By Sakita Holley (@MissSuccess)
When Ken Burkeen launched Huetiful in 2009 his sole focus was on bringing the Huetiful hair steamer to market. Today, that mission and vision has evolved into a more robust beauty company that creates and manufactures healthy hair care solutions such as the hair steamer and the nanoSMOOTHING curl loosening treatment for women with textured hair.
Earlier this month, Ken celebrated the opening of Huetiful’s first concept salon in Atlanta, GA, which is another major milestone in the company’s short history.
After that event, we caught up with the innovation guru to talk about his journey in the beauty industry, why he’s so passionate about educating women about their hair and championing the creation of more high end hair care experiences for women with textured hair such as curlBOX and the new Huetiful salon.
curlBOX BLOG: For the benefit of curlBLOG readers can you sum up your prior beauty industry experience in a few sentences?
Ken Burkeen: I started my beauty care career in brand management at Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Pantene, Olay, Head & Shoulders and the My Black Is Beautiful campaign. After being a brand manager for one of their billion-dollar brands, I worked on an independent consulting project for a global hair care company from Japan. I saw an opportunity to create a company focused on the hair care needs of women with textured hair. So, I took the sum of all of my experiences and applied them to the launch of Huetiful.
cBB: Was there a specific catalyst that made you decide to launch the Huetiful brand? Or, did you always know that you wanted to get into this business?
KB: I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. It was just a matter of finding that intersection when personal passion overlaps with expertise. I love the beauty and hair care industry and I’ve been able to build up experience in marketing, ecommerce, and logistics/shipping. Combining all of those things together is what made me decide to launch Huetiful.
cBB: Was the Huetiful hair steamer your company’s first product/business endeavor?
KB: The hair steamer was my first product and business endeavor. The company was started specifically to launch the hair steamer. I realized that within hair care, you can set aside ethnicity and focus [solely] on solutions based on hair types and textures. Because our solutions work for women with textured hair across all ethnicities and ‘hues’ – or women of color – I named the product the Huetiful Hair Steamer.
cBB: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned since launching Huetiful?
KB: The most surprising thing that I’ve learned is the global need for the product. Logicially, I knew that women from around the world would benefit from the Huetiful Hair Steamer. I did not expect that over 15% of my business would be from outside of the United States in just our second year. Word of mouth and recommendations easily flow across country borders and we’re now working hard to meet the global demand.
cBB: After three years in business, Huetiful just opened its first concept salon in Atlanta. What made you want to get into the salon business?
KB: Huetiful has always put ‘customer experience’ at the forefront in what we do. I wanted to extend our brand’s customer experience and great product innovations into a physical location. Now, healthy hair seekers can come to the salon and get that great customer experience that they’ve come to know and that has propelled us into a global business.
cBB: How will Huetiful transform or enhance the salon experience?
KB: First, we focus on offering select healthy hair treatments designed around the specific customer and that takes into account hair care needs for the seasons. So we’re offering our autumn/winter service treatments now and we’ll evolve our services as the seasons change. Secondly, we incorporate our one-of-a-kind Professional Huetiful Hair Steamer that uses LED-light technology to naturally lift the hair cuticle, stimulate the scalp, and kill bacteria that leads to flakes, dandruff, and itchiness.
Most importantly, as a small salon we focus each specific clients’ wants and needs. Name your Pandora station to be played during your treatment. No double-booking so you don’t have to worry about wasting hours sitting in a salon. Receive hair care consultation while in the chair from Certified Huetiful Professional Stylists. It is a unique experience for the busy, healthy hair focused client.
cBB: What advice would you have for someone who wanted to start a natural hair/body care product company?
KB: The market is full of products and solutions that claim to do the same thing that other products do. If you want to maximize success, identify unmet needs or common frustrations, develop a unique solution to the problem you’ve identified, and then passionately pursue the opportunity.
cBB: If you were talking to a new entrepreneur, what would you say is the most important thing they should focus on?
KB: Don’t chase dollars. Chase what I consider the Trifecta of Entrepreneurship – the three things that I believe are the most important things to focus on. Find the intersection where “passion”, “unmet customer or market needs”, and “experience” overlap. You must be passionate about the venture that you are pursuing. You should be filling a void in the marketplace or solving an unmet need. Lastly, it is best when you can draw on experience or knowledge in your entrepreneurial pursuit.
cBB: Do you have any mentors in the beauty/natural hair industry?
