Johnny B Haircare President Alfonso Añorga started his company with one men’s grooming product in 1994, launched out of his Whittier, CA garage. Today, 25 years later, Johnny B has expanded to 33 products housed inside a 64,000 square-foot warehouse, with North American annual sales in 2018 reaching $11 million. Añorga has also had to expand the size of the education team he put in place in 2011 to answer demand. Johnny B educators conduct more than 200 clipper and cutting classes per year.
Añorga grew up in his Mother’s salon. “I’ve always done this, I don’t know anything else and if you cut me open, hair comes out of me.” We spoke to this skilled entrepreneur and beauty-lifer, asking him to look back at his 25 years in hair.
MODERN SALON: Ok, let’s start at the beginning with the development of the Johnny B. name and brand identity.
Alfonso Añorga: There was a time, after college, when I was having these really vivid dreams but when I woke, they would be gone. My Mom said, ‘Keep a legal pad at your nightstand and write down your thoughts.’ I started visualizing this very strong, positive character and the names that were running through my head were names from the 50s, and I landed on the name Johnny B, with the ‘be’ standing for ‘be who you want to be.’ The well-groomed character also reflected what I noticed growing up, which was that the boys who took care of themselves were upwardly bound. I wanted kids to emulate someone who would take care of themselves and feel positive about themselves.
MS: Considering how quickly tastes change, 25 years is amazing—to what do you owe your longevity?
AA: I started with one oil-based pomade but instinctually I already knew the beauty industry, I grew up in it. I never had reservations that the brand wouldn’t do well but I never knew it would be a multi-million dollar business and that we would outlast so many men’s brands.
I truly love visiting salons and barbers and I’ve learned so much about the brand this way. Hairdressers will be so honest with you and tell you what they like and don’t like. I’ve always told people that if you want to know more about the beauty industry, get out of your office and into a salon. I’ve visited thousands.
Ultimately, I think we’ve seen 25 years because I’m a hair person. When I was a kid, and my Mom would bring home product samples, I would read every description on every label. And that’s why I’m never worried about other brands because they don’t have the same commitment. I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old.
MS: I’ve heard you have a formula you follow in product development—can you share it?
AA: It’s QUA.
Q, for quality. If I’m going to make something, it better be something special. We’ve never discontinued a product and we launch our products with passion and with depth.
U, for unique. I always tell people that if you’ve never tried Johnny B you might love it, you might hate it, but you’ll never try something quite like it. I don’t take product and copy it. Every product has been formulated to our specifications.
And ‘A’ for affordable. If you want a men’s brand to succeed, you need to make sure the product pricing is less than the cost of a haircut. The SRP is $16 on 80 percent of our products and the average haircut in in the US is $25.
MS: For years, you have been putting out great images…
AA: Yes, I’ve always thought that photography was so important because hairdressers love to be inspired. They love to have great images on their walls. So we have made a commitment to capturing and sharing great photos and we’ve produced at least 500 posters over the years. One of my best business days was when I went into the print shop and I knew I was at a point where I could afford to hire someone full time to take this on.
MS: What big changes do you think we’re seeing in the industry?
AA: Our industry is a bit slow to react but people on the cusp of what’s next know that no longer can you say, ‘I cut hair’ and that’s it. To really look after your male clients, you have to be able to cut hair, wax, groom, shave, tend to a beard and perform a facial. We launched body balms earlier this year which are hand, face and body lotions, and at every show, they have completely sold out.
We see brands that have always been known as women’s products struggling when they launch a men’s line. We don’t say that Johnny B is just for men; sometimes consumer ask and I always say hair is hair, anyone can use it. But I do see that the brand will always follow a male-marketed game plan.
MS: What’s next?
AA: This summer, we’re launching three new beard products. I find in talking to people running big chain salons and those in the barbering and beard world that much more needs to be learned about grooming beards. We’ve always had a beard oil and a balm and we’re launching a cleanser and a booster.
We’re also supporting all of this with ongoing education. Some salons have shared that men come in for cuts but when they ask for their beard, moustache or goatee to be trimmed, hairdressers can’t provide that portion of the service. Men will accept a poor haircut but if you ruin a men’s beard, you will never see that client again.
Also launching this year (in fourth quarter) will be a kid’s line, Johnny B Juniors, a five product segment in kid-friendly packaging and with kid-friendly formulas.
MS: Anything you would have done differently?
AA: If you meet a small business owner, you have met a failure. Every business owner has had many mistakes. Very early on, I didn’t register a trademark for some of my products and got in a conflict with the trademark office. I initially neglected social media but then woke up and saw we had this fairly large following. There’s always things you feel you missed the boat on. As a small business owner, we make a lot of mistakes but we stand up and say, that was an expensive lesson but let’s learn from it and move on.
MS: And, finally, what did you do—and continue to do—right?
AA: My Mom used to tell me, Al, you have to build a group. As passionate and motivated as you are to be successful, you aren’t going to be as successful as one person. I’m blessed to have people who have worked with me for 15 to 25 years. I actually have my first employee working with me.
Second thing is that we only repackaged the line this year. I think that’s so important, that there is consistency that customers can see. And they know they can rely on us and connect with us. Johnny B will always be at 90 percent of hair shows because that is where you interact with users of your product. We make sure hairdressers know and feel that they are supported by the brand. This connection to them, it’s our lifeblood.
Originally posted on Modern Salon