By, Lisa Marie Stewart
The Hair Society
Have you ever met someone and instantly felt comfortable talking with them? I had the pleasure of experiencing this with David Schwartz. He has a warm, inviting personality, a wonderful sense of humor, a humble demeanor and truly cares about helping others to achieve their best. In addition to genuinely being a very likable, kind person, he successfully stands at the helm of an innovative and leading hair replacement and restoration company.
David Schwartz, is the CEO of Hair Visions International (HVI), based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. David is a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn, New York, where he resided until his teen years, and then moved to Queens, New York. He attended CW Post College in Long Island, New York, where he pursued his passion for healthcare. His studies ultimately led to becoming an Xray Technologist, which he practiced for several years. David met his wife in high school and has been happily married ever since with two grown children and three grandchildren. Fun fact, David’s lovely wife has been a Hair Stylist since they married.
Eventually, David completed his BA degree and made the bold move of leaving the healthcare profession for a role out of his comfort level in sales. He unexpectedly found success in the sales arena and moved to San Antonio, Texas to open a franchise, where he ran his own sales organization. After a series of events, he landed in Florida and back into healthcare for a short period of time. While looking for a new opportunity, he interviewed with a company called On Rite, who specialized in men’s hair replacement. David knew nothing about the hair industry at the time, but his successful background in business sales contributed to him being hired in 2001.
The company has changed over the past 19 years, much due to the vision and leadership of David, who eventually became the Chief Operating Officer. After the retirement of CEO Andy Wright, David took over as the CEO of what is now known as HVI. The winning combination of his background in healthcare and sales, along with his passion to help others, has led to a successful career in the hair replacement and restoration industry.
Throughout his accomplished career, David has been characterized as a multifaceted, forward-thinking management executive with unsurpassed experience driving high-energy operations for diverse small to mid-size companies. He is recognized for delivering measurable improvements and results across all areas, from increasing revenue levels and expanding opportunities, to maximizing efficiency and quality throughout key functions. David is a flexible strategist with the ability to build businesses from the ground up, lead diverse teams and initiatives, and direct reorganizations that support greater productivity, growth, and profits.
HS Give us a little background on Hair Visions International? Your team? And, the role and impact your company has had on the hair industry.
DS We have been in business since 1975, and have just started our 45th year. The original name of the business was On Rite, which is still the corporate name. Approximately, seven years ago, we got involved with other brands. As a result, we changed the name to Hair Visions International. Our main products are: On Rite – men’s hair replacement, Ultra Tress – hair extensions, Gemtress – ready to wear women’s hair design, TressAllure – ready to wear women’s wigs, and the first certification program featuring Head First, the Capilia trichology hair loss prevention and scalp therapy product system.
HVI has always been focused on the customer experience. It is the heart of everything we do. Our company culture is also customer experience-driven. Our customers are retail salon owners. We cultivate a team environment that is a positive experience for our employees. We embrace a seamless approach that starts in our hiring process. We look for attributes that demonstrate a desire to provide the customer with the best experience. We offer training and quarterly staff meetings to ensure our team members are customer service focused in all that we do. Our customer is the reason we are here, and they need to feel valued and well taken care of by our employees. We rarely hear issues about employees from our customers. In fact, the majority of what we hear are positive things. We employ a diverse, talented group of people. The customers have to believe they are getting the service and support they want and deserve.
I love to interact with our employees and spend a lot of time with them chatting, joking around, and helping where I can. We have a strong camaraderie between staff and managers. My personal philosophy is not to be friends with anyone in the building, but to be very friendly with everyone in the building. We expect results and achieve this by working with employees to help them achieve their best. We embody a top-down leadership culture. It is important that our customers know we will provide them with consistent, excellent customer care. We have gained their trust and never take for granted that we must continue to earn that in every interaction. We stand behind our products with a warranty. Our industry is very competitive. Trust is an essential component to succeed in this industry.
HS Of all the products you sell, is there one that is your favorite and why?
DS It wouldn’t be fair to mention just one. However, I am very proud of the Head First Capilia product line. In 2016, we integrated that into our core business. I am very proud of it because it represents something innovative and different. Head First is a prevention and maintenance program that was not previously being serviced by retailers. We have consistently been hearing positive results from our customers about hair growth and hair loss prevention. In addition, the products are soothing to the scalp for chemo patients. We are seeing impressive results. Head First has really become a great addition to our core business product line. At this time, there are close to 80 studios that are certified to sell Head First.
HS What are some of the challenges you have faced and continue to face in this business?
