Jane Wurwand

Founder, Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institution

Fans of the Dermalogica skin care line (and there are many, including countless beauty magazine editors and celebs such as Katie Holmes) already know founder Jane Wurwand’s philosophy – when you put the health of your skin first, its beauty follows.

But what they might not know is how Wurwand went from sweeping floors at a beauty salon in the small English town where she grew up, to leading the company that today holds the Number One position in professional skin care products in key markets worldwide, is sold in about 20,000 locations and employs about 820 people.

Meet Wurwand, who also founded The International Dermal Institute (www.dermalinstitute.com), as she shares her riveting story at the Ladies Who Launch Live event in Los Angeles on June 24.

Two Budget Airline Tickets and Big Dreams

“I emigrated in January of 1983 (from England) and joined my then-boyfriend-now-husband, Raymond, who had been here for about six months. We came here with a suitcase each on a budget airline, hoping we could figure out some way to make a living.”

It All Started with Sales Trouble

“Raymond had taken a job as sales rep for a company that sold equipment to the skin care industry. It was a big step down for him – he was previously a top marketing executive with a company in South Africa. He was selling really advanced skin care equipment in the U.S. and couldn’t sell a piece of it – he couldn’t sell it because no one knew how to use it.”

First: Offering Classes for Skin Care Therapists

“He said to me, ‘I need you to come to our showroom and do classes,’ as I was a licensed instructor. So we mailed out a simple letter and invited skin care therapists to come. Seventy people sent in their money and the place could only seat 70. We went six months doing a class every Monday, and we started selling a lot of equipment. Word of mouth spread… students were saying, ‘We love watching you do the facial. Can’t you teach us to do the facial?’

“We put together the business plan (for the school that became the International Dermal Institute) while driving home from San Diego. We opened the school in Marina Del Ray in 1983. Students were saying, ‘We love these techniques, but we need a product.” We sat down at our kitchen table and asked ourselves, ‘How would we go about developing a product? We’re not chemists.'”

Second: Convincing a Chemist to Create Products

“I interviewed over 70 chemists… some would literally say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ over the phone. My sister had job with Max Factor, and I wangled the name of their chief chemist out of her. He agreed to meet me, and I realized he was one of the top chemists in the country. He said that he couldn’t do it, but from that meeting, we came to a chemist who would make (the beginnings of the Dermalogica product line) and we could pay him a percentage of first year sales.”

Panic Turns Into Payoff

“Then a great thing happened… about a month before (the product launch), the chemist said, ‘I want you to pay me up front.’ At the time we went into a panic, and we scratched together the money to pay him. But it became the very best thing that could have happened that we owned the products free and clear. The line took off like a rocket.”

Launch of a $1500 Product Line

“We took a bold approach. We told salons, ‘You have to take the whole line. We’ll provide training free of charge, but you have to buy $1500 worth of product up front and we can’t ship until March.’ We hoped we would open 10 accounts, which would give us $15,000, which was what it had cost us to create the products. We opened 10 accounts in the first three hours, and opened 38 accounts at the trade show (the Long Beach Show run by the Long Beach Hairdressers Guild). We were off to the races. That was January through March of 1986.”

Leading the Race, but Looking Behind

“I figured we would be bigger, sooner, easier. The thing that fuels us is we’re not that interested in the amount of business we’re generating. We’re much more interested in the amount we left on the table. I’m always watching the companies in the number two, number three, number four positions, because they took business that we didn’t get.”

Her Biggest Entrepreneurial Influence Wasn’t an Entrepreneur

“My mother was widowed at 38 years old. There’s an expression that you have the childhood you have, to prepare you for the life you’re going to lead. She was a nurse – hard-working, focused, the least flakey person you’ll ever meet in your life. She taught us that you should commit to what you’re going to do and do it. Get focused and follow through. She did it through needs and necessity. She couldn’t raise four children and not follow through. That’s so applicable to business.”

Say What You’re Going to Do, Do What You Say

“Whether it’s a plumber or a pair of shoes you’re going to buy, there are so many people who don’t follow through or follow through on the brand promise of their business. If you just follow through on what you say you’re going to do, you’ll be surprised how well your business can do. Operate a total ‘no-flake zone.’ So many people are so inconsistent and unreliable – you can shine by just being ethical, with character and reliable!”

Greatest Success

“The thing I’m most proud of accomplishing with Dermalogica is that we have put so many women (who own salons and carry the Dermalogica product line) into a position where they can be financially secure doing what they love. When I travel, women come up to me, whether in it’s in Helsinki or Ho Chi Minh City and say, ‘I never thought I could be in this position – you’ve made it possible.’ And I say, ‘No, you have made it possible. We helped you.’ We teach classes on how to run your business. We teach salons about how to be successful.”

Greatest Challenge

“The biggest challenge is that as the company has grown, it’s no longer just Ray and I that can charge over the hill. Now we have to bring the whole battalion. There’s only so much time you can commit to getting everyone on board. If you’re a leader, you need to be able to make the call, make the decision. Management is about managing processes – leadership is about leading people. There are so many people in business who can’t or won’t make decisions. They always need more information.”

Words of Advice: Ask Yourself, What Will You Do?

“Find the thing that will get you up at 6 a.m. and keep you up until 11 at night. (Dermalogica) has allowed me the opportunity to go around the world and speak to women who have the same backgrounds as me and tell them, ‘You can do this. C’mon!’ You just have to be focused and hardworking enough to get it. It’s not what can you do, it’s what will you do?”

Words of Advice: Cutthroat Vs. Caring

“As women, we have a nurturing side of tending and befriending people. It weakens our resolve when we have to manage a company and make hard decisions – whether we have to let people go or reorganize.

“When I have a difficult position to take in the company, I keep in mind the entire group of people in the company. I have to watch out for them. I have 800 people counting on me to make the right decisions. I can’t worry about the one person (who needs to be let go in order to deliver on the bigger commitment to the company) no matter how I personally feel. That makes me feel OK about making hard decisions.”

Words of Advice: Give Your Skin Care Mentality a Makeover

“The key thing is from a skin care point of view – it’s not about appearance of your skin, it’s about health of the skin. If you just focus on appearance, your skin won’t look great. Get into a skin care program and use it religiously. Go with one product line and stick with it. Skin care is not like makeup where you can combine products from various companies. Combining can lead to chemical reactions and you’re not going to get the best results.”