Interview by Mike Sullivan of Sully’s Blog
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Chrissy Knuth Sparrow, creator of the Styl Styk Hair Part-ner™, developed this innovative hairstyling tool out of the need to combat grown out roots in between hair coloring appointments. After calling her stylist to get her roots touched up, she found that the stylist was booked and she couldn’t get an appointment at the salon. As an alternative, her stylist let her in on a secret often used by celebrity hairdressers. That secret was that a zigzagged part hides dark roots and extends the look of hair color. Trying to achieve the same look that a professional could produce was a challenge, but she “accidentally” found a way. Chrissy’s first prototype was a simple hair pin taped to one of her son’s school pencils. Thus, the Styl Styk Hair Part-ner was born.
Part Z Girl Products, LLC is Chrissy’s company behind the Styl Styk. The product has been featured on QVC, HSN & Big Idea w Donny D. The company’s website is StylStyk.com
What made you decided to try to create a tool to duplicate the results of a professional stylist? Most people probably would have just given up when their standard comb wouldn’t do the trick. Have you always been somewhat of an inventor/innovator?
The whole idea for creating the Styl Styk Hair Part-ner™ was an accident. My stylist would always share tips & tricks with me that she thought would make styling my hair at home easier. When she showed me how I could hide my grown-out roots with a “rat-tail” comb at home, I tried to do it myself, but could never quite get the same result that she could effortlessly achieve at the salon.
I don’t really know why, but for some reason I was determined to improve my hairstyling technique thinking that “someday” I’ll get it right. I mean…how hard can it be to part your hair? So, one morning, I would again attempt to master the uneven part that could hide my roots and “update” my hairstyle. I started searching for my comb, but it was nowhere to be found. As I was digging in the back of my bathroom drawer, I found an old hair pin. For some reason, I placed it on my head and used it to part my hair. I looked-up into the mirror and my chin almost hit the floor! In seconds, I had found a way to part my hair at home that looked great. This was my accidental “ah ha” moment that started me down the entrepreneurial path.
I wouldn’t say that I have always been an inventor or innovator, but ideas have just sort of “popped into my head” on how to improve a product or solve a problem.
This is an excellent example of a useful and practical idea which is acted upon. Did you know immediately that this was something you wanted to market or was there a series of events leading up to this that helped you realize that you had a great idea on your hands?
When I first showed my stylist what I could do with my hair pin, (which was now taped to one of my son’s school pencils to create a handle) she immediately said “You have to do something with this Chrissy, customers come in all of the time and ask for lessons on how to part their hair. They need this tool at home too.”
Now that I think about it, solving problems or finding solutions is really a part of my personality and almost second nature to me. My experience of having grown-up in a family retail business must have a lot to do with what drives me. From a pretty young age, I wanted to be involved with our retail shoe store. My parents would let me help out behind the scenes, but I couldn’t wait to be old enough to get out on the selling floor and help the customers. As a sales person, I was always trying to help solve a customer’s need by finding what they were looking for. For me personally, it was never about “making the sale” I genuinely wanted to help customers find a solution. And, if I didn’t have what they were looking for, I would take the extra step of calling another store down the street to find out if they had what my customer needed.
I believe that same idea, of helping other women solve a problem, has been a large part of the reason behind the creation of the Styl Styk. But, in order to share this simple, problem solving tool, I would have to produce a product or at least a prototype. Then I would be able to do live demos and show the product’s benefits. Knowing that I would not be taken too seriously using my old hair pin and some tape attached to a pencil, I kept the idea of creating a real prototype in the back of my head.
Talk about the process of taking an idea and then having it put into production. Was it difficult to find designers, engineers and the right manufacturer to make this happen? How did you even know where to begin?
Well, each time I went into see my stylist, she would ask me if I had done anything with my ”magical” pin and pencil. Her insistence on the need for a home hair styling tool really got me thinking about what I would need to do to create a product.
As far as figuring out where to begin, my husband and I had already started the conversation about having a real prototype made. We did a bit of investigating, but were not serious. What I didn’t know at the time, was that he had already secretly started the process for me. Then, on Christmas morning, I found a real prototype in my stocking (wrapped in newspaper!) that he had made for me. Now, I could leave my pencil at home and get in front of people to do live demonstrations with a more professional prototype and I was on my way.
Production was definitely a gradual process. At this point, my son was in school, and I had started to work part-time in our family’s business. It was there that I met another employee who had seen my demonstrations and suggested that I get in touch with her previous employer who was manufacturing consumer products. After we met, I asked him if he would consider consulting me in the manufacturing process and he did. This was when things really started to fall into place. Now I had a knowledgeable resource to guide me with designers, engineers and manufacturers.
I see your product has been on QVC and there is an interesting story about how you made your connection with them. Care to tell us about that?
Sure. In retail, I can remember selling several items that needed an explanation or demonstration. One in particular was called the “Magic Scarf” which was popular a while ago. At first, they just sort of sat on the shelf. Then I got curious…why is it called the “Magic Scarf?” then I picked one up and started to play. I quickly found out that this fuzzy little $15.00 scarf had about 6 or 7 different ways that it could be worn. I got excited about the item and started showing every customer. After they saw the demos, most bought the scarf for themselves, as a gift or both. My sister started calling me the “Magic Scarf” Queen!
