We met Megan less than year after launching The Hair Nerds. She reached out to ask our opinion of a professional product line she had just created that was geared towards salon’s youngest clients. After trying the Hot Tot Hair Care products on the #HairBabies, we were hooked. Wondering what exactly it takes to start a product line, we decided to ask Megan and find out how to get her job.
Coming from a background in social work, what was your Ah-ha moment about jumping over to the beauty industry?
The idea for Hot Tot was born in 2009 shortly after my son, as I was mixing baby lotion and pomade to give him a small curl on top of his head. I was surprised by the number of moms who would stop my family to inquire about my son’s hairdo while we were out and about. After no less than 50 random interactions, I jokingly told my husband that someone would be brilliant to create an infant hair product (with no intention of being that "someone"). I had just quit my job and was excited to be a stay-at-home mom.
The inquires kept coming and my husband continuously encouraged me to pursue product development. I started going through the motions with no real intention of developing a product. Around the same time I stumbled upon an article that outlined the toxins in common children’s products. Outraged and shocked, I became motivated to develop something that appealed to moms like me (combining natural ingredients with luxurious components and a swoon-worthy scent).
Within 12 hours of sending my first (homemade) press release, I received a sample request from Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. Four months later, we were featured as their August 2011 "Crush of the Month". Seeing my products in a magazine was the ah-ha moment for me. From then on, I became completely obsessed with all things Hot Tot.
After seeing a need in the industry and deciding to become a manufacturer, what was step one toward your goals?
Most companies don’t like to talk about who and where their products are made though I don’t fully understand why. My products were designed specifically for my unique criteria (children’s fine hair without toxins or skin irritants) by one of the industry’s leading formulators. I found him after receiving a sample of a high-end skin care product at a luxury department store.
After pushing pretty hard, I was able to identify who made the products. I contacted the same manufacturer to inquire if they were interested in working with me and found them to be a good fit. They make several popular (luxury) skin care lines and are known for natural products. I have been working with them for two years.
I started out with a small private label company who agreed to tweak their standard formulas to adhere to my ingredient restrictions. This was a good option for me in the beginning, as the minimum runs were much lower (and thus less expensive).
I moved to a facility that does custom formulations after our Pregnancy & Newborn feature since it helped me feel more secure about investing a much larger amount of money into my concept. Doing so elevated my brand by providing a much higher quality product.
During the early stages, did you ever reach out to stylist/manufacturers in the beauty industry to help guide or mentor you and/or how were those relationships formed?
Right away. Prior to doing so, however, I did a lot of research on different ingredients to understand which ones were suitable and those that should be omitted.
I consulted with a few dermatologists to identify ingredients they advised their patients with sensitive skin to avoid, followed European cosmetic guidelines (which are far stricter than those in the U.S.) and read anything I could find on healthy personal care products.
Finding a manufacturer was tough, as many were weary of working with me because my budget was limited and I had no industry experience. When I found a few I believed to be a good fit, I provided them with a detailed list and asked for feedback on my ingredient preferences.
Samples were distributed to a group of stylists who also had children to test the products over time and that is how our formulas came to be 🙂 Stylists have always played a key role in the evolution of Hot Tot 🙂
When making the decision to go on ABC’s show Shark Tank, what was your biggest hope/fear about presenting your concept to the group?
The opportunity to appear on Shark Tank fell in my lap, as producers were scouting for interesting baby & children’s brands and someone suggested they look into Hot Tot. I had to go through the same application process as every other contestant though had a slight advantage since I didn’t have to wait in a long casting line. The process of getting on the show had a lot of steps. I didn’t expect it to pan out but kept moving forward since the opportunity was too good to potentially pass up.
I was really worried I’d be caught off guard, confronted on camera about an issue I hadn’t considered. I didn’t want to look foolish or unprepared and was concerned that I might destroy my beloved business and / or embarrass my loved ones. I did my best to prepare and was fully aware that I hadn’t sold enough product to impress anyone (15k in 15 months). Regardless, I knew that the outcome could also be great. I walked into the Shark Tank with an open heart.
I figured my chances of having a positive outcome were much higher if I was honest and authentic. I was prepared for the outcome, regardless of what the sharks thought. The show has brought more goodness into my life than I ever dreamed. It has brought recognition to my brand and an increased awareness of professional children’s hair products.
Shark Tank gave Hot Tot the opportunity to take its first real steps forward. It is growing into something wonderful. I am a proud and grateful mama watching my business baby grow up
How would you describe the process of creating a product line in 5 steps?
