John Frieda Professional Hair Care Inc. History

Address:
57 Danbury Road
Wilton, Connecticut 06897
U.S.A.

Telephone: (203) 762-1233
Fax: (203) 762-2262

Website:
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Kao Brands Company
Incorporated: 1989
Employees: 130
Sales: $200 million (2004 est.)
NAIC: 325620 Toilet Preparation Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

Entrepreneurial in spirit, global in impact, John Frieda leads the haircare industry in innovation. New category shattering products not only drive growth at the haircare segment in food, mass and drug outlets but makes it.

Key Dates:

1976:
John Frieda opens his first hairstyling salon in London.
1988:
The Boots drugstore chain begins selling the John Frieda Signature line of products in the United Kingdom.
1989:
John Frieda Professional Hair Care Inc. is formed.
1990:
Frizz-Ease is launched in the United States.
1998:
The Sheer Blonde line is launched.
2002:
Kao Corporation acquires the company.
2004:
The Brilliant Brunette line is launched.
2005:
The Radiant Red line is launched.

Company History:

John Frieda Professional Hair Care Inc. sells a wide variety of hair care products and shampoos through drugstores, supermarkets, and mass merchants. The company's signature product is Frizz-Ease, developed by British celebrity hair stylist John Frieda in the 1980s. Since then, he has worked with chemists to develop products to address specific needs of virtually all hair types (from frizzy to limp) and colors, which are addressed in the Sheer Blonde, Brilliant Brunette, and Radiant Red product lines. Although Frieda remains very much involved in the company, it is now a subsidiary of Kao Brands Company (formerly Andrew Jergens Company), which in turn is owned by Kao Corporation, Japan's leading manufacturer of personal care, laundry, and cleaning products. John Frieda Professional is based in Wilton, Connecticut.

Launch of a Hairstyling Career in the 1970s

Grooming hair was already a family tradition when John Frieda was born in England in 1951. His grandfather, a Polish immigrant, was a Fleet Street barber whose customers included newspaper mogul Lord Beaverton. Frieda's father switched to women's hairstyling, his clientele including the likes of movie star Ava Gardner, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Clementine Churchill, wife of Winston Churchill. He also dabbled in real estate. Frieda, along with his three siblings, enjoyed visiting his father's shop, in large measure because it was conveniently located behind a candy store. Early on, Frieda did not intend to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, dreaming instead of becoming a doctor. But as a teenager he was distracted from his private school education by--in his own words--a combination of "girls, cars and fun." After failing all of his exams, Frieda asked his father for a job, primarily to avoid schoolwork. While trying to convince the youngster to resume his studies, the elder Frieda allowed him to work in the salon on Saturdays. When he concluded that John was determined to become a hairdresser, he decided to make the best of the situation and found him an apprenticeship at one of London's major salons: the House of Leonard, headed by Vidal Sassoon protégé Leonard Lewis. After a month Frieda became Lewis's top assistant, a position that suddenly thrust him--albeit a bit player--onto the stage of London's fashion and celebrity world of the late 1960s. He now found himself catering to supermodels and celebrities. Soon he began to do some styling on his own, taking on clients such as singer Diana Ross and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He also displayed something of his father's entrepreneurial spirit, investing in real estate, so that by the age of 20 he owned three houses.

Having started out as a hairdresser at such an early age, Frieda was bored with his position at the House of Leonard by the time he was 25 and even considered quitting the business. Instead, he decided to fulfill his need for a challenge by opening his own salon in 1976, a move he had earlier resisted, fearful that taking on managerial responsibilities might hamper his creativity. He joined forces with another Leonard stylist, Nicky Clarke, to open a salon in London. It was here that Frieda made a name for himself by creating the "Purdey" cut, a bowl-shaped bob that graced actress Joanna Lumley, who is best known today for her role in the "Absolutely Fabulous" television comedy, but at the time was playing the character of Purdey in the 1976-78 revival of "The Avengers," a popular 1960s British television series. The Purdey cut was much imitated and helped Frieda to open the first salon that featured his name.

Frieda began building up his own roster of celebrity clientele, one of whom was not yet well known but would emerge as one of the most famous and admired women in history. In 1980 he received a call from someone at British Vogue asking him to come to Lord Snowdon's home. Here he met a 19-year-old girl, Lady Diana Spencer, who would soon become known to the world simply as Lady Di. Although she became his most famous client, Frieda did not lack for celebrity clients, a situation aided by having married one in 1976: singer Lulu. But even owning and operating a successful salon failed to challenge Frieda for very long. He dismissed the idea of opening more salons, instead deciding to become involved in hair care products. At the time, creating a professional line bearing the name of a stylist was still a novel idea, the only example being the Vidal Sassoon label, which had been introduced in 1973.

