BRANDMAKERS | How to Turn An “Idea” into a Business

heather-curlkit-starting- a-business

December 8, 2014 • Brandmakers

Meet Heather Cummings, the founder of Curlkit, a subscription-based service for women with naturally-textured hair. Each month subscribers receive a specially curated box of products and tools that they can use on their hair.

When Curlkit launched in March 2012, it’s mission was (as still is) to help their customers  “sort through the clutter, find new brands, and rediscover old favorites” while being able to have “a bit of fun experimenting along the way.” But Curlkit is more than just products. The platform also features an online shop, styling tips, tutorials,  and an engaged online community.

As someone who’s been  a lifelong “natural”, I’ve watched as the market for hair products that cater to natural hair grow over the years. Interestingly enough, the “monthly subscription box” industry has also grown. I thought it would be interested to sit down with Heather to chat about what inspired her to start Curlkit. As she found out, there definitely was a need for the Curlkit experience as many women often have a hard time finding the right hair product.

If there’s anything I learned from speaking with Heather, this is my biggest takeaway:

Figuring out how you can answer a specific customer need is the key to business success.

In today’s post, you’ll learn:

  • What inspired Heather to start CurlKit
  • Some of the challenges she’s faced while building Curlkit (such as some brands just not “getting” the idea)
  • How CurlKit stands out in what is becoming a crowded market
  • Advice she’d give to aspiring entrepreneurs

 

BRANDMAKERS is a series highlighting individuals who are SHINING (aka killing it and raising the bar) in their respective industries. Know someone who should be featured? Contact rana@ranacampbell.com

starting your own business- heather-curlkit

What inspired you to start Curlkit?

Heather Cummings (HC):   I stumbled upon the idea of having products that we curate and bring to people. I was in search for hair products but there was no YouTube or  hair bloggers to make any recommendations. That meant my search for products meant going to the mall.  My husband asked me , “Why don’t we just try to get products that all can come to us?” At the time, it was more about curating products for me. Overtime, it turned into the Curlkit business.

How has the business changed from when you first started?

HC: When I started over 10 years ago with my own natural hair journey, there were no bloggers. There were only a few books out there about natural hair.  Since then, there has been a growth in the market. Companies have identified that there is a set of women out there who did not want to use straightened hair products or anything that would manipulate their hair  using through chemicals. Now, we are notifying brands that there are women out there who want to look beautiful but  still keep their natural texture.

How did you get people to buy Curlkits?

HC: First, we considered what products we wanted to use.  There weren’t many products or companies out for natural hair four years ago. That market grew with the subscription services for natural hair.

Coincidentally, social media started getting really big five years ago so we utilized  those platforms to build Curlkit. We used it as a way to find who was out there. We did a lot of surveying and social campaigns.  We did campaigns with brands. We stumbled upon a few brands who didn’t have a store or website. Alikay Naturals was one of was one of the first brands we did a mass takeover with. She is now very well known in Target.

 

What makes Curlkit so  special?

HC: We come up with themes for the box every month.  We try to make the Curlkits a social experience. We want you to have the feeling of being amongst your girlfriends. We do that through social media, blogger/vlogger relationships, Curl Life magazine,  and weekly #curltalk chats on our Facebook and Twitter pages. People are engaged with us because they like the idea that there is someone listening on the other end.

We try to make the kit accessible. It’s a sharing experience. As someone who lives in the social media world, everything is a sharable space. Although the kit was mailed to you, it’s a social opportunity to share with someone else the value of the Curlkit.


curlkit-subscription-box

There’s a lot of subscription boxes out there for women with natural hair. How does Curlkit separate itself from the competition?

HC: Our biggest push is education. Regardless of whatever product you get, you should have a full understanding to what you are getting. If you have a question, we respond. We have in-house professional stylists who try the products for us. We curate tools and accessories like hair pins, diffuser but also give you the essentials. For the last two years, we have had weekly #curltalks every Tuesday. No other subscription service goes online every week to speak to people. I will not make an appearance if I’m talking to people. I want to talk with people.

I will not make an appearance if I’m talking to people. I want to talk with people.We teach people how to use products. We don’t just give them.

