Nadj Villaver | ExecutiveChronicles.com
Who says only women can run a hair salon business? In an industry mostly dominated by women, one man stands out – Ralph Oliver Layco.
The 27-year old businessman and marketing consultant had been exposed to the entrepreneurial world at a very young age through his father’s steel company, Oliver Doors Builders and Supply. In fact, his father started the company from scratch in the backyard of a bahay kubo with her mother when he was just a newborn baby. While he was growing up, his father brought him to his manufacturing plant and showed him the value of providing livelihood to people.
“Call it brainwashing but he consistently insinuated to me since my elementary education that I can make things happen too, and that I will particularly be in Marketing because the company would need a marketing function when it grows. He was victorious, I took a major in Marketing when I was in college,” Ralph Layco says.
The BSBA major in Marketing graduate of UP Visayas was later on awarded as the the #1 Most Oustanding Marketing Student in 2009 by the Philippine Marketing Association. As a student achiever, Ralph received job offers from major companies. But he faced a crossroad in his career and personal life when his mother passed away because of cancer. Ralph then decided to come home to his hometown and start his first venture on business with zero interest.
“I was young, aggressive and careless.” This is how Ralph describes the first few years of his business career.
Inspired by Mark Zuckerberg and other young entrepreneurs featured in various magazines, Ralph thought he will take the same path.
At the age of 21, he opened his first business, Macho Mucho Salon For Men, in a newly opened commercial complex on 2010. If you’re wondering why Ralph chose a men’s salon for his first business, Ralph says it all started with a personal itch.
“As a milennial man with a more defined approach towards hairstyle, I was looking for a barber or a salon that is exactly what I need; not a salon that is feminine, not a regular barbershop that is backward. Macho Mucho as a concept was designed to serve men with hair grooming services, either barber or salonstyled in a masculine environment. I solved my problem, and solved men’s problem similar to mine and happen to earn from it.”
However, it closed after one year and lost almost a million pesos
“It took me four years of 3 consecutive failed businesses and more than a million pesos in losses to realize that I needed to evaluate where my strength and weaknesses lie. Successful entrepreneurs are not know-it-alls.
I realized one of the first steps you need to take upon the entrepreneurial youth is stern self-awareness. Do you fit well in operations or marketing and the creative side? Are you the logical one with a keen passion towards internal structure or are you focused on product creation, culture and vision? I thought an entrepreneur needed to know it all. A period where I took inventory of my strengths and a rigorous analysis of self-awareness made me realize that I was outside-facing. Thus, not all companies can thrive on a CEO or OWNER as a messiah mentality. Companies thrive by collaborations, by partnerships and by being of service.”
The Return of Macho Mucho… and more!
Ralph did not let his first heartbreak hinder his dreams but instead used this as a learning key to achieve his goals. From a barber salon in 2010 to most sought-after haircare products in the retail industry.
Here’s some takeaway from Executive Chronicles’ interview with Ralph Layco:
EC: How do you define success?
Ralph: I have a very awful unconventional approach to success perhaps with my spiritual nature. Success is when you’ve lived life fully on your own terms, when you are able to express your talents and brought them to use and made art with it that creates a dent, and when you have deep, lasting relationships with the people who matter. Nothing feels like success to me than having fully and creatively lived.
EC: What’s the top 5 advice that you can give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
1) Know yourself brutally — strengths, weaknesses, inner motivations, intentions. Taking inventory of who you truly are can save you money, years and heavy drama.
2) Be ready to work hard. Self-belief is just the beginning and very elementary. Hard work is the real deal.
3) Reframe failures. They’re opportunities in disguise.
4) Want fast success? Then appreciate the art of frugal growth.
5) Be allergic to ‘normal’, ‘mediocre’ and ‘so-so.’ Mediocrity never moves people.
EC: Among the industries, why did you choose the hair care industry?
Ralph: Never in my dreams did I think I would end up in the haircare industry. I am just a very observant person. If I see there’s a gap to fill, I become very passionate towards solving it. Then I build a business on top of it. You don’t have to be a chemist to produce haircare products or a stylist or a barber to start a salon. You just need to have deep empathy towards your audience and the frustrations you’re solving. Breakthrough brands are built not on an intention to sell, they’re built after a solved consumer insight. It took me 4 offshoot business additions to end up with the HairFood Co brand. I started a barber salon, then after learning the need for a stronger brand for hair growing products I started Crown & Glory. Knowing that not only men are suffering from hairloss, I opened a whole line of hairgrowers for both men and women. Realizing that hairgrowers are not enough as more people need natural solutions and realizing there’s no strong brand in the category, I pivoted again and created an umbrella brand, the HairFood Co.
Pivoting, redirecting the business, changing business models for me are strategic if there’s a bigger market that asks for it. Like what Victor Hugo said, “Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come”
EC: What were the challenges you encountered?
Ralph: The biggest challenge is to assume a new role as a product developer in a personal care industry. I encouraged myself to be exposed in a wide range of local and international haircare brands, visiting international expos one after another, learn from champion brands that have international success, seeing patterns and themes that are consistent, walking in different haircare grocery aisles and researching about the upcoming consumer trends. The information was more than a handful. It took self-belief, guts, and time to be more comfortable with the industry. I’m already at the point where I discuss scientific terms when I’m working with the chemist of our manufacturer and understand the process of manufacturing.
Another challenge is my age. I started my entrepreneurial journey when I was 21 years old. I was an all-knowing kid, ready to take on the world, defying gravity. However, I was an honest novice in business that I had to go through expensive mistakes. I was working with my team who was generally older than me. So I had to step up most of the time with the solutions, even though I was a kid inside just winging it!
EC: What are the lessons you learned when you opened your business?
Ralph: I learned the art of timing as time went by. Others succeed faster than some people but I learned that the reason why we feel bad is because we compare our growth to other people. Our development is personal. You become better not by being superior to another but by being superior to yourself.
Another lesson was self-awareness. I took the Strengthsfinder test and the results shook my core beliefs. In my top 5 strengths, none were analytical. They were all about Innovation and Creativity. I was completely heartbroken. That was a pivotal point of my life when I had to accept my flaws, that I might never be good in numbers, structure and operations. But it’s true, I was never good in that. Then I opened space to embracing my strengths. I was never the same again after that. I partnered with my sister now who sits as CEO of the company. I sat as the Chief Creative guy, working on marketing, communication, sales and R&D. Results were 10x better.
EC: What are your strategies to cope with the retail industry?
Ralph: Here are three strategies I can share with your readers:
1) Speak to your brand truth – Identify the purpose of your brand, why it exists. This goes beyond profits. It’s about its central role to help your target market. When you’re clear about your truth, then you’ll never be a product judged by price but a brand that breathes and that resonates to your target market’s lives as long as you remain current.
2) Breakthrough value proposition – What’s your difference to your target market? If you’re not a me-too in the industry, you’ll have a huge space to thrive in because you’ll be perceived in your game as not in comparison to your competitor but as a singular brand with its clearcut advantage. With HairFood Co, it’s about having brick and mortar stores that are unique to the haircare industry, when others are selling in huge retail stores. Since the natural product industry is relatively new, education is important. We have ambassadors that sell our products and answers to them.
3) Be the fastest to innovate – In the past 5 years, we’ve seen the demise of huge brands or brands sliding to a huge dip because of failure to innovate. Myspace, Twitter, Nokia, and more. To win in your arena, you need to be consistently current to the changing behavior and demands of your customers. Don’t fall in love with your ideas that much, fall in love with your customers.