Beauty Boss: OPI Founder George Schaeffer is Turning Hair Color On Its Head with Aloxxi
George Schaeffer has a knack for color. The founder of OPI (yes, that OPI) took the nail industry by storm when he began offering pro-quality treatments and unique shades of lacquer at mass. Now he’s doing the same with Aloxxi, taking the hair brand out from behind colorists’ chairs and square into the public eye. Here, Schaeffer shares personal stories and life lessons from more than three decades in the beauty biz.
What was your first job?
I worked in the garment industry in Manhattan alongside my parents. It was challenging because in fashion, things change quickly. One day it’s great, one day it’s gone. Eventually I bought a dental supply business in California. Well, within six months I was almost bankrupt—but what saved me was that manicurists were coming in to buy dental porcelain to create acrylic nails.
How did you realize you could parlay that into a business?
In America, there’s an opportunity everywhere. So I just kept listening. I hooked up with a chemist I knew from the dental field, and together we set about creating innovative products for manicurists. I developed OPI, and the name [actually comes from] a logo I had from the dental business, which was called Odontorium Products, Inc.
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The whole technology changed—we were the first to introduce light bonding. We started creating nail polish [for consumers] in 1988. It took three or four years to get that going, but it really took us beyond the professional-only world.
After Coty purchased OPI, you started looking into a haircare brand named Aloxxi…
I had naively heard that the hair business is bigger than the nail business, but what nobody told me is that it’s one hundred times more difficult to get a salon to change a habit. Even though all they had was [in-salon] developer and color, I was attracted to the brand’s commitment to quality. We parlayed the dedication to color into a whole line [of at-home products]. Everything is quality, and quality at a fair price.We also improved the [in-salon] color formulas. My great hope is to brand hair color.
Yes! Aloxxi actually has names for the hair colors that men and women can get at the salon–much like OPI gave their lacquers memorable names.
My favorite shade is Giorgio’s Folly. Most women go into a salon and have no idea what goes on their head, and that’s sad, because they should know what they’re paying for. And to me the most visible part of a woman, constantly, is the hair. If you look at any magazine, the hair takes more space than anything else—it’s exciting!
What’s your greatest piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The biggest thing is that you have to stick with something. It doesn’t happen overnight. If you believe in something and it makes logical sense, you stick with it. And you have to put money behind a business. Set a number in your head, double that number, and if you could get away with losing that money, then you should start. Don’t gamble everything, but don’t be afraid to lose. For me, I also have to like the product; I have to believe in it. That’s the thing that ties me to anything I start.