The Sperling Style: A full-frame portrait of Jack, Irv and Gary Sperling

This family business has provided the nail industry with several product lines, nail technician-only show, and a beauty supply business devoted to manicurists.

They have been described as pioneers, leaders, promoters, entrepreneurs and founders…and all at different stages during their impressive 20-year history in the beauty industry.

But regardless of description or image, the fact is that Jack, Irv and Gary Sperling have had an indelible impact on this industry and the nail industry in particular.

What has created this reputation is quite simple, yet reflects hard work and the ability to seize on opportunity. Specifically, it is the 20-year success of their all-encompassing beauty supply house: the timing of the first Sperling Nail and Beauty Expo and the style of the nine annual events that followed, and their unique and widely accepted Alpha 9 acrylic product line.

And, as is usually the case, it is also their personalities and how they interact that pulled their operation together then and that maintains their momentum now.

All of these elements and aspects of the Sperling portrait provide insights into this vibrant company and the reasons for their success.

Getting these three energetic, spirited gentlemen together in one place long enough for an interview was not difficult, although keeping up with them soon was. But it was not long before a priority developed. In order to peek behind the scenes of the Sperling operation, a brief history and a discussion of the primary areas of this firm were necessary. The beauty supply house, the Sperling Expos, and Alpha 9. All three are closely inter-related as the success of the supply house enabled the firm to expand into nail care products, and the successful marketing of these products revealed a need for an expo and Alpha 9, a quality product for their customers that could also be promoted through the expos. Each of these marketing moves were opportunities overlooked by others but seized by this family team…each timed to near perfection and each enhancing the images and reputations of Jack, Irv and Gary.

During the interview, conducted at their crowed and brimming supply store, Jack began by out lining the history on his firm’s growth. Irv was nearby, emphasizing necessary points. Gary sat patiently through the interview waiting for his opportunity and listening attentively to every word.

All three presented, in a relaxed, casual manner, an appearance of camaraderie and of pride. But they are a highly motivated, ambitious and business-oriented team…that fact should be obvious. What may not be apparent is that they remain close-knit after 20 years.

The Sperling story began about two decades ago, and has grown to encompass six different companies: JDS Manufacturing, producers of the Alpha 9. product line; jack Sperling Nail and Beauty Expo, Los Angeles; Gary Sperling Nail and Beauty Expo, Orlando; Jack Sperling Nail and Beauty Expo, Dallas; a company that operates independently from the expos and JDS, but consults for the beauty supply business, and the beauty supply complex itself.

But in 1966 it was just  Jack, restless and ambitions, who decided to open a beauty supply house convinced he could do a better job than the firm he was working for at the time. As his plans became a reality, Jack approached father Irv with the idea of financial help. Irv in turn recognized an opportunity and decided to come out of semiretirement to go into business with his son. Shortly thereafter brother Gary completed his education and decided that he too would join Jack.

As the store prospered, the Sperlings decided to move into more specific markets. Their first choice was the professional makeup field, an area that soon became a primary source of business, as they learned to cater to the demands of the move studios and theatrical groups. A second marketing decision was made some time later, to answer a growing need from professional nail care technicians.

“That was about 11 years ago” Jack reminisced, “When we stated noticing a strong trend toward nail care products. More and more of the customers that came into the shop were requesting the products and information about them.”

Other beauty supply houses in the area at that time either didn’t know what was happening of failed to see it, added Gary, “but we could see that the trend was definitely toward nail care.”

As they became more involved with these nail products. Jack realized that a key opportunity faced both his firm and the nail industry…the need for a trade show just for the professional manicurist.

“It was then that I had a vision for a show,” Jack said, leaning forward to physically make his point. “The manicurists needed the info, as it just wasn’t available. And they needed the interaction with the manufacturers to see what products were available.”

It was another well-timed move, as it gave the fledgling nail industry a crucial push just when nail care was beginning to come into its own, when acrylics were new and ‘hot’, and also at a time when manicurists were unable to find either companies that offered such products or even the products themselves.

Ten years ago, the idea and opportunity seemed right, and the decision was made: The first annual Jack Sperling Nail and Beauty Expo was held in 1977 with 27 booths in a Howard Johnson Hotel in Van Nuys, California.

“What you have to understand,” Jack emphasized, “is that at the time, the manicurist was treated as a second class citizen, largely ignored by beauty supply houses and the beauty industry in particular. Sure, there were plenty of shows, successful hair shows, but they were ignoring the needs of the manicurists.”

Today, the success of that initial show program has endured and thrived through 10 years of growth, both as an exposition and as a reflection of an industry. Its proven success has enabled the firm to take their expo formula out of California to other growing nail care markets such as Texas and Florida.

