What Thomas Edison and The Salon Industry Have In Common

Color Kits: Heaven Sent or The Devil’s Invention

Written by L.J. LuBow

Thomas Edison faced ruin

One hundred and six years ago, on December 10th, 1914, Thomas Edison’s laboratory in New Jersey caught fire. Bizarre, glowing green and yellow flames soared high out of the building where the light bulb was invented. Hundreds of spectators, many of whom were employees, watched for hours with crushed spirits as firefighters’ hoses failed to stop the chemical fueled blaze.

Surprisingly and strangely enough, Thomas Edison watched cheerfully. In the end, the fire caused him to lose more than $23 million in today’s money, sending him into debt. Speaking with reporters at the fire he stated, “Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.” And that is just what he did. That year after the fire, Edison’s company earned a record profit.

What does this have to do with the salon industry?

Everything. This is the mindset and attitude that we must take on if we are to emerge out of this crisis successfully. We continue to experience a metaphorical fire and just as Edison did all those years ago, we must commit to starting again, and to do it with an open mind using innovation to take our industry and your business to a whole new level of achievement.

I had to make a decision

Personally, early on in the Covid-19 pandemic I had to remind myself of that exact story about Edison.. My company, Thrivo Salon Technologies, spent years developing the most advanced system for salons by using AI and robotics to optimize hair color operation and eliminate waste. We were doing advanced testing of our technology in several innovative salons and gaining momentum when, BOOM… Covid-19 hit and lockdowns began. All of a sudden no more testing. My first instinct was to wait out the lockdown and to curse into the air that a global pandemic happened in the first place.

Luckily, that mindset didn’t prevail for long. Instead, my company  asked ourselves how we could pivot to best help the salons and the people that make up this industry that we love so much.

The answer seemed obvious…obvious but not easy.

All you had to do was turn on the news to see that it was the year of the hair color kit. Salons were either closed, at limited capacity or people were fearful of an in-person visit. Small businesses like salons were at a disadvantage to the large corporations who were more than ready and eager to scoop up (aka steal) salon clients with crappy “box” color.

To me, custom color kits made sense during the crisis. It was a way for salons to earn revenue to keep their businesses running, enabling them to continue serving their clients and continue to nurture their relationships with clients. At the same time, I understood why stylists were opposed.  How could we take the skill and craft of a colorist and get similar results at home?  And what about when the pandemic subsides?  Will customers ever come back to the salon again?    I wanted to  understand more about the problem and then tackle the solution. I kept hearing Barnie Stinson from How I Met Your Mother’s words ringing in my ears. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

There were 3 main criticisms of hair color kits

  1. The biggest concern by far was that hair color kits could not provide the same, salon-quality result to the client, whether it was because the color quality was subpar because of oxidation, the client’s own mixing, or a variety of other factors leading to an unprofessional experience.
  2. The second criticism was more of a concern that hair color kits would prevent clients from coming into the salon in the future.
  3. Third, salons were concerned about the liability and legality of providing color kits, both from the perspective of whether it breached their agreements with distributors and manufacturers and second whether accidents at home by clients in the mixing and application could be blamed on the salons .

All fantastic and legitimate points

Let’s be honest, whether you support the use of hair color kits or not, these three concerns are legitimate and fair. They are worth discussing because at their core these concerns were all about preserving the integrity of the professional salon and I respect that entirely. Unfortunately, instead of finding a real solution that rectified these concerns and allowed the industry to settle on a standard that would benefit all salons, the topic became polarized. Hair stylists began falling into camps, either being pro or against color kits without realizing that both sides were right. 

Both sides were right about color kits

Yes, you heard that right. But it would require innovation and technology to bridge that divide. Salons needed revenue and to serve their clients during this challenging time and I wholeheartedly agreed with that. But were they doing it a manner that was consistent with the high salon-quality standards that they would normally hold themselves to? No. But this was not their fault. They were doing their best with the cards that they were dealt.

Basic hair color kits suck

As everyone in this industry is distinctly aware of, there are two distinct types of basic hair color kits, both of which have glaring issues that range from inconveniences all the way to increased liability and sub-par results.

Providing tubes of hair color for the client to mix together in the correct proportions… As I write this I am cringing – what percentage of your clients are going to have a scale lying around and the patience to follow directions precisely? And even if they figured that out, providing tubes means you are still:

  1. Violating your agreement with your hair color manufacturer by reselling packaged professional product directly to clients. I’m not a lawyer but this appears to meet the textbook definition of diversion. Whether or not your manufacturer or distributor chooses to do anything about it is another question..
  2. Sharing your client’s formula with them by giving them clear step by step directions is a pretty good way to turn them into an Amazon customer. A salon owner friend of mine wisely said, “the money is in the formula” and I tend to agree. What’s stopping your clients from buying their professional color from Amazon or another retailer directly?
  3. Damaging your profit margin since your costs of goods sold are significantly higher than they should be. Whole tubes of hair color for a single touch-up application is excessive.
  4. Risking the client flooding their roots with the excess product and adding to unnecessary waste.

