Janell Hickman is In The Know’s beauty contributor. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for more.
To say that 2020 was a tumultuous year would be an understatement. COVID-19 shook the globe to its core, clocking at least 247,000 deaths just in the United States by mid-November. Business-wise, waves of shutdowns forced many budding entrepreneurs to close their doors permanently. It’s been a dark cloud over a year so many were looking forward to embracing.
However, despite the challenges, there were still moments of triumphs, joy and breakthroughs. One story in particular that caught my attention was that of DreamGirls, a sister-led, Black-owned and family-operated natural hair care company that launched during the height of the pandemic and recently cleared the $1 million dollar sale mark in just under six months.
I caught up with the co-founders, Tonya Thompson and Sharie Wilson, to learn more about how they persevered — and what advice they have for current (and future) business owners.
Find a true partner
Working with your sibling definitely has its pros and cons, but the bond between sisters is one that is commonly unmatched. Sharie calls her sister her “mentor” and reveals that she’s the reason she felt confident to enter the world of hair — in fact, Sharie started her career as Tonya’s assistant in high school.
“We know each other; we know what each other’s thinking,” explains Sharie. “At the same time, we also have our [differences]; we clash sometimes. Especially Tonya and I — we are both Capricorns, literally one day apart, which makes us very strong-headed.”
Like with any partnership, the balance is letting one person lead (and then follow occasionally) to push ahead. “Whenever I had business ideas, Tonya was the first one I’d bring it to,” adds Sharie. “We first started selling hair when she was on board, and it just started from there. It’s great — of course, we do have some challenges at times, but we always overcome them.”
Make your plans solid enough but still fluid
Despite their success, launching their hair care company online was not part of the original plan. With two salons shut down indefinitely due to COVID-19, the main priority was re-opening their locations — not dropping the Healthy Hair Care System. However, with clients on both coasts now forced to manage their hair at home, a product line seemed like perfect timing.
Sharie elaborates, citing that initially, she was really focused on the physical locations. “Eventually, my sister said, ‘You know what? This is our time to really sit down and focus on this launch, this product line.’ [Because the salons were closed], we were able to be more detailed with this, strategize a little bit more. Once we kind of released the disruption of the local government shutting us down and started focusing on the launch, it felt like God was saying to us, ‘It’s time for you guys to get this project going and do it the right way.’”
“We were actually about to do a launch in the salon,” explains Tonya. “We were preparing for it and then COVID hit. Then the week after I was like, ‘We can’t not launch.’ So, we started marketing our products a week later and made $30,000 our first weekend. Things took off from there.”
Empower your clients
Before releasing products, DreamGirls was primarily known for their in-salon services and Healthy Hair Program, for which women would fly in from out of state once a quarter — or wait for Tonya to arrive in New York or Atlanta. “Everyone went into a panic when it was time to take their [protective style] down,” explains Tonya.
“It’s not just a system you use when you want to wash your hair — our Healthy Hair Program is actually a journey,” she continues. “Our clients needed assistance and new people wanted to start. Our product isn’t just about hair growth, we also want to provide instructions, so we implemented virtual consultations ASAP.”
Sharie adds: “We wanted to replicate what we would use in our salon and bring that same quality of product to everyone across the world. We really took our time to make sure that our product was the best — and it was the best for our clients because they deserve it, especially African-American women. We really want to break that stereotype that our hair can’t grow or that we have to wear weaves.”
“We say all the time that a weave is always a choice,” continues Sharie. “We [Black women] can wear a wig, we can wear a weave or we can take our hair down and wear our natural hair and it’s beautiful. If we decide to wear it curly or we decide to wear it pressed, flat-ironed or in braids, it’s always an option. We have that stigma that Black women can’t grow their hair past their shoulders. That’s simply not true,” she emphasizes.
Find the right marketing channels
The beauty of having a family-owned business is tapping into nieces, nephews and children to jump in as needed — both Tonya and Sharie’s children are involved in the day-to-day of the business, including running marketing and social media.
Tonya credits Facebook and Instagram as big drivers of their business. Now, they expanded into TikTok, but nothing compares to referrals. “We have a lot of word of mouth. Normally, when we have clients, it’s always groups of people from the same office or department. Referrals and the word of mouth does it for us,” she explains.
Knowing their “why” is truly what keeps the DreamGirls team pushing forward, even during uncertain times. “What we do at DreamGirls, it’s not just about hair, it’s about really transforming people’s lives,” explains Sharie. “We want women who can’t sit in our chair to feel confident and beautiful at any hair length.”
If you enjoyed this story, check out Janell Hickman’s deep dive into whether or not makeup wipes are actually bad for your skin.
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