You could say American International Industry’s (AII) CEO Zvi Ryzman owes his career to Richard Nixon. As Ryzman tells it, in the early ’70s he was in a close-out business with a friend when Nixon devalued the dollar. No longer able to import enough merchandise, they had to close down the business. The two were left with a bunch of Korean-made eyelashes, and after a coin toss, the eyelashes belonged to Ryzman. He began selling the eyelashes to beauty supply stores and later bought three other eyelash companies, including Ardell, one of AII’s most popular brands today.

From those humble beginnings, AII was founded in 1971. Thirty-five years later, with more than 500 employees and more than 30 acquisitions, the company boasts some of your favorite brands on its growing roster of products, including Body Drench, EZ Flow, Gena, GiGi, ibd, and Supernail. 2005 marked their acquisition of the China Glaze and Seche product lines.

Ryzman cites this phenomenal growth as his proudest accomplishment. “From just five or six small brands that I acquired, cultivated, and built up, I have created this collection of assorted, respected brands that offer head-to-toe resources for the beauty professional,” he says. And AII is likely to continue to expand. “I plan to continue acquiring niche companies that complement our existing brands,” says Ryzman.

[NAILS interview with Zvi Ryman, July 2003] 

NAILS: How did you get started?

Zvi Ryzman: During the Nixon administration, I got into partnership with an acquaintance in a closeout business. But once Nixon devalued the dollar, we couldn’t import enough merchandise and had to shut down. We were left with a lot of false eyelashes — eyelashes that neither of us wanted. So we flipped a coin to see who was going to get stuck with them. I began successfully selling them to beauty supply stores and — if you can believe this — later bought three other eyelash companies. A.I.I. is now the largest distributor of faux eyelashes in the U.S.

What’s the most significant change you’ve seen over the last 20 years?

Ryzman: Twenty years ago, you had to go to the salon to get your hair cut and colored, to the beauty supply for your beauty products, then to the nail salon for a manicure. Now, you see full-service salons that do hair, nails, and tanning while retailing beauty products all in one place.

How have you changed the industry?

Ryzman:I haven’t changed the industry. I’ve simply changed myself as the needs of the industry have changed. Our company has evolved into a one-stop shop for beauty supplies. Beauty professionals can get everything they need in one place at a fair price. I believe our extensive wax lines — GiGi, Clean + Easy, L’Orbette, One Touch, Surgi-Care, Andrea — have been our most significant product contributions to the beauty industry. In addition to manufacturing wax, we’ve also become large manufacturers of waxing accessories, warmers, skin treatment products, education videos — all products centered on hair removal. Our faux lashes are another significant product contribution.

How has your company changed over the last 20 years?

Ryzman:We started with lashes and have broadened our horizons by branching out into different beauty categories — wax, nail treatments, lashes, hair care products, paraffin. Even with extensive growth, we’ve tried to maintain a small company mentality. I like to make sure everybody’s happy and that their needs are met. I continue to be hands-on and get to know the people who work at A.I.I. If somebody has a problem, they can come to me personally and I look forward to that.

What will your company be like when NAILS turns 40?

Ryzman: We’re continually expanding. I’d venture to guess that we’ll have some additional acquisitions under our belt, and perhaps some new lines of our own in 20 years. I believe there will be a greater shift from over-the-counter establishments to full-service beauty supplies that retail beauty products and offer beauty services in the future.

What are the moments you’d like to forget?

Ryzman: There’s really nothing I’d like to forget. I’ve learned some valuable lessons from even the worst experiences. I wouldn’t be where I am today without learning from those situations.

What other companies do you think have contributed significantly to the growth of the industry?

Ryzman: Truthfully? I think all of the companies in the beauty industry — large and small — have contributed to the growth of our industry. Even those that didn’t make it contributed in one way or another. A great example of a company making a significant contribution to the beauty business is Sally Beauty Supply. When A.I.I. started out, there were only seven Sally locations. Now there are thousands! What is the biggest industry issue facing you today?

Brand recognition is such an important factor. I didn’t realize it until I came to the United States. Now I realize the benefits you can reap when consumers know who you are and trust your reputation. You can’t put a price on brand recognition.

Tell us one thing about you or your company that we might not already know.

Ryzman: I studied to be a rabbi and I have a theological degree. I also received degrees in political science and economics. That learning has helped me as it relates to running a business today. I find myself using my educational background all the time in business dealings.