When Michael Woods, a former salesman for a major beauty company, decided to quit his job and start his own competing business, he did so on an expletive-laden dare from his wife, Ramona. The result? Ashtae, a successful multicultural hair care company founded in 1994 and based out of Greensboro, NC.
For a time, the Woods could do no wrong with their company -- its wholesale business was thriving in the small slice of territory that CEO Michael had carved out. But a string of distracting and debt-inducing side projects, like a failed TV station, quickly took Ashtae from small business boom to near bust. That lack of focus, combined with a refusal to innovate products and set a defined management structure, threatened to topple the business for good. That is, until The Profit's Marcus Lemonis stepped in to (literally) clean house and expand Ashtae beyond its CEO's constraints.
"We weren't really reaching our full potential," says Michael. "And I think when [Marcus] came about, it was like a breath of fresh air for the company. What it did for us as a company is it really made us all step back and evaluate: 'How do we really grow the type of company that we really desire?'"
To rein in Ashtae, Marcus first had to bring Michael down from his entrepreneur cloud. Previously, the elder Woods would squander any revenue the business had generated to pursue his varying (and ultimately unsuccessful) passion projects, instead of investing in research and development for Ashtae's sought-after product line. Marcus changed all of that with his offer: In exchange for a 25% stake in the company, he'd use a $300,000 investment to wipe away the Woods' debt and diversify Ashtae's product line.
The effect on Ashtae and the Woods was nothing short of transformative. With Michael now focused on the business and not the tenants in his sprawling business complex, and the operational burdens removed somewhat from Ramona's shoulders, Marcus revamped the company image. His approach was two-fold: a new, sleek logo and a new, mega booth at Bronner Brothers, the industry's most impactful beauty event, to hawk their commercial and retail lines. He also urged the Woods to bring their oldest daughter, Taylore, into the mix as event director.
"We hired some assistant for my mom to help with the accounting and the financial part," says Taylore of The Profit's sweeping changes. "My dad is way more focused than he was before. So I think what [Marcus] really did was outline, 'Hey, this is what you guys are good at. But this is how we need to structure it, so that way you can continue to do what you're good at, and do it even better.'"
Today, Ashtae is rapidly becoming a globally-known brand in the beauty business. Since the Woods' episode aired, the company has been inundated with new supply orders, distributors and opportunities to expand its reach. This explosive growth means the Woods and Marcus have to build the Ashtae team beyond its close-knit circle with new hires. It's an issue Taylore concedes has encountered more than a "little bit of resistance" with her parents.
As for what's next for the budding beauty brand, well, it depends on which member of the Woods clan you speak with. While Michael prefers to see the company grow to such heights as tech luminaries like Google and Amazon and eventually offer an IPO, Taylore has more realistic, near-term goals: She wants to build up a complementary video arm of beauty how-to's.
"We definitely plan to release a lot more video content, and we want to, sort of, be that company that people can go to when they have questions about their hair," she says.
Whatever the future direction of Ashtae, it's clear the Woods are grateful for Marcus' guidance and financial support. The family that had once been "grinding for 23 years" to realize its small business dream and build a mini-empire is now well on its way to dominating a corner of the multicultural beauty market.
"Marcus is taking on small business and making small business count again," says Ramona. "He's making small business sexy. He's making small business acceptable. And he is putting faces behind small business. Because it's not just that it's a product, that I sell a shampoo... this shampoo is my life."