Frederic Fekkai opened his 1st haircare salon on the top floor of Bergdorf Goodman in 1989. He built Fekkai into the first luxury haircare brand and sold it to Procter & Gamble before buying it back to reinvent it for the new generation. Fekkai brands includes includes Bastide – a small Provencal brand Frederic bought with his wife Shirin and reformulated for a discerning customer. Customers are loving Bastide for its clean, natural products and the tried and true Fekkai for The One brand and its custom formulations. Frederic shares his insights from his career as an entrepreneur and stylist to the stars in this episode 31.
Fredric Fekkai [00:00:00] It’s about building a brand. It’s about getting a community. It’s about building a culture. Building with passion. Living a passion, passion, passion.
Sam [00:00:09] Imagine: You’ve had a hugely successful first act of your career. What do you do for your second? Fredric Fekkai is a successful entrepreneur and celebrity hairstylist, who built his eponymous brand into one of the best selling hair care brands worldwide. He recently bought back the brand to bring product innovation back into the brand’s DNA, so it speaks to today’s audience. Fredric, thank you for joining us on the show today.
Fredric Fekkai [00:00:57] Thank you for having me.
Fredric Fekkai [00:01:14] That’s a good question. You know, in 2008, I sold Fekkai, my brand to Proctor and Gamble, and I stayed on for a little while as a consultant. And because I had a non-compete, I needed to do something. So I was doing all the things; things that actually I was dreaming about, you know, like doing investments, a meeting with a different VC, talking to other CEOs. And then I realized I said, ‘what am I doing’? This is not exciting for me. So as soon as my beauty non-compete was over, I could buy Bastide and I did – with my wife Shirin, we bought Bastide. And the idea was there to say, wow, this is a brand we love, but it needs to be relevant to the world of today, which means building products that are clean– clean beauty products that I call friendly and products that, you know, are part of your great lifestyle. So this is the first act. And then, you know, I realized that this is great. And all of sudden I said, ‘I see my brand out there on the shelves. I see my salons functioning, but not at the greatest speed’. It was basically stalling. And I said myself, ‘ It can’t be that way. I’m still alive. My name is on the bottle. My name is on the salon. It needs to try. It needs to be better. It needs to represent what I think it should be’. And I picked up the phone and called the owner and said, you know, ‘I see what you’re doing. I think you need help. So I reached out to you to see if I could either buy or partner with you’. But I knew it had to be buying the brand. So months later, that transaction happened. And today, at the helm of those two brands, I now realize this is what I do for a living, this is what my passion is about. It’s about building a brand. It’s about building a community. It’s about building a culture, building, you know, with passion, living a passion and that is the high motive. But of course, businesswise, I realize that there is a great void out there. It’s– how do you fill that void, today in today’s world? Which is, you know, as we know, the world has changed. So that means great innovation in product, great social media, great digital marketing and so on. So you have to today, and this is what is exciting is that you don’t play the same game. You know that when you play tennis, you never play the same game. Does it matter if it’s the same opponent? It is going to change. And that’s what it is. This is a whole new game. And that’s exciting.
Sam [00:05:05] That’s such a good way of putting it Fredric. Over your career, tell us about two or three things–they could be people, they could be learning experiences that you’ve had, but two or three things that have been critical to your success and trajectory.
Fredric Fekkai [00:05:23] You know, I think the first of all, the word ‘success’, I want to redefine that because it’s a very scary word. And it’s also a limit sometimes, I find it a little bit too presumptuous. So success to me is first of all, when you fulfill your journey, and it’s obvious in many ways and I think we have the same values of how to do that. But it’s also– success is a bicycle. So if you stop pedaling, it falls. Success is not a destination. It’s not a finish line. It’s never that. Success: it’s an on– I feel like success is an ongoing thing. Ever. Forever, until you’re gone. And so that’s success. So now I think what is important is to do what you believe. You know, I’m not an engineer. I’m not a mathematician. I believe that success is when you really create something, you really mean it. And in fact, this is a conversation I had all the time with my marketing team. Is that when we come up with an idea, I said, ‘would you say that? Would you do that? Would you buy this’? Honestly, I mean, think about it before you– you’re telling me that story. Is it really something that you– it would affect you? And so it has to be true. It has to be transparent. It has to be real. It has to be authentic. It has to be meaningful. And that’s the beauty of any position, I think, to go to market. If you believe it’s good for you, then it’s good for you, your audience, your customers.
Sam [00:07:29] I love all of that. Through your life and other journeys you’ve had, you’ve probably faced many challenges and all of us always learn the most, probably, in some of the challenging moments we have. And some of the mistakes we make. So what are some of the lessons you’ve learned in some of these challenging moments or some of the mistakes you’ve had along your life?