1. Research what other brands are on the market and determine what differentiates them from you.
2. Refine your concept so it is innovative and unique. You should be able to clearly explain how your brand fits into the industry and why people will purchase your product. After you’ve secured the necessary components to get started (trademark, website, etc.) talk to anyone who will listen. Outside opinions will help you perfect your concept and solve problems you may have not considered. Sometimes the harshest criticism leads to the biggest advances.
3. Build a team that can help execute your vision. This includes designers (website, branding, etc.), packaging vendors, and product manufacturers. Find those who believe in you and love your concept. Doing so will enable you to surround yourself with good people, a key component for a real shot at success.
4. Launch your product! Identify those who can help you spread the word and share as much as you can. Be prepared to give a lot of free product away. People won’t be ready to buy it until they know they like it. This usually happens from a free sample or from a credible review (anything from a blogger to a glossy editorial helps with this).
5. Hang in there (this is the hard part). The salon industry is ultra-competitive and most won’t initially get what you’re trying to do. Rejection is a rite of passage. If your concept is good and you’re passionate you will eventually find your way. I feel like this is just starting to happen for me after 2.5 years of persistence. Be so good they can’t ignore you
What would be the one piece of advice you would give someone wanting to start their own brand?
If it were easy, everyone would do it. A friend and industry-mentor once said this to me in a moment of frustration and self-doubt. Building a brand is much harder than I imagined it would be. The process takes a tremendous amount of time, money, and connections.
I don’t feel suited to give too much advice on how to achieve success because I realize the road ahead is still very long for me. Failure is inevitable without patience, tenacity, and passion that most will perceive as insanity.
What has been your most memorable moment so far in your career?
There have been a few:
– Seeing my product in a magazine while in line at the grocery store was the first real high point I experienced. To this day, I still show the cashier as I’m buying every available copy. I’m a big nerd and just can’t help myself
– Getting an investment from billionaire Mark Cuban was a game changer for me, as he plays on winning teams and saw potential in me as a leader and Hot Tot as a concept. My partnership with him has boosted my confidence and provided some much needed credibility; people take me a lot more seriously since he and I began working together.
– Attending Oribe’s Backstage event in Miami. I always felt a bit insecure about the fact that I am a social worker selling kid’s hair products (yes, I see the humor in this ). While at Idealogue, I sat in a room with 400 salon owners. I realized that I have never felt more at home in a professional setting. Though my presence in the industry doesn’t make logical sense, I concluded that I am right where I’m supposed to be.
I also got to meet Oribe who is my hair hero (with the fab Hair Nerd, Carrie!)! I left feeling very empowered and inspired to continue working to make Hot Tot the first professional children’s brand to change the landscape of the salon industry. It was a really profound experience for me.
What inspired your involvement in New York Kids Fashion Week? How did this partnership occur?
I fell in love with petiteParade- NY Kid’s Fashion Week the first time I saw it. A year before my team attended I asked an acquaintance if she might make an introduction to the event’s organizers. She politely told me that my brand was too small (which in all honesty, it was) but I contacted the event’s organizers regardless. I explained how mainstream product lines play an important role in fashion and would love to make similar magic in the children’s arena.
I was invited to bring my team but had to decline at first since I knew my Shark Tank episode would soon air (was on stand-by for many months and wanted to make sure I was well prepared). After my episode was broadcast, I let them know I was ready to come. The collaboration is a great fit for both parties, as we are all really passionate about kid’s fashion.
Each season gets better than the last. My heart always skips a beat when I see my artists styling hair to accompany an outfit that Roberto Cavalli (or someone equally talented) created. Kid’s Fashion Week has become a bi-yearly reminder that my dream is coming true. I always leave NYC feeling inspired after working with so many creative people.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered?
In the beginning, people assumed I was a social worker / mom who had made hair gel in my kitchen sink (never the case). This prevented them from taking the time to listen.
Those that do tend to understand my theory and approach though it is still difficult to orient an entire industry to the idea that upscale (adult-focused) salons should carry a kid’s line to cater to their clients who have kids (birth through ten). People are resistant to change, even when it makes sense. New people and ideas have to prove themselves.
Looking back on your journey, would you change the way you did anything?
Not a single thing. I have made lots of costly mistakes though they have helped me grow smarter, stronger and much more savvy. That which does not kill us…
Words to live by…
Make passion your master, allow possibility to feed your soul.
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