Launching a luxury brand is tough. Launching a luxury brand in the midst of a recession might be madness. For Daniel Kaner and Tev Finger, founders and co-presidents of Oribe, launching a luxury brand in 2008 turned out to be a stroke of genius.
Their strategic move though was based on years of accumulated experience. Kaner started his professional beauty career at Aveda, where he worked with Horst Rechelbacher and team and learned the ins and outs of the business. The next phase of his career was in marketing at Bumble and Bumble, where he met Finger, and the duo worked closely together for several years. They developed strong relationships with customers—many became like family.
After a long, wonderful experience with Bumble and Bumble (14 years for Finger, 10 for Kaner), the duo decided it was time for a new chapter. They both saw an opportunity to champion a boutique company in the professional channel.
In 2008, Kaner and Finger launched Oribe with celebrity and editorial stylist Oribe Canales. In this candid interview, they share how they created, marketed and launched the brand and why it continues to thrive today.
SALON TODAY: What void did you identify in the professional beauty market and how did you anticipate filling it with Oribe?
KANER: Oribe is a stickler for performance, and this was the number one focus for the product line. Other companies use stock formulas, however we had a unique perspective and did not want to compromise. We worked with chemists in skin-care labs in Switzerland and had tremendous product development bench strength with multiple experts in different categories. We felt nothing of this quality existed in the salon world.
We decided to create a super line. Some companies do a great job with shampoos and conditioners, others have a great hairspray, but we said, “What would it look like if we could blend the best cutting-edge technology in shampoos, conditioners and styling products with Oribe’s history and merge them together?”
It came down to formulations. Instead of using one chemist, we sought out multiple chemists for multiple products, finding the best for each product.
We knew the products had to perform, but Tev and I are very new-world and close to our customers, so we also knew we had to keep the products free of parabens, sodium chloride and sulfates.
We even took the scent to the next level. Most companies just do something to cover the base of the formulation, but we wanted to create a luxury scent.
And now, the perfume we fragrance our products with has become a best-selling product on its own (see sidebar). When Hoda and Kathie Lee recently showcased it as their favorite fragrance on the Today show, it crashed our website.
Packaging was critical to the overall effort. We wanted the stylists and consumers to see us differently. A lot of packaging looks the same because stock components are used, which is not always a bad thing, however it doesn’t always reflect a unique message. Due to a year-long lead time on aluminum can production in the states, we ended up having to go to the Czech Republic to have our aerosol cans created.
A look at the luxury Oribe line from the early days.
ST: What roadblocks did you encounter, and how did you overcome them?
KANER: Raising funds was a challenge. We went on more than 120 calls to raise money. A lot of our really good customers, friends, and one of our mentors, Moss Kadey, who was the developer behind Bumble and Bumble, financed us. Raising money is the hardest part, and this was extra difficult because we didn’t have anything for prospective investors to look at yet.
They knew who we were and had dealt with us for many years, but they had also seen many companies come and go. When someone hands you a check with no contract because they believe in you and the principles behind the line, it’s a really daunting experience.
We were already frightened to spend money. But then, as we started formulating and building the line, the market tanked. Around that time, a mentor told us, “You guys are going to do better than you’ve ever done because you believe in what you’re doing. You’re going to make it because it’s a great project.”
You never really understand what it means when people say it’s not an option to fail until you’re in the situation. People invested their life savings in us, and Tev and I understood the magnitude of this responsibility.
Next, we hit the road to share the Oribe story with our customers. We didn’t have packaging, a product sample or fragrance—just our reputations and the story. We talked about our segment of the market and how we were going to revolutionize it.
We were so diligent and careful with the money—there were no lunches, no company cars. We had to pay our investors back while keeping the business alive.
On top of all this, we were selling against competitors who did not want to see us succeed. They were asking salons, “Why would you buy into a luxury brand during a recession?”
It was really bloody, but it taught us a lot. We gained so much knowledge through the creation process, and the excitement of seeing something come from nothing stoked our passion and energized us to keep going.
ST: You talk about the category of new luxury. How do you define that, and how does Oribe fit in that category?
KANER: Luxury means so many different things to different people. Oribe Hair Care is very evolved, so we try to look at it with a fresh approach. It used to be a Rolls Royce or an Hermes scarf. But to my son, buying a pair of limited-edition sneakers represents exclusivity, taste, customization and scarcity.
Ultimately, we defined it as quality. We went back to the old world and looked at elements that went into the customization and craftsmanship of an artisanal item.
It’s very much an ingredient, packaging and performance story. We maintain a meticulous level of attention to detail. For example, when we launched our aerosol cans, there was a custom-made cap that the Oribe symbol was supposed to go on to. But the actuator we purchased already came with a cap (without the Oribe symbol), and we couldn’t justify throwing this away. This year—eight years later—we have replaced that cap with the customized one that bears the Oribe signature goddess. Most manufacturers would never be committed to the level of detail that we hold ourselves to, but we are going to continue to get it right and keep challenging ourselves.
ST: What role does technology play in launching a brand?
FINGER: When we started in 2008, the cloud was a big deal. In the old world, you would have to buy a server, software, etc. You couldn’t start a business without spending $30,000 to $40,000 on software.
But then NetSuite, a cloud-based software, launched. We didn’t have to invest in hardware. It allowed a small business like ours to get up and running with a minimal investment.
Next, MindBody, one of the biggest cloud-based salon management software companies, approached us and asked us to recommend them to our customers. We asked them to test it with some of our customers to see if it was a viable product. We ended up working out a sponsorship with MindBody and to this day, we are still in business with them.
At the end of the day, marketing, packaging, and fragrance are huge, but for hairdressers, one thing is non-negotiable—the product has to work. We were able to push our manufacturers to customize and engineer every product to be a hero.
ST: As you developed Oribe, how did you consider elements like packaging, ingredients, fragrance, pricing and marketing?
KANER: We looked at the project from every aspect—function, beauty and packaging design, which was especially important because it is the first thing the consumer reacts to. Again, the performance was a non-negotiable, and Oribe pushed the formulations and ingredients well beyond what existed in the market and this still holds true today.
We also were new-world in the sense of formulas being created without sodium chloride, parabens or sulfates, in addition to being color and keratin treatment safe and providing UV protection for hair.
Our fragrance is a perfume rather than a common base cover, so when you are finished cleansing and styling you are left with an amazing scent.
We approached the project from all angles. We wanted to exceed our customers expectations and we wanted to win by creating quality.
ST: Tell us about Luxury Brand Partner’s other brands (V76, Smith & Cult, R+Co).
FINGER: We grew our business to a certain level that created a threat to our competitors, many of whom owned multiple brands and categories—color lines, skincare and makeup.
These conglomerates were squeezing us out by offering salons bundled deals in exchange for getting rid of Oribe. We realized we needed sister brands to support us in the salon and expand our offerings. Our customers wanted a complementary brand at a lower price point.
It didn’t feel right to try to build a cheaper extension of Oribe, so we reshuffled everything and formed Luxury Brand Partners. Then, LBP built independently run companies. The first brand we created was R+Co.
All the brands represent the best in class in their category. For example, we have one product at Oribe—Royal Blowout that retails for $68. Salons questioned us on the price, but we said, “Listen, it’s in the ingredients and the performance. All this crazy technology is expensive. With Oribe, you’re driving the Rolls Royce.”
So when R+Co goes into a salon, it’s friendly with Oribe. And, there are perk programs for salons that carry both.
Then we have Smith & Cult, which is nail and lip lacquers. We thought nail polish was kind of tired and bored, and salon owners were looking for something new and exciting, so it worked. Finally, our salons were asking for a men’s line, so we started V76. All of our brands promote one another and work together.
ST: How can luxury brands like Oribe elevate the salon industry as a whole?
FINGER: We talk about this all the time when we speak with salon owners. What brands are you aligning yourself with? Are they also carried in Duane Reade and CVS? If a salon is saying they are the best, but carrying really low-end products, they won’t fool clients, who are becoming smarter than ever.
Align yourself with a company that’s honest about distribution and offers business education. Over the years, Dan and I have become very knowledgable about how salons operate. We spend a great deal of time creating and delivering business education to our network.
We do an event in Carmel, California, where we teach stylists how to become more professional, how to expand their retail, and how to build a mission statement. We do everything we can to help salons and the industry be more successful.
We even created a late-night show we do online to bust up industry cliques. We want to get people sharing ideas on how to be a better industry. It’s through education that we can make the biggest impact on elevating the industry.
ST: What’s next for Oribe?
FINGER: We just brought in James Pecis as our global ambassador—he’ll do shows, train educators and inspire. We also just launched our perks program, which gives back to our salons and includes a website component.
Salons can sell Oribe online and get direct commission through their websites. Then we also have some really great product ideas coming down the pipeline to take us to the next level.
We don’t want to be followers—we would like to continue to lead the industry with our flagship brand, Oribe Hair Care.