Fredric Fekkai [00:07:53] I love that question. You know, first of all, it’s so important that we embrace the word ‘mistake’. We should embrace mistakes because there’s no great story without mistakes. Because if you do it right, you didn’t learn anything because you assume it’s right. If you make a mistake, you learn. You analyze what a mistake is about. And you– but you’re not going to repeat it. So I think mistakes are the building blocks of growing a brand, a company. And if you don’t make a mistake, that means you don’t take risks. Or, you don’t think out of the box. So to me, it’s a non-event if you don’t make mistakes. If you don’t make a mistake, then, you know, life is flat. And that is why it’s amazing when you see people, you know, genius people like Steve Job, whatever, you know, this is where– they made tons of mistakes and hopefully they learn from it, which is great. So I encourage mistakes. I think mistakes are a source of great celebration.
Sam [00:09:14] I love that. Mistakes are a source of celebration. It isn’t every day that you have the opportunity to buy back your brand. Tell us about what’s been great about that and what’s been really hard about that.
Fredric Fekkai [00:09:29] You know, it’s great because it’s you buying a member of your family, you’re buying something you know. And so there is that comfort of knowing what you are buying. What is dangerous, what is challenging, the fear is that now how do you re-present? How do you present that proposition, that business to the whole world? And, you know, as we know, again, this is a– it changed. So how do, and everything, it has moving parts. The department store, I’m gone. You know, when I– first my business was in a department store. So if I did that today again, it would be a failure, it’d be a disaster – department stores are empty. So we have to look at different channels. We have to look at a different way of communicating. On social media, on emails, on, you know, on podcasts like today. So it’s very exciting. It’s very exciting. And also, it forces you, not just us, but everyone to create interesting channels. You know, if I would have told you, I don’t know, five years ago that we would search out many brands on Instagram. I would have heard “Are you out of your mind?” And today, look at it. I mean, there’s so many brands just, you know, emerging from Instagram. So I think this is what is exciting about this world today.
Sam [00:11:34] So this is a tough question, but we really admire couples who work together and who make it work. And you and your wife Shirin, have worked at Bastide and Fekkai. So tell us, what’s the secret for making it work, to work together as a couple?
Fredric Fekkai [00:11:54] It is something I say to myself, be careful what you wish for. And so, no, I think it’s interesting because the first thing I wanted to make sure is that Shirin, first of all, doesn’t report to me. And she is independently, you know, interacting with the marketing team, with the creative team. And that works. And I have to say, I’ll be honest, I would be lying if I tell you there’s no clashes. There’s many clashes. Unfortunately, they don’t come during office hours where you can really debate. It’s always a dinner or a breakfast. And that is the annoying part. So that’s a challenge. So I think that that is where you have to be disciplined and draw the line. I did. I think just a few days ago I said, ‘you know what? We can’t talk about this now’. I really want to have this out with a third party, to make sure we can really have a debate and an argument that is supported, challenged, debatable. Right now, it’s only the two of us, it doesn’t mean anything. So that’s an important part.
Sam [00:13:16] Really good advice, a mediator is always a good thing in any marriage and certainly in a working marriage. Tell us, Fredric, what’s next on your agenda?
Fredric Fekkai [00:13:26] So this is what I love about business in general. And the only thing I would repeat from the past is being innovative. But not only just with products or ideas, but it’s also about how to redefine experiences with the customer. So at different levels. At the salon, how do we change that, at retail, online? And one thing that I can discuss today, which is very important. We’re very excited about actually doing a whole bespoke and customized formulation for different individuals. So basically you will have your own unique formulation, nobody else. Unless somebody has exactly the same DNA as you. So we would have a really fantastic bespoke formulation coming out. So there are some companies already doing this. The advantage we have, I think, is the fact that all these companies that have done it are mostly digital companies. So they are a tech company. So they’re doing this great tech system process, but they don’t have the knowhow that we have.
Sam [00:15:00] So they don’t have the real world experience and the customers that you have.
Fredric Fekkai [00:15:03] Exactly. And also we have access to the, I think, the best lab, the best chemist. And we’ve done it before. So. And we also know more about hair and beauty because we’ve been in this business for a long time. So I think this is the most exciting– that’s the next big thing for me.
Sam [00:15:22] That’s super exciting. I’m thrilled to hear that. In many ways, the second phases of our careers are much more exciting than the first. We bring to the second phase learning, experience and awareness. Fredric, these are hugely exciting times ahead for you and the Fekkai and Bastide brands. Thank you for joining us on the show today.
Fredric Fekkai [00:15:42] Thank you for having me.
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