Finding the Right Niche

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-By Claire Suttles

John Fisher launched Chemcorp International as a one man operation out of his garage twenty five years ago. The company rapidly grew into a major producer and distributor of hair, nail, and beauty products for the global retail and salon market. Several Chemcorp brands soon became market leaders. By 2005, the company had progressed from that humble garage to its own $10 million building. The specially built complex allows Chemcorp to continue its dynamic growth, and includes offices, a 3,000 pallet position warehouse, photographic studio for the company art department, and a 25 metre showroom.

Since its modest beginnings, Chemcorp has developed into three divisions. Division one, known as Chemcorp International, distributes hair, nail, health and beauty products to more than 8000 retailers in Australia and New Zealand, and has a presence in over 20 countries. The division promotes and distributes product lines for both its own Chemcorp brands and for product lines owned by other companies. The division’s flagship brand, 1000 Hour, carries a wide range of beauty and nail products and leads the market in false eyelashes and eyelash dye kits. Other top Chemcorp brands include Schoolies Hair Accessories, Gliders Hair Accessories, and Freestyle Hair Brushes and Combs. Popular brands that Chemcorp distributes for other companies include Ecotools, Rapid White, Rapid Lash, Pretty Woman, Dr Teals and Ice Drops.

Division two, called Salon Concepts, supplies the hairdressing industry with a wide range of products. Cricket, a major player in US high quality salon products, is a key brand distributed by Salon Concepts. The division also distributes Blixz, a popular nail foil product and Centrix high quality hairdressing scissors and appliances.

Just Cuts™, the largest hairdressing chain in Australia, recently appointed Salon Concepts preferred supplier for all hard goods. Mr Fisher explains that this means the company provides “everything from a hair brush to a pair of scissors… to the cleaning solution for the mirrors to the lollypops they give away.” With 174 Just Cuts™ Salons throughout Australia and New Zealand, Mr Fisher describes the new relationship as “a feather in our cap.”

The company’s third division exports hair, nail, health, and beauty products around the globe. Chemcorp is actively working to increase these exports and Austrade – the Federal Government’s trade and investment development agency – has played a crucial role in the division’s growth. Austrade promotes exports by subsidising a substantial portion of export related marketing expenses. The agency reimburses up to half the cost of trade show booths, partially funds related flights and accommodations, and helps cover the cost of promotional materials for export related initiatives. Mr Fisher speaks highly of Austrade and the assistance it provides, explaining that “it is helping the whole country. It’s not just helping one individual or one product.”

Chemcorp’s growth has been significant over the last several years. This is largely because the team understands the importance of “having the right products at the right time,” and puts a tremendous amount of effort into new product development. “The main thing that we have always been conscious of,” Mr Fisher explains, “is that we are not looking at promoting ‘me-too’ products.” Instead, the team is “always looking for new ideas.” Within the massive hair and beauty industry, this strategy is essential. Mr Fisher uses Schoolies Hair Accessories – designed to match school uniforms – as an example. “Lots of people have got hair accessories,” he explains, “but no one’s got the school coloured hair accessories.” Sometimes, Chemcorp’s unique angle isn’t the product itself, but the way it is presented. Before 1997, hair brushes were routinely packaged on a blister card that encased the bristles in plastic. Chemcorp was the first company to attach a hair brush to the card using a cable tie so the consumer could touch and feel the product. “By 2000 most companies around the world started to copy us,” Mr Fisher says, explaining that the packaging “is now standard in the industry.”

Indeed, promoting new ideas and products is a built-in facet of the company. Chemcorp has a well-developed creative/art department, and sales department working together to carry a product from drawing board to consumer. The development team scours the globe for ideas, perusing trade shows, studying web sites, and listening to the major buyers in the Australian retail market.

John’s wife Maryann has a keen eye for finding new products and helps in the development of new product initiatives. 10 years ago Maryann visited Osaka, Japan to locate the manufacturer of elastic silicone that is used in snag free hair elastics, a key product in the Gliders and Schoolies Hair Accessory lines. Once an idea is developed, Chemcorp launches market research to confirm a need for the product and to determine if Chemcorp can be competitive in the current marketplace. If the answer is yes, then the team goes for it. First, the creative department creates a name to suit one of the company’s current brands. If the new product name doesn’t fit within a current brand, a new one will be created specifically for that product. “Branding is very important,” Mr Fisher explains, and Chemcorp works hard to properly represent each new product. After the name and brand are established, the company determines who the target consumer will be and how best to promote the product to that consumer. After that, the art department goes to work on packaging and promotional materials. Mr Fisher reports that Chemcorp relies on its “very talented people” in the art department and is known for eye-catching, effective promotional materials. Mark Savignano heads up the company’s creative/art department and he and his team do “a terrific job” in the development and promotional stages.

Vixen Body Art is the brand that Chemcorp has most recently developed and is actively promoting. The line includes leading edge body and hair crystals, temporary lip tattoos, and feather hair extensions. Chemcorp developed all the Vixen products in-house with careful consideration of the brand’s target customer and marketing strategy. The team’s marketing plan includes launching the brand at Bologna Italy’s Cosmoprof, the largest cosmetic salon beauty show in the world. Chemcorp already has a US distributor who will be meeting with three major US retail chains – Walmart, Walgreens and Rite Aid – in the coming weeks. Mr Fisher admits that the meeting is only a first step for Vixen Body Art, but he’s optimistic: “At least we’re there, knocking on doors.”

Every Chemcorp brand is a little bit different, and marketing strategies reflect these sometimes subtle, but important, differences. Each brand has its own website with product details and an instructional video on how best to use the product. The company makes available a 30 second television commercial which can be utilised by its international distributors. Chemcorp International produces a colour catalog of all its retail products every 18 months and mails a copy to every pharmacy in Australia. Salon Concepts sends a similar catalog to every hairdressing salon in the country. Chemcorp’s current marketing goal, Mr Fisher reports, is to “embrace social media.” The company has begun by creating a page on Facebook and has employed a marketing company to steer it in the right direction.

The team has always been cognisant of the niche it wants to fill regarding quality and price. “We always try to develop and/or distribute the best quality products at a reasonable price,” Mr Fisher explains. “We are at the mid to high end with all we do. We don’t look to be at the lower end. What our focus has always been since day one is to try and hone in on the best quality product that we can.”

By understanding market needs, taking advantage of unused niches in the industry, and staying true to its original vision of high quality products, Chemcorp has grown from garage start-up to international supplier. After 25 years in the hair, nails and beauty supply industry, Mr Fisher still leads the company he founded. And, despite the company’s growth and success, it remains a tight knit affair. Mr Fisher’s daughter, Jodie Phillips, works as his executive assistant and Chemcorp General Manager, Simon Roberts, has remained Mr Fisher’s “right hand man” since 1990. Drawing from past success, the team plans to continue going forward with new and innovative ways to meet the needs of an ever-changing market.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:34 AM AEDT