Risky Business

Despite starting at the height of an economic crisis, Mehmet Kanar has fast-tracked Kanar's success with calculated risk-taking and smart technology.

Born in a small city on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey called Antalya, Mehmet Kanar may seem an unlikely beauty business success story. In fact, the managing partner of Kanar Inc., in Carlstadt, New Jersey, Mehmet had a first career as a standout accountant. After relocating to the U.S., he founded his company in 2007, and has since built one of the largest B2B barber supply distributors in the market. He even delved into manufacturing his own successful brands. Mehmet maintains a hands-on, do-it-yourself approach, pinpointing solutions, fast-tracking new technology and always thinking ahead–all while retaining an approachable, customer-friendly attitude as a one-stop shop.

Despite his impressive track record, he still feels there’s a lot to learn. “The industry we find ourselves in definitely has a big learning curve and is constantly changing,” Mehmet muses. “Even now, though I’ve been in it for over 10 years, I constantly feel like I am missing something or am behind–but it definitely keeps me interested!”

Mehmet recently sat down with Beauty Store Business to talk about his unexpected shift into beauty, the strategies and philosophies that have fueled the skyrocketing success of his company and where he sees Kanar headed in the future.

TAKING THE LEAP
After excelling in math early on at Antalya Anatolian High School, Mehmet continued on that track, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from Bosphorus University in Istanbul in 2001. “I thought it was the best direction for me to take,” Mehmet recalls. His instinct was right: After graduation, he went to work for the Istanbul division of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the largest accounting service companies in the world, and quickly established his professional prowess. After only three years, in 2004, Mehmet was promoted and relocated to the firm’s New York City office.

“This was an exciting step for a 27-year-old who had just received his CPA license, and that’s how the U.S. chapter of my life began,” Mehmet says. “While working there, a family friend who worked for Derby, in Turkey, asked if I would sell their razor blades in my spare time. I hesitantly agreed and imported my first pallet, which sat in our attic for six months because I had no idea what to do with it!”

Kanar New Jersey office

 
But, again, Mehmet would prove to be a quick learner–and the type who thrives on conquering new challenges. To familiarize himself with the new industry he suddenly found himself involved in, he attended the Northeast Beauty Rep Association trade show, while still testing the waters, keeping his safe accounting job at the forefront. However, boredom and a nagging entrepreneurial drive soon forced him to take the leap that would change his life’s direction. “I continued to work another three years for PwC before I became dissatisfied with what I found to be the not-so-dynamic ways of corporate life and felt ready to venture out on my own,” Mehmet says. “It was then that my wife and I decided to start our own family business in the professional beauty industry–with the one product I had. Looking back, this was the most irrational move I could have ever made, with the country being in the middle of an economic crisis. But there’s no better time than the present, so I took the risk.”
 
Mehmet made every attempt to grow his business, largely through grassroots tactics such as visiting barbershops to leave samples and collect feedback or traveling coast to coast to meet with distributors.
 
And his nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic paid off. Starting out in 2007 as an exclusive importer of Derby razor blades, Kanar concentrated on the barber supply and men’s grooming sector. But, as the company grew, it expanded its selection to reach all areas of the professional beauty industry. “With our early entry into the men’s category and an increasing demand, our work over the past 10 years gave us an opportunity to become recognized as one of the largest barber supply distributors in the market at the B2B level,” Mehmet says. “Even now, not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new. The beauty industry drew me in because it’s filled with endless opportunities–so much innovation from such a wide variety of people. There is plenty of room for all of us to grow in whichever direction we choose.”

“For me, technology is such a time-saver and has allowed us to grow by reaching more people with up-to-date information and collecting their feedback, which we can then process faster and more efficiently.”

And grow his company would. Mehmet began working as a distributor in 2011 and now does business with more than 200 domestic vendors. As other opportunities arose, he found himself becoming a manufacturer as well–a new and completely different experience that helps him “better understand and appreciate the trials and successes of the other brands we work with,” he says. “For example, as a distributor, you can return any defective product you have on hand; as a manufacturer, you can’t, so the risk is higher, and so is the investment–but it can also mean a higher return.” Luckily, in the face of this calculated risk, Mehmet again proved up to the challenge.

INSIDE THE COMPANY
Today, Kanar flourishes as a manufacturer, importer and master distributor of more than 200 brands and 20,000 SKUs of professional barber, beauty and personal care products. The company’s New Jersey office and warehouse complex hosts two sizable facilities–one clocking in at 45,000 square feet and the other at 30,000 square feet. The room needed to safely store a wide selection of products for rapid turnaround of each order.

Memhet and Ruya Kanar



And, while this location serves customers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America, there are additional Kanar outposts worldwide. “Through partnerships, we also have locations in the U.K., Australia and Italy, as well as production facilities in Turkey,” Mehmet says. “We also have a full team of independent sales reps and third-party service providers. Our sales are primarily for business-to-business exchanges, with a growing portion of our sales also directed to professionals, such as stylists, barbers, nail technicians, etc.”

