Tae J. Park founded CROC in 2005, and in some respects, his is a story of the American dream at its best. Park is an immigrant from South Korea; he moved to the U.S. about 30 years ago, and has been
involved in the beauty industry for the past 20. He started CROC—and its research-focused counterpart, Turbo Ion—because he recognized that the industry lacked the means to create products that were ergonomically designed and focused on the hairstylist’s convenience. Since then, CROC set itself up as an industry standard for professional-grade, innovative hair styling tools that are smart, sexy and easy to use. Let’s take a look at how it all began.
WHERE BEAUTY MEETS BRAINS
There’s a duality to the brand: on one side there’s CROC, the face of the brand and its products; and on the other, there’s Turbo Ion, spearheading the research and development that goes into making those products. This theme continues in CROC’s choice of office locations. While CROC is an American company with its main headquarters for research and development in Buena Park, California, CROC also has manufacturing offices in South Korea and China.
The dualities end there. In every other sense, CROC has a single-minded focus on its vision: to be the place where innovation merges with performance and style.
Justin Singh, executive director of CROC and Turbo Ion, has been part of the venture since the beginning. An associate introduced him to CROC’s founder when Park was looking for a business partner to help support his burgeoning ideas. Singh’s background is in business development. He’s worked with building several startups from the ground up—founding them, launching them, and ultimately selling them or taking them public. When he was approached about CROC, Singh had just exited a venture in the bio and nanotech industry, priming him perfectly for a foray into a new tech-focused business like CROC.
“CROC, essentially, is centered around technology, research, development and innovation. The idea is to be able to provide some of the most cutting-edge innovations that are inspired from other industries,” Singh says. “How do we take technologies that are so advanced and work so well for other industries, and apply them to the beauty business? That’s really what drives this company.”
BOLD, POWERFUL, EFFORTLESS
“We took a unique approach,” Singh says of the business. “As opposed to getting a stylist to head the organization, [Park] decided to have more techy individuals join the company, and to drive the business through technology and innovation.”
“How do we take technologies that are so advanced and work so well for other industries, and apply them to the beauty business? That’s really what drives this company.”
Park himself has a background in engineering and “a knack for innovation and design,” Singh says. He leveraged this technology-focused background to engineer a flat iron that would become CROC’s flagship product, with an ergonomic design specifically crafted with professional stylists in mind.
Launching a winning product right out of the gate, Park established a strong foundation for the business to continue innovating, creating and testing new products. His vision to leverage the technology of other industries, from medical to telecommunications, and even automotive and aeronautics, opened a floodgate of untapped potential to advance the beauty industry. While Park focused on innovating the technology, Singh brought fresh vision to CROC’s branding and marketing.
Consumers want a product that’s both sexy and smart, Singh says, so they focused on building a brand that would be recognized for that. “Besides our products being beautifully designed, they’re also intelligently designed,” he says.
While CROC started by focusing on the technology side—single-mindedly pursuing advanced and innovative ideas—the vision has modified over the years toward more holistically blending its tech and beauty aspects. “It’s not just about buying a tool with advanced technology, it’s buying into a lifestyle,” Singh says. “[CROC products are for people] interested in furthering their careers; somebody that’s interested in going above and beyond behind the chair; somebody that wants to create looks that no one has ever done.”
This falls in line with one of CROC’s previous vision statements: Bold, powerful, effortless. CROC tools are designed to empower the stylist to go above and beyond what they thought was possible. These days, CROC’s current mission statement—“Where beauty meets brains”—inspires on several levels. The products themselves combine attractive, ergonomic shapes and designs with intelligent technology, and stylists can use their brains to create something beautiful with them.
“We create some of the most pioneering technologies and innovation in the industry,” Singh says. “Trendsetting types of technologies—that’s what we’re known for.”
By taking stock of CROC’s direction and revamping its vision every five years or so, the brand has stayed fresh and kept its forward momentum. “We have 10 to 15 years of technology already in our pipeline that we haven’t brought to market yet,” he says. “So we’re very excited about the future and bringing this vision to life.”
