The majority of skin and hair care products are created for the general market, but Bobby Earles’s company sells products specifically designed for the unique dermatological needs of Black consumers. His company, Dr. Earles, manufactures a line of skin and hair care products that includes acne wash, dandruff shampoo, conditioner, hydrating cream, and razor bump treatment. These personal care products were all developed by Bobby’s father, dermatologist R. Martin Earles, M.D., with the unique dermatological needs of Black customers specifically kept in mind. Bobby, 28, manages the entire company as CEO, working to get Dr. Earles products distributed in as many markets as possible in an effort to turn Dr. Earles into a household name. To learn more about Bobby and what he’s doing to meet the unique skin and hair care needs of Black consumers, check out this week’s Young & Professional Profile.
Dr. Earles, LLC
President & CEO
B.A. in Management
Dr. Earles, LLC
President & CEO
R. Martin Earles, MD, PC
About the company
Our company, Dr. Earles, LLC, manufactures hair and skin care products developed by renowned dermatologist, R. Martin Earles, MD. All of our products are specifically tailored towards the dermatological needs of ethnic skin, especially African-American skin. A lot of times, people ask me, “What’s the difference between your products and ProActiv or Neutrogena?” and I normally respond by saying that our products are developed specifically for Black consumers.
The vast majority of personal care products were developed for the general market, but then attempt to expand to ethnic audiences with celebrities/sponsoring Black events/etc. Our company takes the opposite approach. Black hair and skin care is all we do and we take that mission very seriously. The dermatological conditions faced by customers of pigmented skin are so unique and so complex, we believe they deserve our undivided attention. The safe, effective and elegant treatment of those issues is the basis upon which Dr. Earles, my fathe, staked his entire career. Our company has done the same.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
In my role as the CEO, I oversee the entire operation Dr. Earles, LLC. Five years ago, when we were just starting out, I pretty much did everything, which is the usual story with most start-up businesses. It was exhausting work, but I was just 22 years old, so it wasn’t really a big deal. As the business has grown, we have been able to bring in a few more people – some full-time, some part-time – which has allowed me to focus my attention on going after new accounts and position the business for more long-term expansion.
These days, I spend a good part of my day making sure that our Sales Manager, Distribution Manager and Marketing Director have the tools and information they need to push our business forward. I also talk with our accountant and banker on a daily basis, making sure the internal controls of our business (payables, receivables, cash flow, inventory, compliance, etc.) are where they are supposed to be. Finally, I spend a certain amount of time–usually during the evening–bouncing ideas off my Chief Operating Officer and going over our pro forma financial projections.
Most notable milestones
The first salon I ever sold a product to was Julia’s Studio East in December 2001. It was the first check our business ever got. I think it was for about $100. In mid-2005, my sister Andi came to work for us and sales started climbing. Later that year, when our Sales Manager, Sidy Sankhare came aboard, things really started picking up. But our big break was in June of 2006 when I got a call from the Supplier Diversity Manager of Walgreens. I almost dropped the phone.
What’s the niche?
- Our products are developed by and staked on the knowledge, expertise and reputation of one of the country’s best-known physicians.
- We are totally focused on the needs of African-American hair and skin care.
- The products we make do exactly what we say they will do. They are based on clinical, medical research and we spend very little time on unproven ingredients. We make no false claims. A lot of companies do, but that’s not what we’re about.
What’s the biggest challenge as a young African American male in corporate America?
Patience. I’m not used to working my way through the politics and hierarchical structures of our new corporate customers. Beauty salons don’t have a “buying cycle” or “supply chain strategy.” Most of our customers reach into their register – or their purse – and pay us. It’s that simple. If they don’t want our products, they tell us right there. There’s no waiting involved.
Working with a big, blue-chip customer is totally different. In a lot of circumstances, the person who I pitch to does not actually have the authority to buy anything from me. Walgreens, interestingly enough, is different in that way, because even very junior-level people have a lot of responsibility. Other retailers, however, don’t take the same approach. Sometimes it can take months (and I’m talking 6-9 months) just for someone to say, “Sorry, but we’re not interested.” The amount of time a large organization can keep a small business strung along can be frustrating to me. A lot of times, I want to say, “Look, if you want me to do something different, or you’re not interested, just say it. We don’t need to have a meeting about it.”
However, it’s important to spend time with your customers/suppliers, even if it doesn’t initially result in an order. Building relationships in business takes time (often, a long time) and that process is not something that I, as a young African-American man, have much experience with.
Now that Dr. Earles has national distribution, what’s next?
In the personal care business, people tend to say, “It’s one thing to get your products on the shelf, but it’s something totally different to get ’em off the shelf.” And this is totally true. We’ve had some good success gaining regional, and even some national distribution. You can find Dr. Earles products in an ever-increasing amount of locations.
