. “It was a phenomenol success and grew beyond anything we could imagine. We sold in an all cash deal for way more money than we ever anticipated, over 300 million.”
Markham and his wife, Cheryl, told each other they were definitely retiring now. “But the color-treated concept was still untapped.” And the opportunity to further explore the possibilities in a category he is credited with creating proved irresistible. Markham returned with ColorProof, a full line of professional products designed exclusively for color-treated hair, protecting hair color from start to finish.
“New companies are often prohibited from acquiring new ingredients and new technology by price but we come at it differently—we put the price last and prioritize the performance and the best, newest ingredients possible.”
Last words? “We didn’t come back for money but because we love the business, we love the lifestyle and we knew we could improve.”