DS Change is our greatest challenge, as well as an amazing opportunity to grow as a company. Our industry has faced numerous challenges over the past few years. As a wholesale distributor, the internet has impacted us in both positive and challenging ways. As a result, there are more choices available to our customers. We have to determine what we can offer besides excellent customer service. We welcome change and endeavor to help retailers learn how to market on the internet. Understanding and utilizing digital platforms and social media are critical to staying competitive. Another challenge is the increase in product cost, longer delivery times, and changes in the quality of the products. We make an effort to manage change by educating our customers and helping them set realistic expectations to match these changes. We offer assistance to increase their social media presence and create marketing campaigns for retailers to consumers. Unfortunately, we can’t control prices, so we focus on what we have to offer, why it’s important, and what it will do for customers and consumers. We aim to be one step ahead of our competitors.
HS What are some examples of the best and worst lessons you’ve learned along the way?
DS Over time, I have learned to trust my instincts. It has taught me to listen and observe consumer and employee needs and preferences. For example, for employees, what are they looking for to stay productive and to offer exceptional customer care. For our customers, what are their needs with product and marketing? We are making strong inroads with trichology for the younger people and others who want and need preventative and scalp care.
Trusting my instincts has also contributed to some of my worst lessons. I was able to learn from those experiences and reacted and/or adapted as needed. It is important to know when to change if something isn’t working, and then take steps to facilitate that change. We do our best to stay on top of this, but timing isn’t always perfect. We are always learning and doing our best to adapt.
HS How do you define success, and how do you empower those around you to achieve that success?
DS You will hear me say this more than once – listening, learning & leading. Those three things are keys to success. There are many other things that mean success to me. Here are a just a few others: accomplishing goals, assisting customers, knowing we had a part in helping someone with hair loss, participating in industry events, hearing that others couldn’t tell one of our products wasn’t real, knowing we did our job and that we helped someone. Empowering others to achieve success means good leadership, hiring the right people, and then getting out of their way so they can show us what they can do. I don’t believe in micromanaging. Everyone needs to show that they have the passion and confidence to act autonomously within our policies and procedures. No company can be without guidelines. Even with the freedom we give, our employees must have a burning desire to want to help others. We help support the needs of both our employees and our customers. As I’ve said before, customer experience is everything. When you have engaged, passionate employees who listen, and deliver the best experience (product, support, education, marketing, etc.), you have a successful team.
HS What motivates you as leader in this industry? What are some of your professional ideals? How far are you willing to go to succeed? What sacrifice(s) have you had to make in order to achieve your position today, if any?
DS I look forward to coming to work every morning. I enjoy interacting with the employees, listening to their stories, and celebratory stories from customers. I love having humor in the workplace. It helps make HVI an enjoyable place to work. My professional ideals are being fair to customers and employees, trusting employees, following through on what you say you’re going to do and what you should do. I am willing to go as far as we need to go (ethically and legally) to succeed. And again, listening, learning & ambition to lead others is critical. I haven’t had to sacrifice anything. I have always taken ownership and had the same philosophy no matter what role I was in.
HS What are your goals for yourself and HVI over the next year and beyond?
DS I am very optimistic about 2020. I plan to stay educated, listen to our customers, keep my ear to the ground, and offer the best product we can. I plan to do more research and development to meet the customer’s needs, provide them with the products they need, the marketing they need, and the education they need. We work with a social media company and outside marketing firm to do as much research as possible. We will also offer education and provide technical training to retail shops. We have local and regional academies, where we go out on the road to present business and marketing training and forums. Loyalty is not the same as it was years ago. We will try to stay competitive based on loyalty and all that we have to offer, as well as aim to satisfy the needs of the retailer. We will continue to invest in new products and new designs, that are more comfortable, natural-looking and relevant for the younger consumer. We plan to do more focus groups.
HS What is the single most critical talent you possess in your role as President of HVI? What skills or talents do you think would make you and your team even more successful?
DS It is a combination of five key things: listening, learning, leading, taking action and following through. I follow the same principles that I’ve followed in every previous role in my career. I also have to say helping others, a knack for understanding, as well as wanting to understand my staff and customers. By understanding their needs, we will be able to accommodate them and help them to succeed. I will continue to encourage a friendly, fun environment to work in.
We will become more advanced with marketing and digital technology. The bottom line, we must listen, have passion, strive for continuous improvement, aim to get better, be lifelong learners, surround ourselves with a talented management team, who are diverse in their strengths. I don’t want to be surrounded by “yes” people. I encourage diverse and differing opinions. When I became the CEO, we transitioned from a CEO driven company to a management-driven company. If the majority of the management team disagrees with me on something, more often than not, I will go with what they are saying, favoring the collective opinion. However, I do have the final word.
HS Let’s talk about hair for a moment. We know that all hair is not the same. What is the difference and why does it matter?
