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Carol Phillips- A Retailing Powerhouse

Carol Phillips- A Retailing Powerhouse

Jan/Feb 1989

By Rebecca James

Looking for proof that goal setting works? Then watch the shinning example set by Carol Phillips, the diminutive 28 year old powerhouse of ideas and enthusiasm who took the salon world by storm just five years after graduating from beauty school.

Today Phillips is the youngest of Dermascope's remarkable list of industry Legends. And she's earned every inch of her new title. For the past several years, Phillips has kept a grueling pace of public appearances, teaching salons to emulate her sales and marketing success. Her ideas are based on principles she formulated to turn DermaSystems, her esthetic salon in Wichita, Kansas, into a $500,000 a year blockbuster. To duplicate her efforts more efficiently, Phillips two years ago turned out a four part video series on retailing. Entitled MoneySystems, the program is doing well.

"I give the salon building blocks to lay the foundation for good retail selling skills," comments Phillips about MoneySystems.

"Then they have an entire program to train current staff and any new employees who join the salon team."

Recognition for her work is not new to Phillips: In 1984 and ