For more than a year, Amy Errett stared at women’s hair. At dinner parties and over dinner, she’d boldly ask, “Do you color your hair?”

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

What at first seemed like awkward small talk served as the initial research for Errett’s online hair-color company Madison Reed, which sells custom shades for $30.

“My deep belief is that when you create a new brand you actually need to understand your consumer pain points,” said Errett, founder and chief executive officer of Madison Reed, during her presentation. For this customer, Errett explained, “She has no time. She doesn’t want to spend the money and she doesn’t want to go to the salon every three weeks.”

In her view, the boxed color lining mass-market shelves provides little in the way of advice or instruction. Should the consumer open up the instructions inside the box — which most do not, Errett found by observing women apply color — she’d find a litany of steps in a small typeface.

“We stood in 55 women’s bathrooms over a two-month period and watched them actually apply color. And every single woman made the same mistakes,” said Errett, a former venture capitalist. She sought to improve the experience — for instance, each box features the five-step step-by-step application process — and provide a product that rivals salon quality, while removing harsh chemicals including ammonia and resorcinol.

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Recognizing the impact of digital on driving businesses forward, Madison Reed’s e-commerce business was launched in tandem with a mobile app, which provides a step-by-step video on how to apply the color. The app also has a 35-minute timer so users don’t leave color on too long, and has personalized playlists to make the wait more enjoyable.

Madison Reed is working to balance the high-tech aspects of the business with a high-touch approach, which includes a call center manned by certified colorists.

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