The dedication to innovation is what led to the creation of CROC’s flagship product: the classic flat iron. It’s also what led to the brand’s name; the streamlined shape of the flat iron looks like a crocodile’s head. It’s easy to use and handle, as well as lightweight and gentle on the wrist, hand and elbow, so a stylist who spends all day working with hair won’t get aches or pains.
In addition to its sleek exterior, the flat iron features several technologies unique to CROC products, such as its black titanium coating. The coating on the plates is a nonstick, non-static formula that allows for a one-pass glide, making hairstyling faster and easier. The nonstick coating dissipates any electric charge that may pass from the stylist to the flat iron, preventing the electronics from getting overdone.
CROC was the first to use ventilation in a flat iron—technology that dissipates heat from the panels to keep them from overheating, saving both the internal electronics and the skin and hair of the stylist and model. Both the ventilation system and the black titanium coating work together to save the delicate electronics inside the iron. Significantly, both elements are CROC trade secrets. “That makes it very difficult to copy our products,” Singh says.
“We have 10 to 15 years of technology already in our pipeline that we haven’t brought to market yet.”
CROC also has a line of flat irons that feature infrared technology. The infrared heats up the hair cuticles from the inside out, making for a tighter seal, shinier hair and less heat damage, as well as locking in moisture.
With a design made specifically with the stylist in mind to these one-of-a-kind technologies that make styling both easier and faster, it’s not hard to see why CROC’s flagship flat iron became a favorite.
BLOWING AWAY THE COMPETITION
After the flat iron, CROC’s revolutionary hair dryer is its best-loved product. “We did some research, and we found that around 90 to 99 percent of the dryers in the marketplace use technology based on something invented in France in the 1890s,” Singh says. That dryer, which uses an analog system, made its way to the U.S. in the 1920s and has continued to dominate the market since.
CROC took inspiration from the tele- phone and computer industries. After all, if phones could advance past the analog, switch-based phase, why not hair dryers? That’s how they ended up creating one of the world’s first digital hair dryers. Going digital provided a host of benefits: traditional switches are replaced with an easy-to-use touchpad, and the dryer itself is lighter, quieter and more durable (it won’t break if it’s dropped, as many analog dryers are liable to).
There are performance benefits, too. Digital hair dryers have a higher temperature range—230 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 140 degrees for traditional hair dryers. That’s not all. CROC’s digital dryer is the first and only dual-voltage hair dryer on the market. The digital technology allows the dryer to sense the voltage flowing into it, so it’s safe for international usage.
“This is just the beginning for us in terms of the dryer revolution. We’ve got around five or six new designs that we’ve already started on, and some new and improved technology,” Singh says.
CROC’s dedication to improving its products and its focus on digital technologies come with a side benefit: its products have longer lifespans and lower defect rates. “We custom-design and engineer every single piece,” Singh says. “We do not white- label product; all of it is made in-house.”
The control CROC has over its production and manufacturing has led to one of the lowest product defect rates in the industry at just under 2.4 percent. And because of this success, CROC’s increased its warranty plans to five-year limited on its new classic and premium lines—a move that sets the brand apart in an industry where one- or two-year warranties are more common. “We see the future of our brand leaning more toward focusing on bringing CROC as a top-of-the-line, professional, premium brand, not only domestically but internationally as well,” Singh says.
Singh and Park have already started that process. CROC products are available in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and 36 countries worldwide—and they hope to be in 147 countries in the next two to three years. “Long term, we envision ourselves being the No. 1 professional tool of choice when it comes to performance and technology,” Singh says.
“We’re also investing pretty heavily in giving back to the community,” Singh says. CROC has an affiliate program created to get stylists involved and interacting with the brand. It’s a free program for registered stylists who get access to content such as tutorial videos, job postings and career opportunities in the industry, outside of being behind the chair.
“We want to take the success we’ve been able to create and give opportunity to stylists that want to organically intertwine themselves with the brand,” Singh says.
CROC is also looking into ways to bring some of its manufacturing and development back to the U.S. “We’re working with the Department of Commerce to see how we can manufacture top-of-the-line, quality products here in the United States,” Singh says. One of its main goals is to do its part in supporting the nation’s economy through creating jobs and growing the industry. That’s something stylists and consumers alike can all get behind.