By  on September 20, 2007

Sara Jones joined Joico when it was down and out. Today, the professional beauty company is about to end 2007 with $60 million in sales, up 64 percent over 2005. Here, how Joico’s Jones turned the brand around in less than two years.

Talk about stepping into the muck.

When Sara Jones agreed to become Joico's general manager in 2005, the professional hair care firm was bleeding money. Annual double-digit sales declines had become a habit since its acquisition by Shiseido's Zotos division three years earlier, she says. Remote oversight from Zotos' Darien, Conn., headquarters left the California brand rudderless, and mounting employee attrition stymied revitalization.

"It just lost its luster, and there was no one totally focused on keeping the brand going," recalls Jones. But Jones had what Joico lacked: a laser-point can-do approach incubated in a salon in Sioux Falls, S.D., where she began her career 25 years prior as a hairdresser before zooming up the ranks at Redken, Graham Webb and Matrix.

"I had a sense that she was exactly the right person for the job," says Ron Krassin, who made Jones one of his first hires upon becoming Zotos' chief executive officer. "I wanted someone to have the business acumen to come in and make business decisions that would make sense, [and] I wanted someone to do it in a way that was motivating to everybody around."

Jones was put to the test immediately. In an attempt to reverse its fortunes, Joico had embarked on a repackaging effort set to conclude in September 2005, six months after Jones took the helm. She worried the effort, albeit necessary, was bereft in two somewhat opposing regards: It was directionless and not ambitious enough.

"There was not a lot of unified actions being done," says Jones. "What I learned right away was: This company needs to prioritize. When you are trying to do everything, you are not doing anything very well."

Jones made a full-scale reenergizing of the brand priority number one. She amplified the initial project and pushed forward with an overhaul that addressed Joico's products, education, marketing and, of course, packaging. To execute the overhaul properly, she asked the parent company to delay the launch for four months."I said, 'I am not going to be able to get you pipeline sales this year because we need to push it off—are you OK with that?'" she recounts. "They were like, 'Prove to us that your plan is better.' We did push it off, and it was the best thing we could have done."

In January last year, the revamped Joico items began shipping. The slimmeddown lineup—14 stockkeeping units were eliminated to put the total at 107—had a contemporary aesthetic, retooled fragrances and a few critical product introductions. Jones advised distributors to draw down their inventories of old Joico items so salons would gleam with fresh merchandise.

Instead of covering all bottles in slate gray, the additional time allowed Joico to come up with distinct colors for each line. For example, bronze was used for K-Pak— Joico's reconstructive line and the most recognized name in its portfolio—and a pale blue was used for the hydration-centered line Moisture Recovery, which was infused with Japanese ingredients during the restage and is the top performer among new entries.

"On the shelf, it would have looked like a mass of gray," Jones says of the original packaging plans. "It has got to have more uniqueness. That was a key change. These days in salons, it is the battle on the shelf in a lot of ways. People have told us now [that Joico attracts] the customer and the hairdresser to the product because it looks so beautiful."

And Joico's draw has ballooned. Conservatively, Jones expected the overhaul to boost Joico's revenues 15 percent. Almost unbelievably, the business is up 64 percent in the first six months of this year over where it was two years ago when Jones' tenure was kicking off, she says. Combined with its sister brand, ISO, Joico is on track to pull in $60 million in sales this year, nearing the almost $100 million the brand reportedly generated at the time it was purchased by Zotos.

"[Next year] will be a record year. We are getting back to where it was," says Krassin. "We are making plans internally [for double-digit growth] and we are setting those expectations among our partners externally. We are not satisfied with single-digit growth."Jones is not one to wallow in self-congratulation. Joico's refurbishment has had its share of hiccups and lost opportunities. She admits the brand may have been able to elevate its prices, which hover around $10 for most shampoos and $11 for most conditioners, but didn't want to risk alienating customers. And back orders persisted for several months following the launch because Joico anticipated production growth of 25 percent, not the 30 to 40 percent that was needed to keep pace with initial sales.

"The packaging is wonderful. It is a lot more sleek and modern looking. It is more convenient. The only downfall is, when they repackaged, we couldn't get it for five months," says Cesalee Farr, manager of the Kris Keyes Salon in San Francisco. "I was like, 'What do I do?' We tried a bunch of other things, but everything else dried our hands or was too heavy." The Kris Keyes Salon stuck with Joico, and the back orders subsided as the company's production ramped up.

But there's still plenty to accomplish at Joico. Jones is targeting hair color, a burgeoning and lucrative segment where she contends Joico has underperformed. "There is a color business here that is dying to be exposed. [Joico has] a good hair color line, but has so little representation outside of the West Coast," she says. "We are really focused on long-term hair color growth."

In March, Joico unveiled the Vero K-Pak Color System. Jones explains the system takes advantage of the brand equity Joico has nourished with K-Pak to attract salons to Joico's color options. The Vero K-Pak line promises to reconstruct hair as it colors with a formula dubbed the Quadramine Complex. To address seasonal color trends, Joico added a Color Intensity Shade Collection with a lineup of hues that includes green, blue and magenta.

Joico also established a color education program called Color Quest that certifies its sales force—about 700 reps were certified last year—and stylists to help build their color businesses. "We wanted them to be very educated on our brands [and] on the competitors' brands, too, so they knew the strengths and weaknesses of the products they are up against," says Jones.What's up next for Joico? An antiaging color line is on the schedule for early next year, but Jones is keeping mum on the details. Based on her recent accomplishments, the bar has been set high. Krassin is optimistic the results will continue to please. "Momentum is a tough thing to acquire," he says, "but once you have it properly leveraged, it will work in your favor."

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