KB: There are many mentors that I lean on, respect, and find motivation from. I love having conversations with Felicia Leatherwood (“Loving Your Hair with Natural Care”), and chatting about business ownership with Michelle Breyer (NaturallyCurly.com) and Pamela Jenkins (Koils by Nature). But my biggest mentor and confidant is my wife, Colette. Though she no longer works in beauty care, she has a PhD in Bio Chemistry and worked in product development at Procter & Gamble on brands like Olay and Old Spice. She was also a former Marketing Director at Goody. To be able to bounce ideas and talk hair across the kitchen table is invaluable. And fun.
cBB: Who or what else inspires you?
KB: I am inspired by disruptive innovators who are brave enough to rewrite [industry rules]. Those who look at unmet needs and find a simple solution that provides the missing benefits sought after. The innovation can be something like Method Dish Detergent (“dish detergent in packaging so nice you don’t mind leaving it on your counter”) or curlBOX (“a personal concierge service for the product junkie seeking products that work on their hair”). Disruptive Innovators inspire me to continue to launch hair care products or salons that provide solutions and resolve problems.
cBB: Speaking of curlBOX, what was your first impression of the company?
KB: I’ve been a fan of Myleik’s approach and her unending desire to provide a great customer experience – each and every month. Huetiful participated in the very first curlBOX because we instantly saw that value of being able to reach and provide value for curlBOX members. I’ve also known Myleik for a decade. We met on a commercial magazine print photo shoot when Myleik was still an undergrad in college, I knew that she was going to be a star and I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to partner with curlBOX.
cBB: Would you recommend curlBOX to other natural hair/body care companies?
KB: Without hesitation. The ability to reach curlBOX members and those who follow those members through social media is simply a smart business decision. I also believe in supporting minority businesses that are doing great things and providing great value. curlBOX does both.
cBB: What effect do you think natural hair bloggers and enthusiasts have on the market? Huetiful?
KB: The most significant impact that natural hair bloggers and enthusiasts have had on the market has been the creation of information and knowledge. The internet and the access to hair care information has allowed hundreds of thousands – if not millions – to learn how to care, style and maintain their hair. These same bloggers and enthusiasts have helped Huetiful educate people on the benefits of hydrating dry, curly hair.
cBB: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to get to where you are today?
KB: Wow. That is a tough question simply because the life of an entrepreneur and business owner is littered with obstacles. I think the biggest obstacle has been deciding what NOT to do. There are countless decisions to make and things to consider. Maintaining a clear business strategy and marketing plan and sticking to it – even in the face of new opportunities and challenges – has been a big obstacle because there is so much opportunity out there. Fortunately, I have a great team that helps me stay on strategy and achieve our objectives.
cBB: Have there been moments when you’ve wanted to give up?
KB: No. Never. I love what I do and I’m passionate about helping others find a healthier way to manage and maintain their hair. The feedback I get from customers around the world energizes me each and every day. There are challenges and tough days, to be clear, but the good grossly outweighs the bad.
cBB: What is the best business advice you’ve ever been given?
KB: When I was an assistant brand manager at Procter & Gamble, my brand manager saw me agonizing over a decision. I was scared to make a decision and delayed action for well over a week. He finally pulled me aside and said, “a good decision today is better then the perfect decision tomorrow because tomorrow will always be one day away.” You’re going to make mistakes. Learn to be comfortable “failing forward” and if you think you can make a good decision today –make it.
cBB: What’s next for Huetiful? Two things. We’ve opened up distribution from our warehouse in Amsterdam. We can now deliver throughout Europe in less than 5 days. London and Paris are now in our Top 10 cities for sales; ahead of many major US cities. So, we will be aggressively seeking to grow in Europe. Secondly, Huetiful will continue to focus on offering the very best service and treatments at our Huetiful Salon in Atlanta, GA. If you’re ever in the Atlanta Metro area, check us out at www.huetifulsalon.com.
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Sakita Holley is a lifestyle writer and the founder of House of Success, a New York-based lifestyle PR firm. You can tweet your thoughts about this story directly to the writer, @MissSuccess.