Daniel Bouzide, president of Smart Step Salon and Spa Mats, has taken comfort, design, and innovation to the next level, with collections of premium “standing solutions” for the beauty industry and beyond. Bouzide shares why mats matter in this extensive interview and what makes Smart Step outstanding.
MS: Tell us a bit about how you started Smart Step.
DB: Throughout my professional career, most of my ventures have been that of an entrepreneur. After owning restaurants and bars, in the early 90s I entered the beauty industry as a manufacturer’s representative, regional and national sales manager, and then eventually a principal in two different manufacturer representative businesses. With one of these groups, we pioneered a brand called Tough Guy Mats. Our team understood the product and we had immediate success. Our accomplishments were plenty and I personally won National Rep of The Year.
This success really got my business wheels turning and over time tugged at my heart strings, as I saw applications in almost every field. I eventually left the beauty industry to form Smart Step Therapeutic Flooring in 2005. Even as a start-up company, we had instant success addressing standing concerns with retailers, hospitality, industrial, and even Homeland Security. On the heels of this success, we introduced WellnessMats which has become a leader in the professional housewares industry.
A few years into our new and exciting directions, the Tough Guy brand was having struggles in the beauty industry and I was asked put my feet back into the beauty biz. Somewhat reluctant at first, I did with the right to introduce new designs for the beauty industry. It was then that we created the first ¾” polyurethane mat in many of the unique sizes that have become standards today. For example, the 4’ mat, that allows two feet on the mat, with the cart paths. The brand for beauty became Smart Step Salon and Spa Mats, and once again gained instant traction with stylists and barbers.
As our volume across all industries exploded, production needs were becoming a concern. In 2008, I formed a partnership with a U.S. based polyurethane manufacturer; production capabilities, warehousing and distribution were no longer a concern. Having our own state of the art manufacturing facility with all the most current shipping logistics in place in America, we were able to stay leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Since then we have produced and distributed over 1,000,000 Smart Step and WellnessMats. Needless to say, this was the best thing that ever happened to me, my family and my business.
MS: You have continued to elevate your product—what has been your strategy there?
DB: Well, when I wrote our Mission Statement years ago, I vowed; ‘Through imagination and innovation, we will continually elevate, expand and develop meaningful products that fit today’s markets. We will continue to be the leaders in this ‘Healthy Way of Life’ campaign while never compromising the integrity and values that our company was founded.” Through a lot of hard work, building a great team and some good fortune, I am pleased to say that we are still staying true to our Mission Statement.
As the “Healthy Standing” awareness is at an all time high, it is my vision to elevate the mat category in the beauty industry as well as across all divisions. When I started Smart Step, we were a mat company. With a very aggressive marketing campaign we recently became a ‘Premium Standing Solutions Company.’ You will see attractive icons and new taglines and elevated branding throughout the year. My goal is to have the beauty industry rethink the mat category. We have even made the Klogs Footwear brand available in many of our market and are introducing Smart Stand, our own, ‘Made in America’ standing desk line.
With our in-house chemists always expanding manufacturing technology, mold shop, and an exciting marketing team, we have been able to study the standing needs of many markets and not just the beauty industry. This has allowed us to share valuable information with our eight different divisions. In some cases, changes have been in formulations and in others, applications. Our most recent success has come from the esthetics and clear coats of our Premium Standing Solutions. I will share that there are some even more innovative, exciting Standing Solutions on the near horizons.
MS: Talk about your return to beauty.
DB: For about 9 years, we left the distribution of the Smart Step Salon and Spa Mats to a master distributor and the independent distribution network. They certainly did a great job for us and still do. Quietly, we have always been in the beauty industry under various names, as well as, the Smart Step Elite Mat. We purchased the Tough Guy brand approximately seven years ago and still produce a few of the 5/8” mat under the Smart Step umbrella.
Everything had moved along well, as much of our time was devoted to other industries. Until recently, a light bulb went off. Several years ago, we created the WellnessMats Estates Collection, patterned mats with a slight emboss and a rich dye-wash finishes. This collection found tremendous success with Williams-Sonoma, Frontgate, and about 400 retailers. The light bulb…why in the world are we producing ugly black mats for the most creative industry we distribute to, the beauty industry?
