By GREGORY ZELLER //
Entrepreneur Lisa Abbey always had a nose for the niche, but the roots of her burgeoning beauty business are colored by experience.
A hair stylist with three decades of bobs, pixies and perms under her belt, all on Long Island, Abbey has also proven herself a creative risk-taker. The first two salons she opened, in 1989 and 1991, were located on the campuses of C.W. Post College (now LIU Post) and Hofstra University – targeted entrepreneurial thrusts that proved both clever and sustainable.
In 1999, eight years after she literally broke through a wall to build out her Hair Express salon on the roof of the Hofstra Student Center, Abbey sold her campus-based startups and took her talents to Mineola, where she opened two new professional salons.
Adding successful Aire Blow Dry Bars in Woodbury and Huntington, the entrepreneur had carefully, quite efficiently carved herself a niche in Long Island’s uber-busy beauty market, complete with the stylist’s No. 1 asset: a loyal following.
What may be her true lightbulb moment, however, was yet to come – courtesy of one of those loyal customers.
Her adventures in the beauty biz had educated Abbey thoroughly on the worst and best products – a carnitine crash course, a master’s degree in hair-care chemistry, a PhD in pH balance. She became expert in recommending products for specific hair types, and her customers caught on fast.
One day, a frazzled client called from the hair-care aisle of her local pharmacy: She was heading out of town, couldn’t haul the wholesale-sized specialty products Abbey had prescribed and needed some travel-size alternatives – so, what was best for her colored, keratin-treated ’do?
Unable to match the specialty products’ superior ingredients in a travel-friendly size, Abbey ultimately recommended the client buy some tiny, empty bottles and pour a few for the road. But this was “a pain in the butt,” and already the entrepreneur’s wheels were spinning.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t these great hair-care lines make travel sizes?’” Abbey told Innovate LI. “At that moment, I decided to create a line focused on to-go sizes and travel sizes – great quality in a small package, so my clients could have whatever they’d need wherever they’d go.”
With “the traveler in mind,” Abbey launched Long Beach-based Flygirl Beauty Brands LLC in March 2016. Now featuring three primary product lines – Fab On The Fly for women, Guy On The Fly for men and the new mousse-for-all Style On The Fly – the manufacturer/distributor is “really geared toward airports,” according to its founder and CEO, though practically speaking, just about everyone needs to freshen up on the fly.
“Every woman and every man in every aspect of life is on the go,” Abbey said. “Everyone is super-busy, running from work to pick up the kids and go out to dinner.”
Enter Flygirl Beauty Brands, which – true to Abbey’s do-it-yourself style – would not be satisfied with squirting other manufacturers’ formulas into tiny bottles. While there were many things she admired about top brands like Kérastase and Oribe and “I definitely wanted to emulate their ingredient technology,” the hair-care expert had a few ideas of her own.
“I love the quality of those ingredients, but I knew I could make [similar products] for less,” Abbey said. “So, we’ve been involved in the actual formulation process from Day One.”
That fresh formulation has occurred in partnership with American Culture, a Huntington Station-based, family-owned manufacturer of professional beauty products. That circa-2001 startup has collaborated with Flygirl on the development of “super-fantastic formulas” for nine proprietary hair-care products that, according to Abbey, offer the same benefits of the top brands in convenient travel sizes, and at “a really great price point.”
“We have replicated similar formulas,” Abbey said. “And we’re able to offer this high-end quality without the high-end price.”
The Flygirl line also adheres to several strict manufacturing principles, according to the CEO: The operation is “eco-friendly and cruelty-free” and only tests on humans, while largely avoiding harsh ingredients like sodium chloride, emphasizing recycled packaging materials and even offering gluten-free and vegan varieties.
“You’d be surprised how many people come in and ask if we have gluten-free products,” Abbey noted. “So, we’ve substituted vegetable protein (for wheat protein) in a lot of our products.”
The entrepreneur, who sold off her remaining salons in 2017 to focus exclusively on Flygirl, has added two third-party products to her travel-size line: a dry shampoo and a volume/texture spray, both manufactured by California-based private labeler Dreamline Beauty.
So far, the 11-product line is proving popular. In addition to online sales, Flygirl products grace shelves at five major U.S. airports in North Carolina, Denver and California. Abbey credits an association with California airport-marketing ace Trofie, which introduced a Flygirl travel kit as a promotional item last year.
Trofie, a print-and-media specialist expanding into high-end sundries, will prove a valuable partner as Flygirl soars into what Abbey describes as “an aggressive growth mode” – though of course, the founder will also look to move the ball herself.
Abbey is planning to attend the Airport Revenue News 2018 Revenue Conference & Exhibition next month in Florida, billed as the “largest gathering of airport decision-makers and concession executives” of any U.S. airport-retail show. The conference is a golden opportunity to “lock in our current retailers as permanent shelf space and make new inroads as well,” according to the CEO.
Meanwhile, Flygirl’s social media marketing and charitable donations – focused largely on nonprofits that “benefit women and girls,” Abbey noted – will continue. And the startup, which is “definitely in need of some capital funding to get to the next level,” will explore various investment options, including possible VC involvement or a small-business loan.
To both introduce new products and bulk up on-hand inventory – “Any one airport could turn over an additional hundred units a day, and we want to be prepared” – Abbey is eyeing as much as $150,000 in additional investments. To build up her staff, the CEO is applying to the Huntington office of the Workforce Development Institute for a training grant that will result in as many as six new marketing, sales and operations positions, Abbey said.
That’s a significant increase from what is currently a two-person show – a part-time social media director and Abbey, who “wear(s) all the other hats” – but if this entrepreneur has learned anything, it’s that even if you can cut hair, you can never cut corners.
“It’s a challenge for sure, launching a new brand,” Abbey said. “A lot of online marketing and the most channeling and networking, by far, of any other business I’ve started.
“But I’m up to the task.”
Flygirl Beauty Brands LLC
What’s It? Travel-size, high-quality hair and beauty products
Brought To You By: Stylish entrepreneur Lisa Abbey
All In: $200,000, with friends, family and satisfied customers backing Abbey’s personal $50,000 stake
Status: Smaller is better at five major airports (and counting)