How a hair care company went from a salon provider to a sanitation powerhouse

When AG Hair moved into its new, state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Coquitlam, B.C. two years ago, it was part of a plan to supercharge the expansion of its skincare line. capillaries to salons. in international markets. Europe was next on his list. Then COVID-19 hit.

Not only was European expansion suspended, but trade fairs in major markets in Canada and the United States were temporarily closed. Very few purchased hair products, so manufacturing was halted in mid-March, leaving most of the company’s 82 employees without work.

AG Hair could have waited until the pandemic was over, but instead decided to build on its entrepreneurial culture and take a sharp turn. It has started supplying hand sanitizers to frontline healthcare workers, to alleviate a global shortage.

“We realized there was a huge need for healthcare professionals, and we wanted to make a difference and be able to provide them with the products they needed,” said Graham Fraser, CEO of AG Hair.

AG Hair received approvals from Canada and the United States a week after applying for the necessary licenses to make disinfectant, and produced samples to show to local authorities within 48 hours.

AG Hair’s Coquitlam plant has turned to manufacturing hand sanitizer (Photograph by Alana Paterson)

“This rapid response time and the fact that we have cleared all of Health Canada’s regulatory hurdles have shown [the local health authorities] that we were a partner they could trust and someone they could rely on to deliver the products they needed, ”says Fraser.

Within a month, the company began distributing the products, first to the healthcare industry, then to consumers on its own website and on Amazon. About 10 percent of AG Hair’s hand sanitizer production also went to people in need, as reported by organizations such as United Way.

Parallel 49 Brewing Company is also using AG Hair’s manufacturing facility in Coquitlam to produce its own blend of liquid hand sanitizer for frontline healthcare and emergency workers, in partnership with the Government of Colombia. British.

Fraser thanks his team for their energy and creativity in bringing hand sanitizer production to life and for helping get the AG Hair staff back to work.

“We realized we had an opportunity. . . And then it became this incredible, almost warlike mentality and collaboration with our owners, our management team and our employees of saying, “How are we going to get through this? Fraser remembers. “I think our success is a testament to the kind of people we have and the entrepreneurial spirit that drives us to pursue whatever paths we have, to understand how we can make the products and to get there.”

AG Hair’s commitment to investing in future growth is a big part of what makes it a Best Managed Company, says Nicole Coleman, Partner at Deloitte and Co-Head of its Best Managed Program in British Columbia.

“Capability and innovation are very much in this business,” says Coleman, who is also the AG Hair coach at Deloitte. “I don’t think they could pivot so quickly if they weren’t so strategic and had the internal capabilities to do it.”

The manufacturing plant was a big investment, but Coleman says it has already paid dividends.

“They were looking to the future with a strategic plan in mind about future growth and how they could develop, rather than just focusing on the day-to-day,” she says. “The best-run companies always push the boundaries and are aware of planning for the future.”

AG Hair was founded in Vancouver in 1989 by hairstylist John Davis and graphic designer Lotte Davis. The husband and wife team began bottling hair products in their basement and selling them directly to salons in the back of a station wagon.

The company eventually transferred its manufacturing off-site to a third party. One day John went to see the operations and was surprised to see salt being poured into the mixture. Although he was told that salt is commonly used as a thickener, he disliked the potential side effects of dry skin and hair.

It was at this point that John decided that the company would oversee its own manufacturing. “With this experience, John also became an expert in product development,” says Fraser, who joined the company in 2000 as director of sales.

After working for more than two decades at PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, Fraser was eager to work for a smaller, more nimble company where he believed he could help make a difference.

“It was perfect because I was able to bring a lot of structure and process that I learned into these organizations, but I also learned a lot about being an entrepreneur from John and Lotte: that feeling of “urgency, the decision-making process, the must get things done, get things done and seize opportunities,” he said.

Fraser has been instrumental in the expansion of AG Hair in the United States and internationally, including Australia, Taiwan, and Central and South America. A portion of her sales goes to One Girl Can, a charity founded by Lotte that provides schooling, education and mentoring for girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Fraser is also overseeing the development of new trending products, including a new deep conditioning hair mask made with 98% plant and natural ingredients. The hand sanitizer spray and gel will be the latest addition to the company’s product line.

“We don’t see the demand [for hand-sanitizing products] go away, ”he said. “As isolation policies begin to be lifted, people are going to need forms of security and protocols to resume their normal lives and jobs. We see that there will be a need for these types of products in the long run. “

This article will appear in print in the June 2020 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the title, “Eliminate the Problems.” Subscribe to the monthly printed magazine here.

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