By: Merilyn E. Ulrich,
Contributing Editor/Senior Staff Writer
The Hair Society
Sy Sperling is the Chairman of The Hair Society. The following “One on One” interview will be the first of many future contributions that we can look forward to from Sy. His expertise is invaluable and your membership will benefit greatly from his input.
We are excited to officially introduce you to our Chairman and we believe that this is a great way to start. Please enjoy getting to know this amazing man because just as he changed the face of the hair restoration industry and the many lives that he touched; we believe that he will do the same for all Hair Society members and your individual businesses.
Who is Sy Sperling?
As Contributing Editor and Senior Staff Writer for The Hair Society I was recently asked to interview Sy Sperling. The idea that I would be speaking to a man that even I knew of via his many commercials and fame as the founder and President of The Hair Club For Men was daunting……or at least I thought it would be. I must admit I was bit terrified to be talking to someone whom we all consider a celebrity, both in our industry as well as the worldwide, and I had no idea what to expect. No, he’s not George Clooney but coming from my generation, Sy was and is a true Icon.
To my relief and great pleasure, Sy Sperling is one of the nicest, smartest and most interesting people I have had the pleasure speaking with, and by the end of our interview, I felt that I not only possessed a lot more knowledge about the Hair Restoration Industry but that I had made a new friend.
I hope that I can impart to every reader what I learned about Sy and why I now know exactly who Sy Sperling is…..an innovator, a brilliant business man and most of all, a decent, kind and wonderful human being.
What follows is my conversation with Sy who gave so generously of his time which is saying a lot for a man who continues to be active as a leader in his field and a humanitarian in his personal life.
H.S. Sy, tell me about your current life in Boca Raton, Florida?
S.S. Since I sold my business 15 years ago, I consider myself semi-retired.
H.S. Do you live in Boca year round?
S.S. We live in Boca for seven months out of the year, and when it gets too hot we live in British Columbia for five months.
H.S. What activities do you participate in these days?
S.S. I am a philanthropist, I do volunteer work, continue to research and keep myself informed about the Hair Restoration Industry and I am what I call a ‘Week Trader’ as opposed to a ‘Day Trader’. I make investments.
H.S. What Charities are you involved with?
S.S. I contribute to a charity in California that helps to feed the hungry and the poor, and I am very active in my Temple, Temple Bat Yam, where my wife Susan and I have a school named for us. It’s called the ‘Sy and Susan Sperling School of Judaic Studies’. We are very proud of that and of all of our endeavors. Through my ongoing studies, I consider myself a Jewish historian.
H.S. To what or whom do you attribute your success?
S.S. First of all, my wife Susan is my ‘coach’ and greatest supporter. You must have a wife who stands behind you every step of the way and encourages you. She does that for me. I also believe in a philosophy that Branch Rickey (of baseball fame) stated via the quote “ “Luck is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.”
H.S. Tell us about your background.
S.S. I was born in the South Bronx and grew up the son of a plumber. I was working shining shoes in Times Square when I was eleven years old and knew that I wanted to be something more. As I grew up I joined the Air Force and, attended college through their program. Among the many courses that I studied I was particularly interested in philosophy, political science, history, and public speaking.
H.S. How did you first form The Hair Club For Men and what was your secret to success?
S.S. By the time I was in my mid-20’s I was balding, over-weight and didn’t feel good about myself. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t like what I saw and knew that only I could change myself. My philosophy was simple…a formula based on changing the face of the toupee industry. I was known as the ‘un-rug’ guy! I wanted people to see that someone just like them could look better and could have hair that would remain in place through all of their daily activities. I wanted to take away the negative thoughts about the hair industry and I used myself as an example of what could be done to improve not only the way people look but the way that they feel about themselves. You know the expression, ‘Clothes make the man’? Well, I wanted to change that to ‘Hair makes the man’.
H.S. How long did it take for you to become successful?
S.S. I opened my first salon in Manhattan and it took a year or two to establish not only the business of providing a natural look for men but a formula for success. I used the ideas of people like Ray Crock of McDonalds fame and eventually I was able to spread out to other cities in the USA with the intent of making our hair system palatable for all men so that they could feel good about themselves. I learned that I had to pick the brains of those who came before me with successful business plans. I knew that I would need to learn from successful people and that what had worked for chains like McDonalds and Starbucks could also work for the Hair Restoration Industry. I put every penny that I earned back into the business so I could continue to expand and grow. I always knew my limitations and continued to learn from others. . The bottom line was to give the public something that was life changing!
H.S. Besides running a profitable business what was your ultimate goal with The Hair Club for Men?
S.S. To enhance the youthfulness and self-esteem of my clients and to educate others about how to run a successful business. When I realized that I had a success on my hands I began to sell franchises so that others could also share in my success. I wanted to burst the bubble of the old fashioned ideas about toupees and hair systems.
H.S. How did you coin the phrase, “I’m not only The Hair Club President, but I am also a client”?
