The beauty of the salon sector is that there are thousands of locations in the U.S., cash transactions dominate, and it’s fairly recession proof — no matter the economy, most women won’t skimp on a hair styling, a facial, or a manicure.
So what drew Ingmar Korstanje to an industry that largely caters to women? The Michigan State University graduate had a successful career in logistics when, in 2000, he and his wife, Marlo Asher, established an online store for Marlo Beauty, which had a dozen locations at its peak. Asher’s father, Mike, who worked in sales at Johnson & Johnson, launched Marlo Beauty in 1981.
“When we started doing digital sales, it was like we were self-employed, working at a self-employed company,” says Korstanje, who was later joined in the business by Marc Asher, Mike’s son. “It was the dot-com era, so an e-commerce play inside the beauty supply sector was a nice niche. As we grew the business, we started generating more brand-name recognition.”
The added attention caught the eye of Sally Beauty Supply, a behemoth in the industry with more than 3,000 stores nationwide. In 2007, Marlo Beauty sold their locations to Sally Beauty Supply. From there, Marlo Beauty became a stand-alone digital business catering exclusively to licensed professionals.
During a recent tour of a 40,000-square-foot space that pairs cosmetics and logistics in Ferndale’s industrial district, Korstanje explained that he leads a team of 40 people who sort and warehouse more than 5,000 products ranging from shampoos to sprays, conditioners, hair color, nail polish, brushes and combs, clippers, trimmers, and makeup.
“We’re like Ace Hardware for beauty salons,” Korstanje says. “Just about everything in a salon we supply, including styling chairs; shampoo bowls; spa, manicure, and pedicure equipment; towel warmers; and facial and massage beds. We also supply products to barber shops and athletic clubs.”
On the marketing front, the company purchases digital ads, but in a nod to an earlier era, they also design and send out thousands of sales flyers. The printed materials are an effective tool for promoting new products and alerting customers to items on sale. Korstanje says the company’s marketing budget is evenly split between print and digital.
“Another niche we serve is the growing demand for suites within a salon, where a beauty professional leases space and has access to everything, rather than (running) the whole operation. It’s a fast-growing part of the industry.”
Marlo Beauty sources its inventory from more than 40 global manufacturers of beauty and salon products. “Our suppliers often provide us with suggestions on how to market a new product,” Korstanje says. “And if I need more advice, I just ask Marlo.”