We teach people how to use products. We don’t just give them. We add more value. We provide people with more information besides what they get in the kit.

What are some of your personal strengths that have helped CurlKit’s success?

HC:I’m very detail-oriented and very involved. Every month I’m trying stuff out just like the customers. I’m also very passionate and committed. When I became pregnant while in business, the doctor told me I had to slow down. It was the worst thing ever. I was going full drive and had to bring it down to a slower speed. I love my baby, but Curlkit was my first baby. There was that feeling of not wanting to part from your child. I feel like I have a close bond with my business. I believed in it from day one.

How did you build relationships with the brands you work with?

HC: It all begins with the consumer. We send out a survey asking for customer feedback, frustrations, and current needs. We  do a lot of outreach and market research. I utilize my background in analysis and performance measurements to let the brands know who our audience is and what they need. That’s how our relationships with brands start. They get  concrete information they can utilize to cater to the needs of women with naturally-textured hair.

 

If you could go back in time, is there anything you would have done differently?

HC: There’s no regrets. I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’d tell the past Heather to appreciate what she’s doing because it will reap its rewards.

What were some of the challenges you faced when launching Curlkit?

HC: People weren’t sure if the natural hair world would continue to grow. When people started to hear about natural hair subscription boxes, they thought  the “industry” would only last for a few months.

There were brands that didn’t understand the concept of sampling. They thought people wanted to buy their products full-sized. We were approaching brands and telling them that there are thousands of women out there that don’t want to just buy a product because they are tired of wasting money. Some huge brands didn’t get it.  We told them in time you will need to get on board and realize this is the  way that you will connect with your consumers.  That was  a big hurdle in the beginning.

There’s alot of people who won’t buy a product unless they know what it is going to do for them. Now, a lot of brands see it as a very beneficial opportunity to connect with their consumers.

curlkit

When did you realize Curlkit was here to stay?

HC: The most defining moment was when a woman who is serving our country in the Army sent me an email saying, “Thank You. I’m a woman. I have hair needs and I’m getting products from you. I’m maintaining my hair texture in the Army overseas.” When someone who is serving our country reached out to me and thanked me, I knew Curlkit was here to stay. I’m doing something for someone else who is serving me. It was then that I knew Curlkit was apart of something bigger. It was astounding to see it grow so fast…and it all started as an idea.

What are your future plans for Curlkit?

HC: In the next couple of months, we are going to be doing a lot of interactive experiences. We are going to be relaunching our site. We are going to be creating an even more involved environment for our subscribers to learn more about what their hair can do. There’s going to be more engagement and education. Instead of googling a hair-related questions, the answer will be right on Curlkit.com.

What are some of your favorite brands from your Curlkits?

HC: I love Alikay Naturals, Karen’s Body Beautiful, Jane Carter, Creme of Nature, Amazing Botanicals…there’s a lot. I’m a cocktailer. I like to try different brands together.

What are some of your day-to-day items that you can’t live without?

HC: My iPhone. My laptop. Water is my essential. I always have a spritz bottle of a leave-in spray to keep my hair moist when it feels a little dry.  I’m a woman on the go and I have a small child, so all the smaller samples of the products that come in the Curlkit are great to use for travel!

 

What’s your advice to individuals who want to become entrepreneurs?

HC: When you have a dream, you should go for it.

When you have a dream, you should go for it.

There’s nothing out there that you can’t go out and try. If you’re hungry, determined and have passion, go for it. That’s my motto. Anyone who wants to enter entrepreneurship has to be ready to put work in. It’s no walk in the park.

Follow Curlkit online: Twitter | Facebook | Website

Follow Heather Cummings online: Twitter

Visit Curlkit.com and use the code “CKRANA” to receive 10% your next order. 


What’s the best entrepreneurship advice YOU ever received? Share your story in the COMMENTS section. (By leaving a comment, you will also be entering yourself for the chance to win a CURLKIT courtesy of the Curlkit team.)

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Rana Campbell is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Ranacampbell.com, a site dedicated to personal branding and helping people learn how to SHINE in their personal and professional lives.

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