Often times when people see other peoples’ success what they don’t see are the years of hard work that it takes to get there. Carolyn Aronson, a self-made entrepreneur and founder and CEO of It’s a 10 Haircare, a privately owned brand that now sells $500 million dollars worth of product annually, knows a little thing or two about the roller coaster that is entrepreneurship.
“I began my career working my way up from sweeping hair to managing my own business,” says Aronson who started off as a hairdresser and eventually owned her own salons. It was working with her clients one-on-one using the available hair products that helped her see both a void in the market and an opportunity.
“Over the course of 20 years, I touched thousands of heads of hair and would cherry pick various products to suit all the diverse hair types of my clients,” continues Aronson. “At one point, I had more than a dozen different brands on my shelves. I became frustrated with the lines that produced dozens of products with single benefits and hard-to-follow claims. I envisioned a line that was for everyone and delivered full, salon-quality results in just one bottle.”
So, in 2006 Aronson put her scissors down, and ventured into product development. But, It’s a 10 wasn’t her first attempt in the space. “I started the brand with 80K after I had lost everything when I was working on the first brand I launched, LINQ Haircare,” Aronson tells me. “I launched It’s a 10 Haircare with a partner in 2006 with one star product, Miracle Leave-In, and the line quickly rose to fame through professional hair stylists, who shared the product with their clients.”
In 2017, Aronson bought out her partner and became sole owner of the brand. “Being one of the only Hispanic, female-owned, and independently-owned hair care brands in the world is such an achievement for me. It truly means that I have broken barriers that will hopefully inspire other women to achieve,” Aronson proudly explains. 2017 was another pivotal moment in her career when her brand was the only professional hair care brand to get a commercial spot during the Super Bowl. “It gave our business a huge boost.”
For those unfamiliar with It’s a 10 Haircare products, the brand is known for breaking boundaries too (as well as one of the best leave-in conditioners ever). From its inception the entire premise is that all of the products offer ten performance characteristics in one bottle that provides benefit to every hair type, which was pretty forward thinking of Aronson.
“At It’s a 10 Haircare, we go where they don’t go,” states Aronson. “By reaching out to all women and men no matter their color, race, or creed. True beauty comes in an array of sizes and colors and we cater to all by designing products with 10-in-1 benefits that are simple to understand and easy to use. In an industry where there is an ethnic hair care aisle and a non-ethnic hair care aisle, It’s a 10 Haircare will be in both. It’s all one for us, and we make all hair types healthier.”
Many stylists have tried to make the crossover from service to product—some successful and some not. I was curious what Aronson thought was the secret to her success. “I did it slow without debt,” Aronson responds. “I follow Suze Orman. After 15 years in business, we are just going worldwide now. Managing growth properly is a balancing act. Being in the industry for 36 years has also helped with the presence of the brand in addition to the integrity of my products. I create everything you see. Integrity is always the cornerstone—sometimes even the detriment.” Aronson also believes staying ahead of the curve is vital. “Not only do you need to innovate. You need to look ahead 3-4 years from now.”
Many founders would be looking to cash out of It’s A Ten right now with little to no debt on the books. So I wanted to know why Aronson decided not to sell her company. “When I bought my partner out in 2017, I had an opportunity to sell,” she tells me. “But, I knew I had more in me. And to be the sole owner and to build this the way I want to was a great opportunity.”
As a firm believer in running a company lean with minimal debt, it took three years to pay back the debt Aronson created to buy out her partner. “I am happy to say that debt has been paid.” Also in the spirit of running lean yet efficiently, Aronson operates the business with a tight team. “Companies my size usually have 100 employees. We have an internal team of 14.”
One of the biggest initiatives Aronson has implemented since running the company on her own has been focusing on the e-commerce channel. “For such an innovative industry we can be a bit archaic when it comes to technology,” Aronson explains. “So for the last three years we have worked extremely hard to build out an e-commerce platform and automating our systems.”
Some of the brand’s motivation to embark on a digital transformation was to be operable during hurricanes—a potentially catastrophic weather event that Floridians know all too well. “We would be scrambling with generators,” she tells me. Now everything is cloud based. Being prepared for disaster has also been helpful navigating COVID.
But Aronson also realized that even her way of reaching the customer directly needed to evolve. “We always make sure to encourage people to go to their stylist/salon for the best hair care recommendations and purchases first and foremost,” says Aronson. “Our clients know that we are huge advocates of in-salon experiences above all else. But, we of course need to make ourselves also available to the masses via e-commerce.”
When she first started the initiative in 2017 e-commerce sales were at $200K. In 2019 the total sales online amounted to $3 million dollars, and 2020 is projected to close at $8 million in online sales. “It’s a 10 made $500,000 on e-commerce in July alone,” Aronson tells me of the company’s year over year growth.
There is a lot to admire about the success Aronson has created. In the next 3-5 years Aronson will continue to push the brand’s boundaries and shares with me that there will be a head-to-toe It’s a 10 experience with hair extensions, a make up line, and hair tools. But one of the most admirable qualities about Aronson is her genuine attitude towards paying it forward not only to communities and groups, but also to her team.
“I am a firm believer in always creating business with a purpose and for me, part of that purpose is to give back and inspire,” shares Aronson. Through the years, Aronson has donated to Leaping Bunny, Right Action for Women, Red Cross America, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, as well as many other organizations. The brand also donated over $5 million dollars in hair and skin care products to Good360, a company that helped those directly impacted by the pandemic. She even contributes 3% of the company’s sales towards all employees’ 401ks—whether they contribute or not.
In 2017, Aronson founded National Love Your Hair Day on October 10th to champion diversity in beauty and challenge everyone to embrace their uniqueness. Last year, she unveiled her latest movement to empower female entrepreneurs across America with The It’s a 10® Grant, a fund that recognizes deserving women across America and gifts them the means to pursue their dreams. In honor of National Love Your Hair Day, Aronson presented inaugural grants of $10,000 each to three deserving women to help further fulfill their ambitions.
The three women, Callie Eiserman, Ashley Ellis, and Colleen Batton were all hand-selected by Aronson herself after she heard their heartwarming stories through write-in submissions via a contest the brand launched via Instagram. “We’ve always got something different up our sleeve for 10/10 day so whether that be a grant or some other form of giving back, we always will offer support,” states Aronson.
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