I related that experience to the Styl Styk Hair Part-ner. In order for women to understand the Styl Styk, they needed to be able to actually see it being demonstrated. So how do I get to the most people at one time? TV commercials and QVC were my initial thoughts. I didn’t have the money to produce a TV commercial, so I began to research how to submit products to buyers at QVC.
My QVC research was encouraging. I found out the QVC liked and sought out products that solved problems, made life easier and appealed to a broad audience. QVC also preferred products that had effective visual demonstration abilities. Great! The Styl Styk fits all of those categories, now all I had to do was figure out a way to make my product stand out among the hundreds of products that QVC buyers review each and every week.
I became a frequent QVC viewer, and also started to buy products on QVC. I learned a lot about how products were packaged and what kind of products sold well. One night, I saw a promotion that featured Joan Rivers announcing that QVC was having a contest across America with “open call” auditions to find the next host.
While, I had no intention of becoming a host for QVC, but I went to the website and checked out the details. I learned that there was an upcoming audition in Chicago. Each person auditioning had to register, bring a resume, headshot and a product to “sell” for a two minute audition. The two minute audition intrigued me. If I had to sell something for two minutes, why couldn’t it be my own invention? So, I went ahead and registered for the Chicago audition.
The day came, and I patiently waited in line with hundreds of other people who were also waiting for a chance to audition for QVC. When my turn finally came, I found myself in a small room with one other person who had a video camera, ready to tape my presentation. I started with the “I’m not here to become the next QVC Host, but I wanted to get in front of someone at QVC to show them my invention called the Styl Styk Hair Part-ner….” I went on to finish and after the audition, the gal behind the camera turned it off and said, “Could you do my hair?” I said sure and proceeded to help her use the Styl Styk. She was impressed with the results, and told me about another event coming-up the following month called the “The QVC Product Discovery Tour” and she encouraged me to register. And that was how I got my foot in the door at QVC.
What other methods have you used to market the Style Styk? What means have been most successful for you?
Well, we were featured in a family owned department store chain called Von Maur, tested a TV infomercial and have also tried a bit of internet marketing.
At Von Maur, an upscale Midwest chain of 25 department stores, a package was put together that included a display with a DVD loop running demonstrations. We were placed in 9 locations and online. In the coming months, we were invited to participate in three live store events; two Grand Openings and a special in-store beauty event.
At both grand openings, I conducted live demonstrations and interacted with customers. At each event, we sold out of Styl Styks. At the third, “Best of Beauty” event, I had the opportunity to address 150 of Von Maur’s customers. Again, like the previous “high traffic” events, we sold out of stock on that day. If we compared Von Maur’s Styl Styk sales in all nine locations, we would find that almost 85% of total sales were made at the three locations that had live demonstrations and in-store events.
As far as the infomercial and internet marketing efforts, both produced mixed, inconclusive results. In each case, more capital would need to be raised in order to determine if the Styl Styk could perform profitably in the channel.
The most successful are the appearances on the TV shopping networks. They are live and reach over 90 Million homes across the country. Styl Styks were sold using live demonstrations, Before & After photos as well as some video sales support.
What advice do you have for other inventors and entrepreneurs that are sitting on what they believe are good ideas? How do they know if there idea is good? How do they know if it is marketable? What resources are available to them?
Don’t be afraid to share your idea. Many people ask for help, but are afraid to even share their idea, thinking that someone will steal it from them. Don’t worry! Take that first step…people will try to copy your idea after it has become successful!
Go to experts in your particular industry. At the beginning, I just started researching hair styling tools on the internet. There were plenty of success stories; Topsy Tail, Hairagami and HairDini. So, I knew there was a market. As far as being a good idea, I trusted my stylist and was encouraged by the other women who had successfully marketed their inventions, so I started improving my prototype.
Months later, I came across a woman who had experience in the sales and distribution of beauty items, especially hair styling products. She helped distribute the “Topsy Tail” which has reached an estimated 150 million dollars in sales. I made as appointment, and after “seeing” demonstrations of what the Styl Styk could do, she offered me the advice that I was looking for. She said, “…I really do like your product. You haven’t invented the wheel, but you’ve improved it an awful lot…”
At this point, I was relieved and excited that she honestly liked and was interested in my invention. Her assessment of the Styl Styk would ultimately be the contributing factor that would justify continued funding and development. I knew that if I had her “blessing” that meant that I had a worthwhile product. In addition, a positive review from an expert would also provide the motivation and confidence needed to continue in devoting the time, energy, effort and enthusiasm needed to bring the Styl Styk to market.
Then came the big “But this looks like it could be a weapon! The points are way too sharp and it looks like it could hurt someone,” she said. My heart started to sink as she held out my third generation prototype, which also happened to be the design that I was planning on using in manufacturing. She went on to offer more criticism… “It needs to have rounder tips; it needs to be fun and a lot more feminine.”
I left her office both happy and sad. I was glad that she thought that I had a helpful tool that the beauty industry would embrace, but sad that the past two and a half years of work that I had already put into designing my product was wasted. Many thoughts went through my head, and I was almost to the point of ignoring her advice and continuing with the design that I had invested so much time and money in. Thankfully, I stepped back, took her advice and started over at square one.
Recognizing that I need help and don’t “know-it-all” was an important lesson for me. If I had not listened and seen the value of an expert’s opinion on product design, I would not have the adorable, fun, pink and girly Styl Styk combs that I have today. The pink and feminine silhouette has now become the basis for our marketing strategy.
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