DS Hair is a very complex, and yet, simple topic at the same time. It’s not always about the quality of the hair, although that is important. There is a wide range of needs that the consumer/retailer is looking for. For example, pricing, best quality hair on the market, type of hair available, latest look and styles, etc. Most of our competitors carry similar types of products. As a wholesaler/distributor, we are witnessing a huge change. There is much more competition now that factories are selling direct. In addition, there is a scarcity of finding top-grade quality hair. Hair is a commodity right now. Twenty to thirty years ago, women were donating virgin hair to the temples. The hair donated today is not as healthy or strong as it once was, and with chemical and color processing at the factories, it degrades the hair shaft further. Quality is an important factor, more important than ever before due to the changes in donated hair. We continue to search out the best hair possible from the factories throughout Asia. Consumers are more educated and connected, and know exactly what they want due to all of the information available on the internet.
HS The hair replacement business has seen the economy rise and fall. The industry has had to reinvent itself time and again. Where do you see the future of the hair replacement business over the next 5-10 years, and how do you plan to navigate those changes?
DS I once heard someone say, “The greatest mistake that we can make is thinking the future is like the past.” The hair industry is at a crucial point as a result of massive change in the industry. It is critical to acknowledge it and work with it to succeed in the future. Not all retailers are ready to change with the times. Sadly, it will impact their business. We try to help retailers manage their expectations about the industry changes. What they want and had in the past doesn’t look the same going forward. We want to help them learn how to adapt to change. Our job is to help retailers grow their business and be more successful than they were in the past. We must change with the times. Everything today is digital, social media, online, etc. Regardless of the change, I am very optimistic about the future of the industry. Change is inevitable. Designer, Jayda Skidmore once said, “Without change, there would be no butterflies!”
HS Because you are not a “direct to consumer” (D2C) business model, how do you go about marketing your business, and what are the challenges you face in marketing?
DS Although we are not D2C, we are creating marketing campaigns that retailers can use for the consumers. We invest heavily in consumer marketing messages. For us, marketing is a pass-through from the retailer ultimately directed to the consumer.
HS What do you do to recharge your batteries?
DS I love spending time with my grandkids, and do it as often as I can. I love to play golf. It’s one of the only times I’m not thinking about work. Music recharges me. I listen to it all of the time. I enjoy classic rock and blues, with my favorites being The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Cream. I also enjoy watching movies.
HS If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
DS Listen better and more, and don’t always try to prove I am right.
HS If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
DS It would be Thomas Edison. Beyond just inventing the light bulb, he had to think much further in order to implement it. He was a visionary who created an entire industry.
HS Who has been your greatest inspiration, and why?
DS My grandfather. He was a very simple and religious man who immigrated from Russia. He owned his own business and worked very hard to support his family. He was strong in his morals and always kind to everyone, which is why I admired him.
HS What is your favorite book, and what book(s) have inspired you the most?
DS Not sure if I have one favorite. I was inspired by a book called The GE Way, by Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric (GE). He took GE from a singular company and turned them into vertical and horizontal integration. He definitely moved GE out of its comfort zone to reach incredible and diverse success. I also was inspired by The Bill Gates Autobiography. I admire him, not just because he is brilliant or because he built a fortune, but mostly for his philanthropy.
HS Excluding HVI, what company(s) or business(es) do you admire the most and why?
DS I admire the other hair companies who have been around a long time. They have really demonstrated determination and focus through an ever-changing industry. I also admire companies that are good to their employees and customers, such as Southwest Airlines and Chewy.com, the online pet supply retailer.
HS If you could offer one piece of advice to someone wanting to break into the hair replacement/restoration industry, what would that be?
DS Create a pleasant work environment, especially in the retail salons. Treat your staff well, so they won’t want to leave. Provide ongoing education, training and make them part of your success. Give your employees a reason to stay!
After chatting with David Schwartz, it was refreshing to see that there are still people who truly care about their careers, employees and customers. He has found the Holy Grail that the rest of us are looking for; a healthy work-life balance. It’s not easy to juggle all of the demands competing for our time and attention. David is a great example, and inspiration to show others it is possible to have it all!
Contributing Editor, Lisa Marie Stewart, has 40 plus years of writing, marketing, creative development, Editor-in-Chief, and Creative Director experience. Initially studying journalism and English, and ultimately received a Business Administration and Management B.S. degree with honors.
Ms. Stewart has authored, managed and directed teams at Fortune 500 companies to create corporate policies and procedures, human resource guides, emergency preparedness manuals, technical instructions, articles, newsletters, internal company magazines, retail store transition instruction guides, change orders, year-end financial brochures, website content, social media blogs, and posts.
Additionally, Lisa hosts her own YouTube channel entitled: Living My Best Life