Some of the key brands Kanar manufactures include The Shave Factory, with men’s shaving products; Dream, which produces hygienic neck strips; Créé, a hair color line made in Italy; and K-Concept, a line of salon, barber and spa furniture. Kanar is also an exclusive importer for brands such as Derby, featuring double- and single-edge razor blades; Gummy, a line of men’s haircare and shaving products with top-selling hard-hold gels; and Marmara Barber Cologne, currently available in four fragrances.

This eclectic enterprise is streamlined significantly through the power of technology. With IT developers on staff, the company has created its own software to manage the warehouse. The software is integrated with a state-of-the-art conveyor system brought in late last year, which drastically speeds up the shipping and receiving processes, monitors the weight and dimensions of outgoing boxes and ensures swift sorting. Mehmet knew, when moving into a new building, it was the right time to invest in this equipment–another calculated risk that he believes will pay off. “It’s more than we need at this point, but it’s not something our competitors have, and I’m sure it will help us grow even more over the next 10 years,” he says. “And by developing everything ourselves, like the software, we have a lot of flexibility and greater ability to scale. I think this has been a key part of why we’ve been able to grow our product range from a couple of hundred to 20,000.”

Despite its amazing rate of expansion, Kanar continues to be family-owned– something Mehmet hopes will always hold true–with him and his wife, Ruya, running the U.S. location. She, too, is multitalented–helping with every aspect of the business, from staffing trade show booths to being a wise sounding board for her husband’s latest business ideas. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of traveling and keeping your focus constantly, but we enjoy it,” Mehmet says. “We also now have a daughter and hope this business becomes a good experience for her as well. I don’t know if this is what I will do for the rest of my life, but as long as I see it continue to grow and be a good choice for us, we will continue to run the business.”

That drive doesn’t seem to be diminishing anytime soon. Mehmet admits he was lured in by the fast-changing nature of the beauty industry–and his passion for it has yet to waver. “With new brands coming into the market, new technologies and trends surfacing every month, new categories to enter or niche markets to reach, it’s a great industry for me,” he says. “I am a growth seeker. And I believe not losing this desire is the biggest success anyone could have, including me.”

“My focus is on balance; we are not only an importer, distributor or manufacturer, and I think we have the right mix of brands, product categories and price points in our catalog.”

Though his eager-to-learn mindset has kept him entrenched in an ever-evolving industry, he believes the true secret to the company’s success is old-fashioned perseverance. “I’m always on the lookout for opportunities and am not afraid to try them when they arise,” Mehmet says. “We also have a great team of people across the globe who have allowed us to be efficient and make better use of technology, because we could never do this alone. Our partnerships are invaluable, and we are so thankful for the trust so many brands give us.”

WINNING WAYS
At a time of contraction or consolidation for some distributors, Kanar is rapidly expanding. How does this company buck the trend? “My focus is on balance; we are not only an importer, distributor or manufacturer, and I think we have the right mix of brands, product categories and price points in our catalog, which lets us reach a large pool of customers–more than most regional competitors,” Mehmet explains. “Plus, we really focus on customer care, so our customer retention rate is very high. Our customers can sell our products easily, and their margins are safe. We cater to accounts both small and large, meeting their demand through our confidential pricing, B2B e-commerce portal and quick shipping.”

And with that balance comes smart growth strategies, including taking on entirely new categories to strengthen the business’s portfolio. The company's newest addition, Créé is a line of hair colors made in Italy with a unique formulation that creates longer-lasting results while keeping hair exceptionally soft. It’s the company’s first hair color, so Mehmet started slow–by launching it locally and taking notes from user feedback. “I’m confident that we will grow slowly but surely in this category,” he says. “We are not in a rush.”

Kanar conveyor belt warehouse

 
Kanar also opened a new division, salonsupply.com, to help the company directly serve beauty professionals. Mehmet notes that it’s still in the beginning phases, but he plans on having independent, part-time reps around the country take orders for Kanar using the company’s mobile app, already loaded with nearly 3,000 products from its catalog. “We are building it so that the app can work offline as well,” he adds. “Our distributors can use the same app and make drop-ship orders for us to ship to their customers directly, and the system is designed to prevent any zone violation conflict as well. For me, technology is such a time-saver and has allowed us to grow by reaching more people with up-to-date information and collecting their feedback, which we can then process faster and more efficiently.”
 
Growing smartly at a time when many are cutting back certainly is nothing new to Mehmet–after all, he still recalls the challenge of beginning his operation back in 2007, when the economy was in tatters and many businesses closed up shop altogether. But, as a former accountant, he also trusts in the natural cycles of economics. “A tumultuous economy always leaves people feeling uncertain, which typically causes companies to act conservatively with their decision- making,” he says. “It must be because of my beginnings–starting up my business in a down economy with little knowledge of the industry I was delving into and only one product to my name–but I have always pushed through it.
 
“History shows that everything cycles in and then cycles out again, so all we can do is move forward,” Mehmet concludes. “I give 110 percent of myself to each and every day. I know that every decision isn’t going to be the right one, but if my history repeats itself, in the end, I will have made more right decisions than wrong–and that is all I can ask!” ■