Developing Hair Care Products in the Mid-1980s

Frieda used his experience working on fashion-shoots, day-long affairs during which models' elaborate hairstyles had to be changed often, hold, then rinse out easily. He had learned a number of tricks to control hair and decided to find a way to make them into viable products. Working with a chemist, Frieda developed a thickening lotion, which along with some other signature products he began using in his salon and selling to clients. The line proved so popular that women were soon visiting the shop simply to buy the lotions. Frieda sensed that his products had retail potential but he knew he lacked the necessary knowledge about marketing and distribution needed to launch the line properly. The need for a seasoned business partner increased when British drugstore chain Boots, which was interested in trying upscale designer-brand products, became aware of Frieda's product and wrote a letter to him requesting a meeting to discuss the possibility of retailing the product in its stores.

A thickening lotion was taken on by Boots on a trial basis in 1988 and performed well enough that the chain placed a 20,000-bottle order. For Frieda it was a major step up, since he had been ordering only a few hundred bottles a month from his supplier. It was around this time that he met the woman who would become his business partner and play a major role in the success of the fledgling products business. Her name was Gail Federici, vice-president of advertising and marketing at Zotos, a U.S.-based hair care company. She was in London working on a video for Zotos and also recruiting a guest artist for a trade show in Milan. She watched about 20 presentations at an Alternative Hair Show, and was impressed by Frieda, who stood out from the rest. She met with him and they hit it off, deciding to work on a styling book together, an idea that was then approved by Zotos. While they worked together on the project, Frieda was attempting to run his new products business out of the basement of his salon. His line of Signature products would include a thickening lotion, bodifying mousse, and a nonsticky hair spray. Frieda's life became even more hectic after making an appearance on television to perform a "before and after" demonstration of his thickening product. The response was immediate, as the television station's switchboard was flooded with inquiries about where to buy the product. Frieda's line, which had started out in 40 Boots stores, was to be found in more than 1,000 within six months. Suddenly he was hit with an order for 1.2 million bottles of thickening lotion. At this important juncture, just when he needed help the most, Federici was on the verge of quitting her job, looking for a change of pace and thinking about launching her own advertising agency. Frieda suggested she do some consulting work for him, to help him get a handle on his new business. They decided in the end to become partners, and in 1989 formed John Frieda Professional Hair Care Inc., with Federici serving as president and each owning half of the business.

John Frieda Professional wasted little time in taking on the U.S. market. In 1990 Frieda opened a New York salon, which provided a platform to launch a newly developed product, Frizz-Ease Serum, into the U.S. market. The product grew out of complaints he fielded from salon clients who were frustrated about their uncontrollable frizzy hair. Because the marketing budget was a miniscule $30,000, Frieda had to hawk Frizz-Ease at personal appearances and on television talk shows, this before makeover programs became a staple of daytime television. The hard work paid off, leading to a major break when the hair care buyer for the Eckerd Drugstore chain, Richard Hakel, took a gamble and decided to stock Frizz-Ease, a rarity for a single-product company. It proved to be a shrewd move. Not only did Frizz-Ease find a ready market in the United States, its high price of $9.99--at a time when $5 was the threshold for hairstyling products--did not drive away customers. Instead, it provided retailers with a healthy profit margin of 40 percent. Those numbers caught the attention of other drugstore chains and retailers, who soon began to stock Frizz-Ease as well. To the original product, John Frieda Professional systematically added another dozen products to the line, including shampoos and conditioners.

Frizz-Ease was launched in the United Kingdom in 1992, while the original John Frieda Signature line of products sold by Boots was launched in the United States in 1994. The collection of six products debuted in three drugstore chains: Eckerd's, CVS, and Walgreen's. A year later the number of locations grew fourfold, as Signature was picked up by retailers such as Perry, Revco, Thrifty, Arbor, and Target. John Frieda's name, despite his many successful American television appearances, did not carry the same clout as it did in England, however. The line struggled to find its place in the market, leading in 1996 to a change in name to Ready To Wear, an allusion to the fashion industry as well as connoting speed and ease of use.

