She Makes $4 Million a Year Turning a Taboo into a Spa-Like Experience

Head lice is gross to think about, and an embarrassment to parents whose kids bring it home, even though it is common. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year in the United States, six to 12 million infestations occur among children three to 11 years of age.

If your kid gets lice, your most immediate option is over-the-counter treatment in the form of medicated shampoos. You could also try heated air. But misdiagnosis is common so it’s hard to know what to do when.

“I wanted to destigmatize head lice,” Hair Fairies founder Maria Botham said of her 19-year-old company. “I figured the way to do that was build a brand that was fun for the kids and kind of spa-like for the parents.”

The company does not disclose exact revenue figures, but confirmed that its annual gross is now above $4 million–and Botham has some wise words for anyone entering a business where something considered gross is at its heart.

Botham has semi-competition in natural product lines like Fairy Tales, which sells the product in salons, and in salons that specialize in children’s services including lice removal, offering a variety of products. Since the company’s inception in 1998, Botham has, counter to typical founder’s goals, turned away acquisition and franchise offers. She has an ethos that she believes drives the organic word of mouth, which in turn boosts the SEO that led to the producers of Ellen and The Dr. Oz Show easily finding her upon a brief Google Search.

If your business idea requires engaging a customer base over an unpleasant topic, try these six successful strategies.

Destigmatize starting with a logo that is memorable

Botham’s first step was a logo that looked fun for the kids, something that would catch their young eyes when driving by a location or walking through a mall. Hair Fairies’ distinct logo shows an illustrated fairy with a magic wand aloft above one boy and one girl. Everyone is happy, bright, and clean.

Choose your location–even a pricey one–wisely

As more products and services going on-demand makes siting in high end retail areas more costly, it’s tempting not to invest in a particular demographic until you grow. Don’t wait to open a desirable location. “After I developed the logo and the product line,” Botham said, “it was about finding a location where the parents could go, near shopping and great restaurants.”

Remember that any kids’ product or service has to be attractive for parents, including working ones
Botham sought to make trips to her salon pleasant for the parents. Almost immediately after opening she got the feedback she wanted: “When they walked in they felt like they were walking into a high-end hair salon, rather than a clinical setting.” The salons also offer some after-hours and weekend appointments, a concession for working moms and dads.

Pay attention to consumer trends to meet demands, even if it means developing your own product

A shift in public desire away from anything toxic moved Hair Fairies to develop its own line of all natural products. It was investment in research and development, but the core concept was “something the parents could trust. It was symbiotic with the logo and brand,” Botham said.

Don’t understimate the buzz of happy customers

Of course, Hair Fairies benefits from the relative silence on the taboo topic of a child’s head suddenly, inexplicably infested, to stand out in internet searches, but it’s word of mouth that magnetized and grew an enthusiastic clientele. The company only recently retained Ox Media, after organic SEO led to national media exposure on mom-popular daytime television talk shows Ellen and Dr. Oz.

CEO & Founder Of Hairfaires, Maria Botham, and Dr. Oz

Learn to say no, even to investors

Fort Worth, Texas became the fourteenth location when it opened earlier this month, joining 13 other stores in Connecticut, Texas, Oregon, Washington, North Carolina, Georgia, and Illinois. Along the way, Botham has turned down acquisition and franchise offers to keep quality customer service. Making people feel welcome and unashamed is what keeps the referrals coming. Botham said, “You can only do so much on the SEO side if the product isn’t there to support it.”

By Julie Walmsley| INC