How a hair care company went from a salon provider to a sanitizer powerhouse

When AG Hair moved to its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in its new, 70,000-sq.-ft, Coquitlam, BC two years ago, it was part of plans to supercharge its hair care product line salons. In the international market. Europe was later on his list. Then Covid-19 hit.

Not only was European expansion suspended, but saloons in major markets across Canada and the United States were temporarily closed. Very few people bought hair products, so production was halted in mid-March, leaving most of the company’s 82 employees out of work.

AG Hair could have waited for the epidemic but instead decided to lean towards his entrepreneurial culture and create a sharp pivot. It has begun delivering hand-sanitizing products to front-line healthcare workers to address global shortages.

Graham Fraser, CEO of AG Hair, said: “We understand that healthcare professionals have this huge need, and we want to make a difference and be able to deliver the products they need.”

One week after applying for the license required to make the sanitizer, AG Hair received Canadian and U.S. approval and created a sample to show to local authorities within 48 hours.

AG Hair's Coquitlam Advantage Leads to Hand Sanitizer (Photo by Alana Patterson)

AG Hair’s Coquitlam Advantage Leads to Hand Sanitizer (Photo by Alana Patterson)

“The timing of that quick response, and the fact that we went through all the regulatory hurdles in Health Canada, shows [the local health authorities] That we were a partner they could trust and look to anyone to deliver the products they needed, ”Fraser said.

Within a month, the company began pumping products first to the healthcare industry, then to its own website for customers and on Amazon. About 10 percent of AG Hair’s hand-sanitizer production also goes to needy people, as identified by companies such as United Way.

Parallel 49 Brewing Company, in partnership with the BC government, is using AG Hair’s Coquitlam production facility to create its own blend of liquid hand sanitizers for front-line health and emergency workers.

Fraser credits his team for their strength and creativity in helping to produce hand-sanitizers and bring AG Hair workers back to work.

“We realized we had a chance. . . And then it turned out to be this incredible, almost battle-room mentality and collaboration with our bosses, our executives and our people, ‘How are we going to get through this?’ Fraser recalls. “I think our success speaks to the kind of people we have and the entrepreneurial attitude we follow in every way, with an understanding of how we can produce products and make it happen.”

AG Hair’s commitment to investing in future growth is a big part of making it a well-managed company, said Nicole Coleman, a partner at Deloitte and co-head of its best-managed program in BC.

“Capability and innovation come together strongly with this company,” said Coleman, who also coaches AG Hair at Deloitte. “I don’t think they would be able to pivot so fast if they weren’t so tactical and had the inner ability to do it.”

The production facility was a big investment, but one Coleman said it had already paid dividends

“They were waiting with a strategic plan for future growth and how they could expand, not just focusing on the day-to-day,” he says. “The best managed companies always put pressure on the envelope and are aware of future plans.”

AG Hair was founded in 1989 in Vancouver by hairstylist John Davis and graphic artist Lotte Davis. The couple began bottling hair products in their basement and selling them directly to the saloon from behind the station wagon.

The company eventually moved its production off-site, to a third party. One day, John went to see the operation and was surprised to see salt being poured into the mixture. Although he was told that salt is usually used as a thickener, he did not like the possible side effects of dry hair and skin.

At that moment John decided that the company would oversee its own production. “Through that experience, John also became an expert in product development,” said Fraser, who joined the company in 2000 as sales director.

After working for more than two decades at PepsiCo and Craft Foods, Fraser was interested in working for a smaller, more agile company where he felt he could help make a difference.

“It was perfect because I brought a lot of structures and processes into the organizations that I learned, but I learned an awful lot from John and Lot about being an entrepreneur: that sense of urgency, the decision making process, getting things done and moving things forward. We have to take it and follow the opportunities, “he said.

Fraser has helped AG Hair expand its reach in the United States and internationally, including Australia, Taiwan, and Central and South America. A portion of its sales go to One Girl Can, a charity founded by Lotte that provides schooling, education and counseling for girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Fraser also oversees the development of new, trendy products, including a new deep-conditioning hair mask made from 98 percent plant-based and natural ingredients. Hand-sanitizing sprays and gels will be the latest addition to the company’s product lineup.

“We do not see demand [for hand-sanitizing products] “As isolationist policies begin to emerge, people will need a variety of protections and protocols as they return to regular life and work. We see that these kinds of products are going to be needed in the long run,” he says.


This article appeared in print in the June 2020 issue McLean Magazine with the headline, “Working Kings.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

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