Star Nail Products has approached distributing their product in a unique and successful way that has shaken up the nail industry.
Tony (left) and Steven Cuccio)
Tony and Steve Cuccio, founders of Star Nails Products, are a couple of guys from Brooklyn who have taken a private label and bulk packaging and turned them into “magic” for the nail care professional.
By offering their line of products and private label theory, which includes a growing contingent of nail products and accessories, and an impressive array cosmetic, Star’s growing success has established this firm as a legitimate manufacturer and supplier for the nail industry.
It hasn’t been easy. Their low price and unique marketing approach have made them a wholesaler with more than one enemy. But as Tony puts it in the interview that follows, ‘We care only for the professional manicurist.’
It is precisely this outspoken behavior and reputation, however, that have enabled the firm to present their vision that includes bulk packaging (primarily in clear, plastic tubes) as an avenue toward lower product prices to the retail care professional, and as an effective tool for in-salon retailing .
“Our purpose,” reiterates Tony “is to make the manicurist money. We make a nickel, she makes .95, she loves us forever.”
Tony and Steve saw the demand for nail products in California and ... moved from New York to be in the middle of Los Angeles, “the nail capital.”
Star (Steve-vice president, Tony-president and Roberta secretary/treasurer) entered the industry in 1981 when they arrived in California with 13 suitcases, one of which was filled with nail polish and lipsticks. By selling them on the corner in Venice Beach, they soon realized the demand for nail polish and “discovered” the nail industry.
With their private label cosmetics background and contacts, they established Star in a similar manner ... that being the then unheard of approach of selling no-label polish and cosmetics to the manicurist and nail salons direct ... with the further option of salon private label.
They used polish as a loss leader, buying it for .50 and selling it for.60 in an effort to prove that no label polish, at least theirs, was top quality. It was a tough choice. They not only had to prove themselves as a company, but they had to prove that price is not always indicative of quality. (Star still goes to extra expense to ship thousands of gallons from the East Coast to California to be bottled.)
Ultimately they did both. But the interesting thing about this company is that the no-name wholesaler is now a sought after label in it’s own right, as the manicurist realizes the benefits of their program and their growing reputation for quality products at reasonable prices. In a sense they have come full circle.
For Tony and Steve, this successful transition presents no dilemma…they are quite proud of their growth and company.
“It’s the manicurist,” they say. “We have always had her best interests in mind and always will. It is her and our private label that got us here and they are both areas we will never neglect.”
NAILS: I would like to move you into a discussion about your bulk packaging efforts, but first a background on your firm, and the reasons behind your decisions. Star Nail Products as a company made an impact from the beginning because of your low prices. What was your intention?
TONY: We really sacrificed for the first three years with very, very low profit. As an example, when people were charging $2 for glue, we were charging .50 to .70. But it was something we needed to show the manicurist that she can get quality products at inexpensive prices so she doesn’t have to charge ridiculous prices for her work ... and she can retail to her customers.
NAILS: But this policy created animosity towards your company. Were you prepared for that reaction?
TONY: No one likes us, no one in the nail industry, the cosmetic industry, distributors, or manufacturers, no one likes us. And it’s because of our prices and selling direct. The only people that like us are the professionals manicurist, and cosmetologists, and those are the only people we care about.
NAILS: But if that was the reaction, why take that approach?
TONY: Initially, we saw a tremendous demand from the professional to buy their own polish depending on their area and what their traffic could bear…without worrying about the beauty supply down the block. So what we did was a little crazy ... when we were paying .50 a bottle, we sold it for .60, and we used that polish as a leader item, a way of getting ourselves established in the nail industry.
STEVE: Our philosophy then and now is that we make a nickel, you make.95, you’ll use forever. We knew the reaction from the industry because of our prices, but we were trying to build a long term acceptance of our products.
TONY: The real thing is that in the beginning we cut prices because we knew we had no other choice.
When we first came into this industry, we got together with a lot of the nail manufacturers and proposed our wholesale approach, but, they did not want us to sell cheap; mostly because they didn’t know how long the nail industry was going to last, and they wanted to make their money now. So the big nail companies of the past took a different gamble. They gambled that nails weren’t going to be here in 1988, so why not take their money now? Our gamble was low prices in an effort to build the market for tomorrow. We wanted to prove to the manicurist that they can get any product at the best possible price so that they can still pay their rent and stay in business and that is exactly what our concept is built on.
STEVE: Also, we didn’t make a mistake in the early days of the company with the so-called big distributor like a hair company would. We didn’t go that route. We avoided the full service and kept our distribution in-house to retain better-control of our products and pricing.
TONY: We were forced into doing that because the beauty suppliers boycotted us and would not buy from us for the first two years because we sold nails and cosmetics direct to the salons. The dealers and others saw us as a competitive threat.
NAILS: Then part of the reasons for your success is based not only on selling direct to the salons, but in combination with low prices?
TONY: Yes, as well as bulk sales with no minimums. Most people in the beauty industry told us that you can’t sell directly to the manicurists and that we’ll go broke trying.
NAILS: Then what pushed you in that direction?
TONY: We made that decision because the professional beauty supply, the full service beauty supplies, knew nothing about the nail business and they weren’t willing to listen to us or to buy from us. All they were involved with was hair. Every time I went to a big meeting I got aggravated and walked out because all the people were talking about was hair companies and hair products. (Even our cosmetics connection in New York doubted the nail industry.) So I finally said to my brother, ‘There is no sense in trying to make these people sell nail products. Nails are our livelihood, so we have to go to the people that do nails for a living.’
NAILS: You must have pursued product distribution is some manner, in addition to selling direct.
TONY: Yes, and that is the aspect that really kicked it off for us…when Steven and I decided we wanted an underground of individual distributors.
STEVE: They are better described as private distributors…these are individuals that we have personally set up in business. We tried to make sure that they were not in the beauty industry, and set them up as private, individual distributors.
NAILS: Why someone without beauty industry experience?
T0NY: The reason was that we believed that anyone who is in the beauty industry has a tremendous disadvantage in that they have blindfolds on them. They want to do things the way they were taught which was yesterday’s news. That was the hair world’s way of doing it ... and this is a new way. The nail industry is a special business requiring special handling.