Erica Harriss is a busy mom and the founder of Saving Grace Beauty, a company she began with an invention she created at home during naptime. Searching for a colored hair powder to cover roots and absorb oil, she started mixing products in her kitchen, consulted a chemist, and now offers the company’s flagship Saving Grace Hair Powder to other women looking to save time and money between salon visits.
Why did you start your business?
I graduated with a degree in public relations and a minor in business. I was a PR director at the National Children’s Cancer Society before I started Saving Grace. I had quit working for a while to have babies. I was just doing some consulting when I started looking for a product like this. I couldn’t find it, so I started ordering ingredients, mixing stuff up in my kitchen to find something that would work for me.
When I was younger, I had more naturally blond hair, and I would put baby powder in my hair to cover roots and absorb oil. But, as I got older, it was making my darker roots have more of a gray look. I thought, “If they had this power in a color, that would be great!” I scoured the Internet and couldn’t find anything. I was mixing my own at home, and I started handing it out places. People were telling me they really liked it and wanted more for their friends.
A salon I had never been to called and said a few people had come in talking about the product. They wanted to know if they could carry it for the holiday season, since the product covers up root growth. The salon was so busy during the holiday season, they were having to turn away customers who needed their hair colored. They were hoping that the product could help them retain customers, since they could tell them, “We can’t fit you in, but the product will help you through until we can.”
That’s how we started. I don’t have a background in beauty, so I do have to consult with a chemist when things get over my head. From mixing it up in the kitchen, we’ve gone on to build additional manufacturing and office space.
How did you get the funds to get going?
We funded it all personally. We started very small. We were ordering very small amounts of stuff at the beginning. Like, only 100 containers at a time. As far as a business model goes, we were paying the most at the very beginning because we were purchasing on such a small scale. I was literally printing the labels on Avery stickers from OfficeMax. But, that allowed us to listen to customers and make changes, because we hadn’t ordered large quantities of things. We slowly built it out from there by keeping the money in the business.
Also, when we were starting up, a lot of the services that can add up super-quickly were in-kind donations to us. When I met with an attorney, he donated all his time with us. When I met with an accountant, she initially donated all her time. I had helped out the guy who created our website maybe five years ago with some consulting work, so he gave it to us at his cost. We had a big help network to start.
Have you heard of business credit?
Yes. I have a credit card that’s devoted to the business. We attempt to never carry a balance. As soon as we started the business, I opened a bank account under the business name, got checks for that, got a debit card, and pulled out a credit card. It just seemed easier to keep everything separate. I knew it was better to start out right than to try to figure it out later.
Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
Time management. You are never closed. I’m also a mom, so it’s hard. It’s also a benefit, since we’re mostly Internet-based and I can work at night. Though, I do have calls and meetings that I try to schedule on certain days when my little one is at preschool.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
I’m not a huge risk-taker. I have a fear of debt. I like to keep a good amount of product on hand so we can continue to maintain and fulfill orders. We’ve had to pass up a few opportunities because we couldn’t get product out on time. But, I try to forecast things out to ensure we’re going to be able to pay for everything when the statement’s due.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
No, we don’t. That’s typical of the industry. We do offer terms on our end to salons or when we do sales on sites like zulily.
What’s the biggest mistake you made early on?
Sometimes it takes a little bit longer to do things the right way. Not taking shortcuts is much smarter. Think big from the beginning.
We have a brush that we offer. We were ordering it from U.S. vendor who only had a set number and can’t get it anymore. We contacted her supplier, who can’t get it anymore. From the get-go, had I realized this, I wouldn’t have ever used this vendor. We’ve had this happen with other ingredients, like powder colors. It’s hard not to have control over things like that.
What’s the smartest thing you did in your first year?
We treat people really well. If someone messages us and says, “I ordered this light brown color, but I think I might need blond. How blond is it?” we would message them back and say, “We’re going to send you out a blond, keep both and see which one you like best.” Customer service is something that matters here. Because we’re small, we’re able to respond to everything, and every invoice that goes out gets some kind of human touch.
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
Seeing your visions come to reality. Also, when I first started, I was handing the product out to people I knew. As our network started growing beyond the little circles around us, we started getting emails from people who we didn’t know saying things like, “I purchased the product, and this is a game-changer for me!” That was awesome. Your friends and people you know are probably going to be a little biased toward you. But, when I have complete strangers take the time out to go on our site and send a message saying they love the product when there’s no benefit to them to do so, that really makes my day!
What does the future look like for your business?
We are launching four new hair products in the next week or so that will double our product line. We’re also looking at doing some non-traditional colors, like pink for breast cancer awareness.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
I would ask, “Does your business solve a problem?” Our business solves a problem, so that has helped because people seek us out rather than us having to sell people on something. I feel like I’m helping people because it solves the problem and we offer the product at a really fair price.