“The success of the show here in California and what it’s done to help the industry over the years has definitely generated interest from other regions for a local show.” Gary explained. “And up to now, we have largely avoided taking this show elsewhere. But the demand is there, the industry is right, and these markets need this extra push.”

Their decision to wait until now to move to other regions reflects past experience and the specter of an unsuccessful Chicago show in 1983.

“We were too early with that show.” Jack agreed, “even though the manufacturers were ready for that market, the manicurists weren’t. We were just too soon with a good idea.”

During these years of growth and successful for the Sperling Expo, a similar growth was occurring at the store. As customers requested additional or different products, the Sperlings added them to a rapidly growing inventory. Soon nail products outpaced and eliminated the professional make-up business the firm had initially developed.

Regular contact with salons in their area enabled the term to stay ahead of growing trends and propelled their operation into the comprehensive supply house it is today. Although still at their original location in Van Nuys, Calif., Sperling Beauty Supply has grown to encompass 1700 square feet of inventory display space, five warehouses, a direct mail operation, a shipping and packaging facility and some 50,000 beauty products, 25,000 of which are nail care.

It was a growth that established the Sperlings as a premier house for nail products and provided the impetus for their next major marketing move: their own product line.

“As the industry grew, we stated getting complains from our customers about products…such as lifting, breaking, and that sort of thing. So we decided to develop a product that would help our manicurists out, a line just for our customers,” Irv said.

This acrylic formulation required three years of research, according to Irv, time they were willing to invest as they were convinced that they could offer a product to satisfy what they knew their customers needed.

“When we introduced Alpha 9 five years ago,” described Irv, “our customers went crazy, they loved it, they couldn’t do without it. And when they moved out of the area or out of state, they approached their local beauty supply and requested the product, who in turn would call us.”

According to Jack, the decision to market industry –wide was not immediate. “At first we refused to sell our product to other beauty supply houses. After all, the point was to offer a product just for our immediate customers. But the demand soon persuaded us to fully pursue this as a nail care line a full and complete nail care line.”

The secret to Alpha 9’s success then and now, according to Jack, Irv and Gary, is that it is of dental grade material, triple sifted for fineness similar to talcum powder.

“This product is excellent,” Jack enthused. “The fineness of our powders gives an incredible finish. And all of our powders in all four colors are of the same consistency, allowing the manicurist a better finished nail with less finish filing time required.”

The initial success of Alpha 9 was through word of mouth, from those using the product. Since that time, JDS Manufacturing has aggressively pursued beauty supply houses nationally.

“The trick is getting the technician to try the product,” admitted Jack, “but once they do, they’re convinced they’re hooked on the quality of the product and the ease of application.”

In fact, added Irv, “Alpha 9 is so good that it’s generally in the top winners in all competitions.”

Alpha 9 powders are currently available in four colors: Clear, actually a bit opaque; white for white tip; pink for dark skin tones or the French Tip look; and Glass for the transparent effect. In addition, all Alpha 9 products are shrink-wrapped to prevent product tampering.

(Note: JDS/Alpha 9 has always had an aggressive educational program and currently sponsors training clinics with Milo Beauty Supplies throughout the county. For further details on these and other clinics, contact JDS Manufacturing/Alpha 9.)

One might conclude that managing six companies with their unique demands and diverse employees would get tiring, frustrating or even overpowering. But it that is the case for Irv, Jack and Gary, it is hidden from view. They take obvious pride in their business, and

Often extol the virtues of the “low key, fun-loving approach” to business. Which is not to imply that these three spend much time socializing. “All of us are too busy for that,” said Irv with a smile. “We don’t have time to talk or fight, and we often don’t even see each other on weekends.”

But, added Gary, “we constantly hold business meetings and discussions, and are aware of every detail. Nothing is neglected. We fill our staff with competent, imaginative people, and then we concentrate on new product development and on overseeing the entire operation.”

“Yes,” agreed Jack, “we do have a fun-loving approach. But we keep it up-front and from the gut. And always tell the truth. We can joke and kid around because our confidence in our products and businesses comes across in our style.”

Irv, always the one to emphasize a point, adds: “The boys are very serious about doing a good job, and will bend over backwards to service the customer. But,” he said, pausing for effect, “they also keep things funny and interesting around here.”

The Sperling style…Jack, the practical joker and idea man, Irv, with his “eye on the money,” and Gary, quiet and methodical, all combine into a partnership that has had as much impact on how the nail industry does business as it has on the actual business of nails. In retrospect, all the descriptions that attempt to convey the Sperling image fit…and others as well, including hard-working, opportunistic, dedicated and ultimately, successful.

It’s when you combine all the descriptions, the personalities, the business approaches that a true portrait of the Sperlings emerges: A family partnership that takes great joy in working together and that enjoys what it is they do for a living.  

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