However, my job is doing whatever is necessary to get our target customer to go into those locations and actually pick our products up. Distribution is only the first part of the equation…and really, the easy part, at that. For our business to reach the goals I am setting for it, Dr. Earles will eventually need to become a household name. In the coming year, I will focus on how to push our distribution into more markets, locking down the markets we’re already in and learning more about what it takes to build a brand through this channel.
Are there any companies or people you would like to work with?
Great question. Whenever anyone asks me who my entrepreneurial role model is, I always mention the rapper Nas’s former manager, Steve Stout. I’ve never met him personally, but I’ve followed his career extensively. The way the guy has been able to simultaneously tap into contemporary, urban culture and put it into action on the corporate level is totally unprecedented. He brokered Jay-Z’s shoe deal with Reebok, Gwen Stefani’s clothing line, Justin Timberlake and McDonald’s. The guy is just phenomenal.
Also, I’m a big fan of Howard Schulz, founder and CEO of Starbucks. He’s built a business that is now a truly iconic brand. People refuse to buy coffee from anywhere else. Also, he’s created a company where it’s employees love to work there. That’s an enormous achievement.
In terms of brands, I love the company Aveda. Their concept is so powerful, I have to acknowledge it. I don’t think any other companies in our category do a better job making products that look, feel, smell and work the way they do.
What are some of the challenges you face being a male in an industry dominated by females?
The challenges are significant. I am a man who owns a business selling products to women. My personal habits, routines and needs are totally different than those of my primary customers.
However, I think we have begun to turn those challenges into innate opportunities. Because I don’t have a latent understanding of what my customer wants, I have to ask her directly. This translates into us creating products that address the needs the customer specifically asked for. If I was more in tune with the natural needs of my customer, I might tend to fall in love with my own great ideas.
Because the situation is the way it is, I am able to step away from my own ideas about what women want and actually just ask. It works pretty well. In the future, more of the management roles in our business will be filled by women, and not just in the marketing areas. I look forward to hiring engineers, scientists, bankers and other professionals into areas of our business where women – especially women of color – are traditionally underrepresented.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
Listen to exactly what your customer is saying to you. If they’re not being clear enough, ask them to be. Say to them, “If I provided you with ________ product or _______ service, would that solve your problem? And would you buy it from me?” I like doing that better than relying on my own “great ideas.”
There is no such thing as being over-prepared.
They tell you to “Think win-win,” but I always think that’s a little cheesy. I figure that you’re either going to buy my products or you’re going to buy someone else’s. I’m trying to get you to buy mine and if that happens, I win and they lose. And that’s how it’s gotta be.
Guiding principle in life
I have no use for the words “should,” “would” or “could.”
I absolutely do not care what anyone thinks about me.
When I ask you how you’re doing, don’t say, “I’m fine.” I actually do want to know how you’re doing, because then I can understand where you’re coming from.
Yardstick of success
How much I love my job.
How much the people who work for me love their jobs.
Not worrying about meeting payroll.
Goal yet to be achieved
Getting Dr. Earles on Oprah.
Best practical advice
“This is business and in business, everybody you deal with should be about making money. Anyone who says that they want to help you because it makes them feel good is probably scheming on how to take advantage of you later.”
“The best use of your time is going out and getting some more business. Every minute you spend doing something else is a minute our business loses.”
“Buy your own drinks…especially if someone thinks you’ve got money. Always buy your own drinks.”
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
“Mr. Earles, I think you are certainly an adequate person to do this job.”
–Stan Culp, CEO, Packaging Plus
“I like the way you do business.”
–Phillip Kim, CEO, Mid-K Beauty Supply
“That boy is better than money in the bank.” –R. Martin Earles, MD, my Dad
Kali Evans-Raoul, The Image Studios: a totally outstanding entrepreneur.
Stuart Taylor, The Taylor Group: one of the most respected investors in the Chicago business community.
John Foster, The Foster Group: for showing me that people can both respect you and fear you at the same time.
Dr. Phillip Fanara, Howard University: for showing me the importance of doing things exactly right.
Anthony Overton, Overton Hygenic Co. & my great-great grandfather: for not being afraid.
What motivated you to get started?
My father’s passion to address Black peoples’ needs.
The possibility of creating a business that could set a new standard in its industry.
It was incredibly hard to do.
Like best about what you do?
I like employing people. I like cutting their checks. I love the idea that they are able to pay their bills, buy clothes for their kids, pay tuition, etc. based on the work they do for our business.
Like least about what you do?
It can be kind of lonely.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What was your first job?
Alphabetizing folders in my Dad’s practice. I was about five years old.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Person most interested in meeting?
Whoever I end up marrying, for obvious reasons.
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
Steve Stout. He seems to be able to almost able to see the future.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I am the publisher of an independent, counter-culture newspaper.
- I am a pretty good singer.
- I’ve got this weird thing where I can’t really tell left from right, especially when I’m driving.
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- The way people treat each other on a day-to-day basis.
- Doing the things I say I will do.
- Writing. My second career will be creative writing.
“The Big Sea,” Langston Hughes’s autobiography.
Anyone starting a business.