S.S. I didn’t! As I mentioned, I learned to find the very best person in every profession to help me and that was true of the advertising world as well. I found a gentleman who I considered to be the best in his field and he coined the phrase that I used in my commercials as well as print and radio ads. Always pick the right team of people to surround yourself with and you will succeed.
H.S. How did you manage to make The Hair Club so popular and well known?
S.S. Of course, from 1976 to 1982, there were the commercials and I also took ads in magazines such as Playboy, Esquire, and G.Q. I made appearances on SNL (Saturday Night Live), The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on Howard Stern’s radio show. At one point my daughter sent out press releases and I had a huge response for appearances.
H.S. What is the secret to a successful ad?
S.S. Marketing is everything. I used focus groups, changed the perception of the way old fashioned toupees looked and felt, gave a clear explanation of what we provided to our clients because in the past the industry was lacking in clarity and real information. We had to be convincing in all areas and answer the complaints of people who had had bad experiences with toupees. We replaced the bad images and experiences with good ones. Good public relations is everything. We kept our promises and made the concept easy to understand and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
H.S. What changes have you seen in the hair restoration industry since you first established The Hair Club for Men?
S.S. For one thing, women have been included in the process and they are far more willing to try new things. Women understand about enhancing their looks via cosmetic procedures and are more open to new ideas. There is also research (the use of stem cells, aka PRP Therapy for hair loss).
H.S. Have you seen any negatives in the Hair Restoration business since you sold your business?
S.S. Yes I have. Unfortunately, I have seen the industry diminish during the last 15 years and I’ve noticed that sales are off due to poor marketing. There is also a lack of clarity that the current hair systems are not like the old fashioned wig/toupees were and that good explanations and information is lacking. There is also a lack of communication in all areas of advertising. Bad hair jobs are often highlighted on places like YELP and good ones go unnoticed. The public relations is just not strong enough.
Another trend that I see harming the industry is in the current head shaving done by movie stars where a bald head is considered attractive and sexy. The public is simply not informed and there are so many misleading ads that do not stress the advantages of using a hair system. The industry needs to reach out to the youth market not only via television commercials but in the digital area as well. Use of the Internet enhances the ads on television and in magazines and is where the young people go for their information.
H.S. What suggestions would you have for the current professionals in the Hair Restoration industry when marketing their businesses and products?
S.S. Use reality. Use real people. It isn’t necessary to hire a professional model who looks perfect. Real people are more believable and relatable. Always be real. Seek help from professionals who can help you to market and who have the wisdom and experience to build the right team for you.
H.S. Are you interested in helping to change the face of the business now and if so, how would you do that?
S.S. Yes, I am getting involved to make a difference and to make the industry bigger and better. I want to do something constructive and I find that doing this is very therapeutic for me.
H.S. Will you have a presence on The Hair Society, as it’s Chairman?
S.S. Absolutely. I would not only like to write a column, but would like to conduct webinars with my fellow industry members and share my experiences with them in all areas of marketing, etc.
H.S. Anything in particular that you’d like to bring to the industry that would benefit everyone and help them succeed?
S.S. Yes. I have a plan to form a National Co-Op Operation Program. Each member would represent a particular zip code or demographic. It would not be like a franchise. The members would pay for a percentage of the advertising. Unlike a franchise, if they are not satisfied with their participation, they could walk away with a reasonable amount of notice to the Association. It would greatly limit competition since each zip code would have one Co-Op member and would not create the type of conflict that exists today.
H.S. What inspires you Sy?
S.S. Living life to the fullest in everything I do. Taking chances and risks. Believing in myself. I started with nothing and I kept on going no matter what. I was determined to succeed and I always use positive thinking. Surrounding myself with the right people and always believing in myself. And, of course, my wife….she is my coach.
H.S. What is your favorite quote?
S.S. Mohammad Ali said “I am the greatest”. What I mean by that is that if you truly believe in yourself and have faith in your ability to do anything you set out to do you will be ‘the greatest’ at anything you want to accomplish.
H.S. How does it feel to be an Icon?
S.S. Well, I’m no George Clooney, and I don’t have paparazzi following me around, but I love having people recognize me and I love giving autographs. It’s an amazing feeling and makes me feel special. I only wish that my father had lived to see my success. He would have been so proud.
H.S. In ending this interview what final words would you like share with our members?
S.S. Try everything! I want them to know that I will always be willing to share my experiences with them. I look forward to the future and will never stop seeking out new ideas.
H.S. Thank you Sy…this has been a pleasure and you are truly an inspirational person and a mensch!
1. a person of integrity and honor.
Note from the Editor:
In previous interviews with Sy Sperling his methods and hair systems have been discussed many times. I wanted to know WHO this man was and is. I approached the interview from the prospective of someone wanting to get into the mind of someone who is overwhelmingly successful, who is in the position of never having to work another day in his life. I wanted to know what makes this type of person tick and why he is anxious to continue his involvement in the Hair Restoration Industry by sharing his vast experience with others. I had all of my questions answered and came away feeling like I had made a new friend. As a writer, this was much more than I could ever have hoped for and I thank Sy for his generosity of spirit and for giving me his valuable time.