Beauty Store Business magazine - January, 2020

Three Generations Strong

Family-owned and -operated since 1991, DeveloPlus turns unique haircare formulas into a winning recipe for success.

On a warm summer day in Corona, California, I visit DeveloPlus’ two-story, 150,000-square-foot headquarters to meet the mother-and-son duo behind the company, CEO Kiran Agrey and COO Steven Barnes. The pair apologizes for running a few minutes behind schedule–they had a frenzied morning and several people await their approval on a seemingly important decision. But when they sit down for the interview, their calm dispositions could’ve fooled anyone into thinking it was a sluggish day at the office. Maybe that’s a testament to how they’ve managed to survive and thrive in the haircare market–they make manufacturing more than 7 million products per year and running four brands totaling 350 SKUs look easy.

Often the most fruitful businesses have humble beginnings, and DeveloPlus is no exception. The company’s impressive rise in the world of hair dyes and gray coverage is the result of three generations and, currently, 100 employees tirelessly working together to expand DeveloPlus into four distinct haircare lines: Satin, Splat, Color Oops and No Gray. Here, you’ll learn more about this family-run operation, their secrets for like-minded entrepreneurs and what it’s like to be a major, influential player in the ever-changing hair color category.

In 1991, Kiran and her parents, Dave and Ann Agrey, founded DeveloPlus. Prior to starting the company, Dave, a mining engineer from India, ran a printing shop in Denver with Ann. “Kiran at one point wanted to be a cosmetologist, so that’s why we got into hair care–we started the business for her, really,” Ann says. “My husband had a chemistry degree [from Nagpur University], so he knew what he was doing.”

At first, the family tinkered with a formula for months until they created a safe developer for professionals and, soon after, shampoos and conditioners formulated for salons and beauty stores followed. Kiran admits that formulating products and gaining brand recognition among consumers were the biggest challenges in the beginning. “We were creating conditioning developers, so getting that stabilized was a challenge,” Kiran explains. “And we were unknown to the industry, but we managed to break through.” To do that, Kiran went door to door to salons, spending hours pounding the pavement and performing product demonstrations to gain her clients’ trust. “We needed to learn the industry and our customers. The only way to do that was to be hands-on,” she says.

In 1994, the Agreys began importing colors from Italy and soon after added hair colors to their product lineup under the name Satin; by 1997, they were manufac- turing everything in-house. “We started in the kitchen and we gradually went to a 1,000-square-foot building to 5,000 square feet to 26,000 square feet–and then we added four more buildings and outgrew all of them,” Kiran says. Their current space boasts a lab, a photo studio, production areas, filling departments, a warehouse, a distribution center and ample office space.

Living by the philosophy “there’s always room to grow,” DeveloPlus launched the brand Color Oops to mass market in 2003. The product, a revolutionary, ammonia-free color remover, is so gentle on hair that customers can recolor their locks the same day. In 2005, Splat, a line of temporary vivid colors that last anywhere from one to 30 washes, debuted in beauty supply stores, drugstores and the mass market. In the years that followed, DeveloPlus introduced No Gray Quick Fix for instant gray coverage on the go.

There was a point when Kiran, who has a background in accounting and office management, took a few years off from the business to live in England with her young sons, Steven and Christopher Barnes (“It was always my dream to live there,” she says). Upon her return, she opened up jewelry kiosks in malls. But when the market crashed in 2007, she closed up shop and returned to DeveloPlus.

Today, Christopher, who joined the company about a year ago, works as a business analyst. Steven, a premed student who studied drug development in college, came onboard four years ago as a customer service representative. Eventually, he moved up the ranks to quality control, changing roles frequently until he grew into his current position as chief operating officer. “My earliest memory of the company was filling bottles in the kitchen,” he says. “We still have the table here that we used back then.” But of all the tasks he’s now in charge of, he is fond of one in particular. “I’m from the lab, so I love being part of the development process.”

“We really like to help people express themselves and it’s great to see everyone adopting this trend of bold, vibrant and colorful hair.”

—Steven Barnes, COO, DeveloPlus

Ann says that it’s exciting to see her grandsons so involved with the company and that they’ve caught on quickly. “We planned to pass the company on,” Ann says. “Steven was going to be a doctor, and so was Christopher, but when my husband got seriously ill, Steven gave it up and came to work for the company.” Steven worked alongside his grandfather for almost two years, learning the ins and outs of running the company. That valuable experience combined with the multiple roles he has played crystalized one key point for Steven: Listen to what your customers want. “Starting in customer service really opened my eyes to the people that make this all happen–and the importance of focusing the company on them. We like to have that personal touch and have direct feedback,” he says. “That’s what sets us apart. ... It’s different when you do it all in-house.”

Kiran took over as CEO after her father passed away in 2017. “My father was a good boss. He was tough but respectful and caring. He was a strong-minded person who always expected a lot of himself and, in turn, expected the same from us.” His style of leadership is what Kiran tries to emulate in her role as CEO.

An average day for Kiran begins at 6 a.m., taking work calls from home and getting into the office around 10. As DeveloPlus’ CEO, her main responsibilities encompass managing finances and human resources, but she wears multiple hats to ensure that both her team and her customers are satisfied–which often means working on weekends.

Steven’s days start much the same way. He wakes up early and meets with Ann, who is still actively involved in the day-to-day operations, particularly overseeing the Satin product line. Steven says she “keeps us on our toes.”

“Since we do everything in-house, it’s kind of like a circus trying to keep everyone together and on the same page. The biggest challenge is making sure the right product goes out the door, and then also working on product development, marketing, sales and customer service–a little bit of everything,” Steven says. He does this six days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day.