After two years of work and preparation, in 2016 we soft launched the new Smart Step Salon and Spa Designer Series with great success. These esthetically pleasing salon mats now work with the many expressive salon decors, rather than being eye sores. No more excuses to not have Premium Standing Solutions under foot. It was such an obvious void now addressed. Now the beauty sales teams had something exciting and meaningful to talk about, even if they did not sell equipment.
This enthusiasm prompted Smart Step to once again get 100% committed to the beauty industry. So, we invested significantly, knee deep, to get totally back into beauty. With the elevated appeal, perfect timing and the easy sales programs we designed, we felt it was important to tell our stories directly to the distributors. With the tremendous sales and store support, demonstration mats, POS and sales materials, and most importantly the drop-ship program, working with the distributors directly became obvious.
MS: How do trade shows factor into your marketing?
DB: Smart Step exhibits in over 50 trade shows every year with all our different divisions. I think we did 14 or 15 last year in Beauty alone. That means tens of thousands industry professionals have stood on, experienced and marveled at the attractiveness of the Smart Step Designer Series. The enthusiasm at the shows is amazing. They get it instantly.
MS: One of your big promises is that your mats don’t curl up. How is that possible?
DB: Without going into our proprietary technology and patents, the formulations and properties of pure polyurethane simply do not allow edges to roll up. In other words, all Smart Step Mats are cured flat and once the molecules are set, it is impossible for the structures to change. It is important to note that the physics of this (non-rolling edges) can only occur with pure and properly formulated polyurethane.
Many mat companies often use plasticizers, fillers and low grade materials. Smart Step Mats do not contain latex, BPA’s, or other toxic chemicals. Because we are manufactured in the USA, we must comply with all the stringent U.S. regulations by law. By weight, meaning volume and density of the polyurethane used in every mat, we are generally 30% more.
Our promises to the beauty industry go beyond just curled edges. Over the years I and our beauty team have stood at the shows and heard all of the complaints and concerns about the beauty mat industry. We knew that the Smart Step Designer Series dramatically improved the visual esthetics of our mats. We listened and made sure well before we put the money into the molds.
The second complaint is the bubbling or separating of the mat. Our one-piece polyurethane formulation can never separate, bubble, or delaminate. Being a one piece there are no glues or bonding agents that usually break down over time. Another concern is the mats sliding around the floor. All Smart Step Mats have a non-slip bottom that prevents the mats under chair to move around. The last major complaint, is hair and foot traffic sticking to the mats. Smart Step invests in an added clear polyurethane top coat to significantly reduce unsightly foot traffic, add luster, and make all mats easy to sweep, and help repel color stains. All of this is guaranteed in writing with a comprehensive 5-year warranty. No else one does this.
MS: Tell us a little bit about your distribution.
DB: We are currently looking to add to our reputable distribution network. With the sales tools and ease of the program, a distributor does not have to be in the furniture business to sell ‘Standing Solutions.’ The Smart Step Designer Series is a premium priced product and outfitting a salon is certainly worthwhile. With our convenient drop-ship program we strongly encourage distributors to use this proven program with all Designer Series sales and invest fractionally in a couple of best-selling Smart Step Elite or black mats. The healthy salon awareness campaign is as strong as ever. Having a quality Made in America product, with a 5-year warranty certainly can be a program that Distributor Sales Consultants (DSCs) are proud of.
We are fully aware that distributors need to sell shampoo, conditioner, and sundries to pay the bills. To be successful, we have made our program state of the art, exciting, easy, and profitable.
To the distributors out there I would like to summarize why we are a great fit. Our distribution center in St. Louis has five terminals, and we quickly ship mats for our distributors. Our sales teams have exceptional and exciting sales tools to demonstrate the creativity, and appeal of the Smart Step Collections. Branded demonstration mats are available for all store fronts and furniture showrooms. Our web portal contains high res images of every collection, logos, lifestyles and more, making online and website setup easy. Strong digital presentations are compatible with all DSC tablets and laptops and can be customized for each distributor. With six exciting color ways in various patterns the new Designer Series is something exciting to talk about for DSC’s and stores and is supported with a strong digital and print marketing campaign. We even have a digital gallery for stylist’s, salon owners, and distributors alike, The high-res close up imagery of all the colorful mats directs all inquiries to the distributor. Our Smart Step Designer Series Mats are MAPPED, meaning price protected and all distributors are required to sign a MAP Policy.
Even if a DSC only sells one mat to a salon, they are almost always assured future sales off the one mat. When was the last time a DSC walked into a salon and got a bear hug? It happens when they sell our mats.
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