He's the man behind the brand with a face and name as famous as his red carpet clients. French-born Frederic Fekkai built an American empire of hair salons. Now after 18 years in the salon business, Fekkai wants to take his name brand into the global luxury market.
"We think that in the next 2 years we will have 20 salons open," Frederic told me at his new Soho Salon on West Broadway in Manhattan.
Already in key locations like Manhattan, Palm Beach, Los Angeles and even St. Barths, Fekkai is adding new salons in strategic cities like Tokyo and Paris as well as other American luxury markets like Dallas, Texas, Greenwich, Connecticut, Miami and Chicago. The salon expansion and widening of his branded hair care product line are possible due in part to an infusion of capital from private equity firm Catterton Partners. Based in Greenwich, CT, Catterton is the $2 billion private equity firm whose portfolio company Chrysallis took a stake in Fekkai's business in 2005. Chrysallis representatives would not officially confirm that the widely-reported $100m total investment figure was accurate.
Fekkai says that Catterton was one of many firmsthat approached him and that the firm's marketing, public relations team and distribution channels have made them a great investor. Fekkai admits that the creative side of design and brand management are what keep him interested in the business. His least favorite part of the business: "to deal with the day to day operation and the human resources."
Catterton isn't the only private equity firm finding value in brand name beauty and fashion names right now: Permira acquired Valentino,Harvey Weinstein and Hilco acquired Halston and Dubai-based Istithmar recently made a $825m bid for Barneys from Jones Apparel . Public companies like Warnaco and Phillips Van Heusen are also acquiring high-profile names for licensing. Where's the value? For Warnaco, owning the Calvin Klein name has allowed them to tap into new international markets particularly those in Eastern Europe.
Entering new markets in Asia, Europe and the Middle East is made easier when the name brand that you are selling is a known-entity, even when the retailer or manufacturer itself is new to the region. Familiarity with the brand name and image is leverage to tap these customers hungry not just for actual but also perceived luxury. If the lifestyle is new, purchase a piece of the establishment. The trick is maintaining brand image which itself is one of the most valuable assets of any fashion or beauty house right now.
One factor that is hard to quantify but can make all the difference in the continued strength of the brand is continued participation by the designer/creative force. Frederic Fekkai is still very involved with brand image, marketing and operations of the company that bears his name. His goal is to have that name be a household one and he thinks achieving that will be possible in part by branching out from the beauty and hair care category. He recently partnered with high-end jeweler H. Stern to create a line of gold jewelry. Frederic says that he gets ideas on how to manage the brand's image from watching houses like Louis Vuitton,Chanel and companies like the Four Seasons .
Staying current with the expectations of celebrity clientele and the needs of the upper income customer base is essential to Fekkai's brand maintenance. Traveling 120 out of the 365 days a year helps him stay connected with customers needs, desires and the brand image itself. While Fekkai thinks that there is growth ahead as a private company, he says that one day " when we reach a critical mass.. we will have to consider an I.P.O."
Who is the one customer that Fekkai would love to see in his salon? French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In full disclosure, I have also been a customer at Frederic Fekkai's salon and he has cut my hair.
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