Successes in the Late 1990s

John Frieda Professional enjoyed greater success in October 1998 when it launched Sheer Blonde, a line of seven hair care products aimed to address specific problems encountered with pale hair. Sheer Blonde helped to drive company growth, and within a year three more styling products were added to the line. It also elevated John Frieda to household name status, due in large part to television commercials in which he appeared pitching the product line. Meanwhile, sales of Frizz-Ease remained strong, but Ready to Wear, while generating an acceptable level of sales, continued to fall short of expectations. The line was designed for fine-limp hair, but unlike Frizz-Ease and Sheer Blonde, there was nothing in the name that immediately communicated the mission to the consumer. Unable to coin a more suitable name, the company tweaked the line, dropping the price of the shampoo from $4.99 to $3.99, and adding a pair of new styling products. On another front, in 1999 John Frieda opened a Los Angeles salon with stylist Sally Hershberger, known for the much copied style she created for actress Meg Ryan. The posh Melrose Avenue salon was called Sally Hershberger at John Frieda. By now he ran five salons, including three in London and one in Paris.

John Frieda Professional expanded into new and usual distribution channels in 2000, targeting the teenage market by offering exclusives to the Tower Records music and video chain in the United States. The items included Summer Shimmer, a shine-building kit that came in four different versions, essentially repackaging products from the company's three main lines; and Sparkle and Shine, which packaged Frizz-Ease with the company's Shine Serum and an assortment of hair jewels. Tower also sold the company's four Hot Hollywood Hair kits, which combined a booklet of Hershberger styling tips with Sheer Blonde, Frizz Ease, and Ready to Wear products. The Top Shop apparel chain, which catered to the teen market in the United Kingdom, also agreed to distribute the kits. In 2001 John Frieda Professional launched a new product line, but again it was a variation on one of the three major lines. Frizz-Ease Relax was a nine-product line targeting women with relaxed hair, especially African-American women.

In August 2002 Frieda and Federici agreed to sell John Frieda Professional to Kao Corporation's subsidiary, The Andrew Jergens Company, for $450 million. John Frieda's salons were not part of the deal. Kao derived about 30 percent of its $6.3 billion in annual revenues from beauty products and had set a goal to become the leading marketer of premium personal care products in North America. In 2001 Kao almost acquired Clairol from Bristol Myers Squibb for $4.5 billion in an auction, but at the eleventh hour was outbid by Procter & Gamble Company, which took the prize after upping its offer to almost $5 billion. Although Kao acquired John Frieda Professional only because it lost out on Clairol, it was an acquisition that proved beneficial to both sides. Federici and Frieda were able to cash out, while Frieda also stayed on to serve as CEO and was well supported by Jergens' management, based in Cincinnati. Within a matter of weeks accounting, human resources, information technology, and other support services were transferred from the Wilton, Connecticut, headquarters to Cincinnati. The European operation also was reorganized, with a centralized management system replaced by a set of country managers in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, each charged with marketing the products to their individual countries. In addition, Kao had deep enough pockets to promote the Frieda product lines, which possessed a great deal of untapped potential. The company had spent only $5 million in advertising in the United States in 2002, but that amount increased dramatically, to about $30 million in 2003.

The increased promotion budget would be put to good use as John Frieda Professional began launching a number of new product lines. In 2004 the company brought out Volume, a line of seven cleansers and styling products, as well as the Brilliant Brunette line that played to the success of Sheer Blonde. The 12-product collection was designed to add shine and draw out the color of brown hair. On another front in 2004, John Frieda succeeded in recruiting French hairstylist Serge Normant to headline a New York salon. Furthermore, Normant became John Frieda Professional's first creative director, and the first dual appointment with the salon business and the Kao-owned hair products company.

In early 2005 John Frieda Professional completed its trilogy of hair care product lines with the launch of Radiant Red, products geared primarily to prevent color shifting. Because so much red hair was achieved through dyes, redheads had to contend with colors that either turned too brown or too orange. The new line included shampoos, conditioners, sealers, and hairsprays. The company now believed it was able to address the concerns of 95 percent of the population, thus reaching critical mass. Having exceeded the $200 million mark in revenues in 2004 and sales growing at a fast clip, there was every reason to expect John Frieda Professional to continue to prosper for the foreseeable future.

Principal Competitors: P&G-Clairol, Inc.; L'Oreal S.A.; Revlon, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • "Frieda Makes Mark on Hair Care Category," Chain Drug Review, December 5, 1994, p. 58.
  • Grossman, Andrea M., "KAO Corp. Snares John Frieda Hair Care Brand for $450 Million," WWD, August 2, 2002, p. 1.
  • Lague, Louise, "Wigged Out? Worry Not! A British Hairstylist, John Frieda, Has a Formula to Take the Fight Out of Frizz," People Weekly, May 10, 1993, p. 57.
  • Oldfield, Claire, "Grooming Guru Takes on the Industry's Giants," Sunday Times, June 27, 1999, p. 15.
  • Thackray, Rachelle, "Me and My Partner: John Frieda and Gail Federici," Independent (London, U.K.), November 24, 1999, p. 8.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 70. St. James Press, 2005.