5 Minutes With Carolyn Aronson, Founder & CEO, It’s a 10

It’s a 10 is an online haircare retailer from the US that has just launched in the UK. Retail Gazette caught up with founder and chief executive Carolyn Aronson, to talk about her job as female leader in an otherwise male-dominated industry, and to find out how she's capitalising on such a niche sector in online retail.

Congrats on the UK launch of It’s a 10!

Thank you! It feels great and I’ve been very excited to launch It’s a 10 into the UK market. We’ve already seen a great response just weeks into the launch, breaking our targets in a quarter of the time anticipated. We know it is only the beginning of what’s to come, and we can’t wait to expand our portfolio in the UK over the coming months.

What made you want to bring it here?

Turning It’s a 10 into a global brand has been a long-term goal of mine. After establishing it in America, it was a natural next step for the growth of the business, especially as the UK and European market is so big. The UK is the first of many launches scheduled in Europe later this year as we continue to grow. It’s been 15 years, but I feel like the company is just beginning.

When was It’s a 10 founded?

I set up the brand 15 years ago to bring something to the industry that was lacking, and provide a solution to the issues I faced when I was a hairdresser. I’ve been a consumer, hair stylist and salon owner, and I found that hair care products had become confusing.

There was different products for different needs, and unclear packaging. That frustrated me, and I was determined to change it. When I was behind the chair, I used to dream about creating a simple, easy-to-use product that actually worked. I wanted the name of the brand to be self-explanatory too, hence the name It’s a 10 as the product has 10 benefits all in one bottle.

“After establishing it in America, the UK was a natural next step for the growth of the business”

I started this company from nothing. My previous business had failed and I was up against a whole range of competing hair care brands, with little to no marketing budget. Normally people would get discouraged from starting over, but I didn’t think that way. I thought, how can I do it right this time, what can I do differently?

Instead of using traditional marketing methods, I went round to salons and gave the product to owners and stylists so they could try it out and experience its benefits first-hand. The sampling programme that we put in place is really what helped to build this brand.

Our only marketing tool was the product, and we took everyone by surprise. Once the hairdressers actually started using it, they loved it, and it spread like wildfire across the US.

That was 15 years ago, when widespread sampling was unheard of. Companies wouldn’t give out samples, when we would give out full size bottles. This real engagement with consumers and hairdressers was a great way to market and helped me understand that you don’t need to spend millions of dollars for great results.

Haircare is a pretty niche market for an online retailer. How do you use that to your advantage?

Haircare may be more niche than other industries, but it is growing. Within the industry, there are so many different products for different hair types, with personalised products for different needs. I took advantage of this and found a gap in the market for a simple, multi-purpose product. By focusing on good quality, and building awareness through creative marketing techniques like sampling.

I also think there is a lot of scope to grow from a haircare product business. I’m creating a makeup line, hair extension line, and venturing into brushes and tools, making it a head to toe It’s a 10 experience, that encompasses the wider beauty market.

Tell me a bit about what you do at It’s a 10.

“Haircare may be more niche than other industries, but it is growing.”

As the founder and chief executive of It’s a 10. I am responsible for overseeing the running of the company and leading my team to success. I’m still very hands-on. I work with chemists to create the product to ensure what is being manufactured is the best quality.

My 35 years of experience as a hairdresser, using thousands of products on different types of hair, is also invaluable. It’s a 10 is named as such because when I test products, I rate them. I will send it back to the chemist and tell them what is missing and what to add, whether that is more volume or a different ingredient.

I am also involved in packaging and designing. This links to the product manufacturing role I have, because I ensure that the 10 benefits of the product that I worked on with the chemist are listed out in bullet points on the back of the bottles, to make it really simple for the consumer to understand exactly what the product is doing.

What is really key for me though, is leaning on the expertise of my wider team. In the past, I have taken on too many things myself, but I have now built a solid team who I can rely on, leveraging their skills and experiences.

How is It’s a 10 different to other haircare retailers?

The main difference is that we are one of the only female-owned independent professional haircare brands in the world. I bought out my partner back in 2017 and I am committed to the continued independent success of the brand.

We also ensure our product is multi-functional with 10 in 1 benefits. Brands produce dozens of products with single benefits and hard-to-follow claims, so I envisioned a line that was for everyone and delivered full, salon-quality results in just one bottle.

What gap in retail does It’s a 10 strive to address?

The gap in the UK market we can address is the lack of an inclusive product that is for all hair types. There is one product for dry hair, one for oily hair, and another for blonde hair, with too many products for different hair types and textures. We seek to address this by showing that our product is inclusive of all hair types.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector?

“The gap in the UK market we can address is the lack of an inclusive product that is for all hair types.”

The retail industry is facing some clear challenges, but not just in the UK, as there is global uncertainty. Consumers are more hesitant to spend and brands need to earn their trust if they are going to buy a product. With the onset of Brexit, we of course need to be mindful of shifting consumer behaviour and spending habits in the UK, but even if the going does get tough we know consumers still like to indulge in small treats, like a lipstick or a premium haircare product.

In more general terms, how is It’s a 10 addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

To earn the trust of consumers and convince them that they should use their spending power in these uncertain times, we are continuing to use the method rooted in the foundation of our business, which is mass sampling.

By building relationships with hair stylists and key influencers, we can ensure It’s a 10 is in the hands of experts. You can earn consumer support and trust from this, as the expert hairdressers who use the product, experiencing the benefits first-hand, will share this experience with their customers. We leverage salons and naturally get advocates for the brand, so that consumers can believe in and trust the product.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before It’s a 10

I was eight years old when I declared that I wanted to be a hairdresser, and by the time I was 16, I knew I also wanted to be an entrepreneur and salon owner. 35 years later here I am. I also had another company before starting It’s a 10, but this completely failed and I learnt some hard lessons very quickly.

Being a hairstylist for many years meant that I have been in the position of the very people I am trying to target with my business. I made a product that I wanted to use, and knew how to target my audience. I used the lessons I had learnt in the early years of my career and implemented them when I eventually rose up to chief executive.

Having that background really informed the way I ran my business, as I saw everything through the eyes of my audience. I knew what was missing in the market and envisioned solving these issues.

My main learning from my first business failing is that you cannot do everything yourself. I tried to do too much independently and had a separate vendor for each aspect of the business, so it was not cohesive and resulted in quality control issues. I knew when going into It’s a 10, I had to go to suppliers who had multiple services under one roof.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Getting enough time in the day to do everything I want to achieve, and spending quality time with my family.

And the most rewarding?

Seeing the product in people’s hands and them loving it. Having a Hispanic background myself, my main passion point was to create a diverse, revolutionary and inclusive multi-functional collection for all hair, so when I see a diverse range of people using the product and experiencing the benefits, that is the greatest reward.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Work smarter, not harder. Go where no one else goes, and stand out from the crowd. It’s also imperative to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer, and know what they like and how they want to be communicated with. Finally, never let go of that passion even in the hardest of times. Perseverance is key in this tumultuous industry, so never give in.

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