Co-Founder of Hip, New Hair Care Line Credits MBA Program at Rutgers
Tea and Honey Blends Draws Good Reviews as it Aims for Ethnic Markets
When Tashni-Ann Dubroy and Tiffani Bailey Lash developed their hair care line – Tea and Honey Blends, they knew they had the chemical know-how to put together what they thought would be a winning formula.
The two women had begun planning a hair care product line while students studying for their doctoral degrees in chemistry at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
But the chemists knew that scientific know-how wasn’t enough to forge a successful business. That’s why even before they officially launched their line, Dubroy enrolled in the MBA program at Rutgers’ School of Business-Newark and New Brunswick. By the time Tea and Honey Blends officially launched last year, Dubroy had a year of business studies under her belt.
“I didn’t have a business background prior to starting Tea and Honey Blends so I started my [MBA] degree with the thought that it would help us,” Dubroy said. “Every semester I learn something I can implement with Tea and Honey Blends.” Dubroy hopes to finish her MBA by December or in spring 2011.
Dubroy, 29, said the company’s roots can be found in girl talk. The two chemists discovered that among the many things they shared was a common concern of many black women – finding the right hair care products.
“Black women do tend to have a plethora of products in their cupboards and on their shelves. We dib and dab in so much stuff trying to find the right products,” Dubroy said. “Tiffani and I found we had that in common. We found that we both had to mix and match sometimes in order to get the effect on our hair that we wanted.”
Even before finishing their doctoral studies in 2006, the two began planning, using their free time to experiment in the laboratory to figure out what they liked and what they wanted their dream products to be.
“We liked tea tree oil because tea tree is a natural extract that has multiple benefits. One particular thing we wanted to target was dry scalp which is an issue for black women especially. Tea tree oils are able to tackle that issue,” said Dubroy whose mother used to run a salon. “But the products already on the market didn’t have the added moisturizer that black hair needs.”
Their products, which combine tea tree oil and a moisturizer, are Tea and Honey Blends Tea Tree Stimulating Shampoo, and Tea and Honey Blends Tea Tree Nourishing Conditioner. The line debuted last year and, according to Dubroy, has received good reviews so far from salon stylists and individuals who have tried the products.
“We’ve been very fortunate. The feedback has been positive,” Dubroy said.
Dubroy said it was a deliberate decision not to leap immediately into production once they earned their doctorates. Instead, both women secured full-time jobs as chemists – Lash at a chemical company in Maryland, Dubroy at BASF in Florham Park.
“We had to go to work,” Dubroy said. “We knew we wanted to form our own company but we also knew we didn’t want any debt. We don’t have any debt because our company is all based on our personal income.”
The women also were busy with their personal lives: Both got married and as chance would have it, had babies last year.
Dubroy added that waiting to launch also gave the duo time to do more homework on the billion dollar hair care industry, figure out how to set up their company, and decide what Tea and Honey Blends needed to do in order to compete.
For example, the chemists realized that to be competitive they would need to give out large numbers of samples to salons, something considered standard in the hair care industry.
The partners also set up a manufacturing and distribution network of sorts. The chemists handle supplies, purchasing orders and shipping from their homes while a factory in North Carolina actually makes and bottles the Tea and Honey Blends products for them.
The waiting time also gave them a chance to round up key advisors and mentors, she said.
Stevie Watson, one of Dubroy’s professors in the Rutgers’ MBA program, has been serving as an unofficial consultant for Dubroy and Lash. Watson said the two chemists have taken a smart approach to their business venture.
“A lot of the challenge is just in terms of getting the word out to the consumer marketplace that this is a valuable product, a great product for ethnic markets,” said Watson, who specializes in ethnic consumer behavior and marketing.
He said the main thing for any business is “to have an understanding of what you’re good at, what you can offer in the marketplace for the consumer, making sure you can get that value to the consumer, and being able to access and evaluate the program for the future.”
Despite being a small start up in an industry ruled by large corporations, the entrepreneurs are hopeful that Tea and Honey Blends can grow to eventually become the number one black-owned hair care line in the industry.
“There are a lot of products out there," Dubroy said. “But we know that even though these products are really popular some of them are not really good for our hair. It’s going to be difficult to succeed, but we think it’s doable.”