Mixing your clients hair color formula and placing it in a container like tupperware or condiment must be a better option then? Not quite. While you avoid a number of the pitfalls outlined above other, just as serious, issues arise:  

  1. Oxidation, Oxidation, Oxidation. As salon professionals we all know that once hair color is dispensed it begins to go bad faster than cottage cheese in the sun at a hot summer picnic. Disgusting imagery aside, the breakdown of hair color when exposed to oxygen is real and an airtight lid does not stop or reduce it.
  2. The rushing & inconvenience trying to limit oxidation. This directly affects both the salon staff and clients as you work to drop-off or have clients pickup the kits as quickly as possible in order to apply the color before oxidation completely takes hold.    
  3. ** Plastic reactivity. ** Food safe is not the same as chemical safe. There is a reason that hair color tubes are not plastic and developer bottles are made out of laboratory style non-reactive plastics. Plastics can and do react with chemicals like the ones found in hair color and developers. A reaction doesn’t have to look like the volcano from your high school science fair instead it can be silently degrading the product and the container in a way that’s not visible to the human eye. Resulting in a new compound that should not be placed on a person’s head and may even lead to unintended allergic reactions..
  4. Environmentally harmful. The world is moving away from single use plastics for the health and well-being of our planet.
  5. Lacking a professional appearance.

An innovative solution arrives- Challenge met!

We focused our engineering and design expertise in order to solve the issues outlined above and what we invented did just that! To get nerdy for a moment, we created  an automated, negative pressure chamber  specially designed and calibrated to seal and preserve mixed hair color for months, all at the press of a button. We named it the Thrivo Omni1, a reference to its ability to enable salons to earn revenue from multiple revenue sources. With our color kit technology salons can enhance in-person point of sale experiences with take-home root touch ups or toner to be used weeks later, while also servicing clients virtually with color kits that are mail safe!

Thrivo Omni1 Color Kits Are 10X Better

From the time I started in the salon industry I heard the mantra, “professional tools create professional results” more times than I can count. Hair color kits are no exception to this rule so we developed a system that stops oxidation fully when mixed hair color is sealed with the use of the Omni1 system for professional results.

Enhanced hair color kits created using the professional technology of the Thrivo Omni1 system allow for superior results keeping mixed hair color fresh for over 6 months regardless of the brand. The Omni1 provides both you and your clients with amazing, noticeable benefits:

  1. Kits are shippable through the mail since there is no longer a rush to apply. 
  2. Your hair color formulas remain secret.
  3. The sealing is eco-friendly since no plastics are used and the kits are reusable.
  4. Kits have a professional appearance that enhances your salon’s brand and reputation.
  5. Your clients receive an enhanced experience as the client can apply the hair color at their convenience.
  6. Safe as it allows for patch testing to be done.
  7. Reduced liability as you’re demonstrating a higher level of professionalism.

A whole new category of service is now possible

As our salons go back and forth between reduced capacity and shutdowns, the Omni1 has proven to be just as important for salons that are physically open to optimize reduced capacity and better handle an influx of cancelations.

How, you ask? The Omni1 makes it possible for salons to offer add-on services at the point of sale. Imagine being able to send a balayage client home with a toner add-on to apply in 2-3 weeks to fully refresh her hair. This has proven to be tremendously beneficial for salons from both a profit and client satisfaction standpoint.

The stakes are just too high not to get this right

Everyone has heard motivational gurus talk about how habits, whether good or bad, are formed in 21 days. Why is that important? Because in today’s new paradigm, salons are directly competing with box color and online hair color companies in a way that they never imagined they would. Madison Reed increased the number of customers subscribing to their color service by 12 times in the first four month of the pandemic. Where did those hundreds of thousands of new customers come from? You guessed it, local salons. Your chairs. And because habits are formed quickly, and hard to break, it’s not surprising that they are boasting about having high retention rates.

These companies have invested millions of dollars in technology and branding in order to “out hair color” the hair salon. It will take innovative thinking and technology to flip the advantage into our court— the sooner the better!   

Supposed to be?

We all have beliefs as to how a salon is “supposed” to operate. But these crazy times have thrown the “supposed to” out the window and ushered in instead, “the new normal.”

Robert Cromeans, in his recent viral Instagram video, implored this amazing industry to focus on what we can control and change in order to move ahead successfully.  As small business owners we are proud of the salons we have built, and the livelihood that our sweat and hard work provides. Sadly, I don’t have to be the one to tell you that this is all at risk if we don’t heed his words. Just as Edison did all those years ago, we must look to the future and collectively adapt to ensure even more prosperous days lie ahead of us.

 “A good person dyes events with his own color . . . and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.” I want to believe that when Seneca wrote that line he was contemplating booking his next cut and color online, but that is unlikely considering that he was born in 3 BC. I personally believe in us and I stand here ready to work with salons and the amazing people that make them great to take what has happened to us, and prevail through this crisis and beyond. 

Follow Thrivo on Instagram @Thrivo_Tech or visit their website to learn more.