Sitting Down with Shea Moisture CEO Richelieu Dennis – Part 1

While at the World Natural Hair Show in Atlanta last weekend I was able to sit down with CEO, Richelieu Dennis, of Sundial Creations – maker of Shea Moisture products.

If you have been following us on Facebook, you know that the line to get in the hair show was wrapped around the door very early in the morning – which caused me to be late for my scheduled time to meet with Mr. Dennis.

I point that out to say that Mr. Dennis and the Shea Moisture staff were nothing but accommodating even with the crowd and my late arrival.    Mr. Dennis finished up with his customer and proceeded to leave the very crowded Shea Moisture booth to still sit down and talk.

We had such a great conversation.  Mr. Dennis was so good about providing me with information that it was hard to decide what, if anything, to leave out of my post.  So the only way to do his interview justice was to just provide it to you in two parts, question by question:

 

NaturallyMe:  First, I want to thank you for taking the time out to do this on such a busy day.  I ried to get here early but I was standing in line since about 10:20 a.m.

Mr. Dennis:  Yeah, it’s crazy out there.

It seems Shea Moisture products just picked up overnight.  With originally just being sold in Target was that expected?

Well, the thing is it looks like it picked up overnight but we have been doing it here in the U.S. for 20 years this year.

Did that start with Nubian Heritage?

No, this started before Nubian Heritage.  The way we started is my grandmother use to make the product and sell it in our village market and that’s what I did with my summers.  When I came here [United States] I couldn’t go back home because there was a civil war going on back in Liberia, so I started selling it on the streets of New York.  We been doing this for 20 years now, we started back in 1991.

Not a lot of people know that you also make Nubian Heritage.  Tell me about that line, do you still work on that line as actively as Shea Moisture?

Absolutely.  The two lines are very different.  Nubian Heritage for me is a way to pay tribute to our culture and our heritage and Shea Moisture is to pay tribute to my grandmother and what she did. Both of those lines are created and built on those very different foundations.   One of my biggest challenges was always how people tried to always put us in a box.  When I say us, I me us as a people, as a culture – you have to be in the ethnic section or these are black products.  No we’re people.  We have feelings, we have emotions, we have heritage.  Someone that’s black and lives in South Carolina has a very different heritage and background and understanding than someone that lives in Bronx, New York.

Yes, definitely.

Just because we have the same skin color doesn’t mean we’re the same person.  We’re individuals.  So my whole life has been about making sure that we are able to show our individuality and hopefully it shows in our brands.

Now, was Target the first….Target is mainstream and they actually have your products, depending on which Target you are at, not just on an end cap but you actually have a nice big section.  Was Target hard to get into?

Like I said, we’ve been doing it for a long time. Our issue was not that they were hard to get into, it’s we had to get in there the right way.  And the right way meant the way the product is in the store.  It had to be respectful to our brand and to the people who buy our brand.  That was where the difficulty came in.  How do you get a retailer like that to look at us as a consumer, as individuals oppose to an ethnic group. And they got it so we’re doing well.  I think that’s why it seemed like it happen overnight

Your right, it did.

But it took awhile.

[laughter] I know it didn’t seem like overnight to you .  Now did you expect the Walgreens BOGO to just take off as quick as it did?  I can tell you I was in Walgreens twice a day, pretty much every day, that week.

[laughter]

It hit actually a lot of the blogs and Facebook pages before the ad came out.  I knew two days before that it was going to be on sale.  Did you expect that to happen?

My whole career and the way this whole business is built is on how do we give back. We’ve been getting a tremendous amount of support so when we started to talk to Walgreeens, we were like how do we show our appreciation for this opportunity that we’ve been given?  And so that’s where the BOGO idea came from.  I can’t say that I expected it to blow up the way that it blew up, but I can tell you that it made me feel really good as a business owner. It wasn’t so much the amount of product that we sold, but it was the amount of thank you, this really helped me in this economy; thank you I got an opportunity to try something different.  It was those kinds of things that really said – you know what we’re really doing the right thing.

And while we are on that, I’m going to jump around a bit.  There as other natural products that are much more expensive and don’t even work to some degree.  Now that you’re a little larger, the frenzy is there (for lack of a better phrase) can we still expect it to be $9.99 – within reason?

Not only do I expect it to be $9.99 I expect it to cost even less because the more volume we do the cheaper it is to produce it.  One of the big advantages that we have probably over 95% of the companies in here, if not 99%, is that we make our own product.  So we create it, we mix it, we put it in the jar, we put it in the box, we put it on the truck and so when your doing that (1) you can control quality, (2) you can control the levels of commitments that you make to the product, (3) you can control cost.  The more efficient that it comes the less expensive it is.  So for us the option of charging these ridiculous prices is just not an option for us.  It’s not who we are.  It’s not how my mother raised me. It’s not how my grandmother raised her.  It’s not about gougin people.  It’s about giving them a great product.  I mean if you took our product and compared it to $30, $40, $50 $100 product, I bet you our product ends up being better. The only thing that impacts our pricing is the cost of the raw materials and unfortunately because we’re natural and organic most of our ingredients 85 -95% of our products are food and the prices of food. …and food prices are through the roof

I agree. I have compared it and there are so many that aren’t completely natural and your talking $50 for a little jar. When you take pride in your hair and obviously want a good product and it’s reasonably priced that’s a good thing.

I mean it has to be affordable.  The way that you see black hair care – it’s manufacturers that either don’t value the consumer or manufacturers that value the consumer, but because of the economics of it can’t really give them products that they can afford.  So we’re trying to stay focused on making the best possible product at the best possible price, which means that we have to cut out a lot of the unnecessary costs.

Do you plan on going in any other stores, like Walmart or CVS and now that your in Walgreens are you still going to stay in target?

We have to stay focused.  We have stay focused on who brought us to the party.  We got to make sure we take care of them because they took care of us.  Just like we have to stay focused on the people who buy and use our product by giving them the best product.  And the way to stay focused on you is to make sure you can access the product.

I know Walgreens is just beginning to sell your products but they just have the hair care line and not even the full hair care line.  Is the goal to get them to carry everything -  hair care, baby, body and wash?

Yes.

While we are on products – we are all crossing our fingers (laughter) that you are going to do a gel.  Is there…are you looking to expand the lines?

Look for Part 2 of the interview for the answer!

2 thoughts on “Sitting Down with Shea Moisture CEO Richelieu Dennis – Part 1

  1. Paula
    May 8, 2011 at 10:26 PM

    It’s so interesting to get information from the horses mouth. I love Shea Moisture and I can’t wait to try their other products. Thanks for featuring this.

  2. Malik
    May 8, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    Very informative. Keep up the great work by bringing us this information and making the products as well!! Thanks!! Malik