“Obviously there are challenges working with family, but even when you’re not working with family there are challenges,” Kiran says. “I feel like we’re closer. We’re involved in every aspect of our lives together, business and home. I enjoy it. Our company culture is family- oriented. We’re a close-knit group and there’s a pretty relaxed and homey atmosphere here. It’s very collaborative.”

“We do everything from our graphics, research and development all the way through manufacturing, filling and distribution. ... It keeps us agile.”

—Kiran Agrey, CEO and cofounder, DeveloPlus

Up until his passing one year ago, Dave remained involved and passionate about the future of DeveloPlus. “He was working up until the day he couldn’t,” Steven says. “It’s nice because it really is like a home here. Everyone wants to be successful and everyone wants to see everyone else be successful here. Since we’re all in the same place, we go and ask each other for help. It’s not a corporate environment; it’s not a rat race.”

Kiran adds, “[My father’s] philosophy was make the best-quality product for the best price, help others when you can, always treat people as you would like to be treated, work hard and stay focused.”

Several defining features that set DeveloPlus apart from other hair dye manufacturers are its safe formulas, good value and quality. Their Satin colors use less than 1 percent ammonia and feature an aloe vera base with conditioners and reconstructive vegetable proteins to nourish hair as it’s dyed. And then there’s Color Oops, a one-of-a-kind hair color remover made from hydrosulfite that doesn’t damage hair like bleach, ammonia or peroxide do.

“Color Oops is a hero product because it can be used with any hair color–and it allows the consumer to remove unwanted hair color without having to go and spend a lot of money in the salon for a color correction,” Kiran says.

Then there is the Splat line of vegan, cruelty-free vivids that come in every color under the sun, including ombré varieties. The recent revival of bright colors, the celebration of hair artistry seen on social media and consumers’ desire for festival- worthy hair have helped propel Splat into the spotlight as DeveloPlus’ most suc- cessful line. “We really like to help people express themselves and it’s great to see everyone adopting this trend of bold, vibrant and colorful hair,” Steven says.

Kiran adds, “It’s all about techniques and multiple colors these days. People aren’t just wearing one or two colors. And it’s not just highlights; it’s highlights, lowlights and anything else. ... It’s mixing it up. It’s expression. That’s the fun part.”

“We consider our employees part of our family. We want everyone to be comfortable and happy. Take care of your employees.”

—Ann Agrey, cofounder, DeveloPlus

Kiran and Steven plan to continue providing consumers with unique solutions to various hair problems as DeveloPlus grows and moves forward. Product development always begins with going to the source of inspiration: the consumer. “With the customer service in-house, we get a lot of feedback consistently and we have a lot of customers that call us on a regular basis just to catch up and tell us what their ideas are. Social media helps as well,” Steven says. “We’re unique in that we make our own brands; there are people that do it, but not a lot of people, and not at this size.”

Being hands-on through every step of the process also ensures that DeveloPlus consistently maintains a high standard of excellence. “We do everything from our graphics, research and development all the way through manufacturing, filling and distribution. It helps us maintain the quality of the product as well. It keeps us agile,” Kiran says.

Steven adds, “We take that pride in what we’re making because we’re making it. It’s not third-party and it’s not just inventory we’re pushing. ... We want our customers to have the best price, but we also want our B2B customers to be in business.”

Integrity is essential to DeveloPlus’ mission. The formulas are never tested on animals. “All the products are cruelty-free and everything is vegan–we embrace that. We’re female-led and -owned, and everyone in leadership positions here is vegetarian or vegan. It’s weird, it just happened that way!” Steven says. “We make sure we source our products, any raw materials, in line with our values. And we support a lot of charities.”

Those causes include the Sankara Eye Foundation, a nonprofit that strives to eradicate curable blindness by way of providing surgeries all over India and in remote areas around the world; United Way, a nonprofit that supports local community schools and attempts to increase graduation rates; and the MDS Foundation, which funds research for myelodysplastic syndrome, a chronic illness that is often misdiagnosed and can lead to a form of leukemia. “We have been affected by this disease in our family and want more people to know and under- stand about this disease,” Kiran says.

The Agreys care equally about customer satisfaction, staff satisfaction and helping others within their community. “We’re customer- and employee-driven, and we want everybody to be happy,” Kiran says. “That’s what it’s all about: happiness and expression.”

Ultimately, this family has a winning formula for success, and their future has never been brighter.

Instagram: @color.oops, @satinhairofficial, @splathairdye
Twitter: @satinhaircolor, @splathaircolor
Facebook: @coloroops, @satinhaircolor, @splathaircolor

DeveloPlus’ Kiran Agrey, Ann Agrey and Steven Barnes provide their tips for success

  • Overall Satisfaction: “I think our strength is our employees,” Kiran says. “Keeping our employees happy is a big lesson. And also keeping our customers happy. Listening is big. It’s something we really need to do because if we don’t listen, we don’t know where we’re going to go from here.” Ann adds, “We consider our employees part of our family. We want everyone to be comfortable and happy. Take care of your employees.”
  • Make It Happen: Though smaller, privately owned companies have certain limitations, they also have free rein to innovate. “If you can dream it, you can do it—with focus, hard work and perseverance, you will succeed,” Kiran says. “It’s like a baby; you want to birth that baby and you want to see it grow. I think in corporate America, you don’t necessarily have that opportunity.”
  • March to Your Own Beat: The beauty of the beauty industry is that it’s constantly evolving and changing. “Even against these giant corporations who own the industry, there’s still room for all of us,” Steven says. “We’re still putting up the fight and we’re still succeeding. ... Family-owned or privately owned businesses are still viable in the beauty industry, and we’re changing the industry. We’re the ones driving the trends and driving the conversations, and I hope that more people do it and continue to do it. It’s a unique environment.”

[Photo by Corey Sorensen and courtesy of Developlus]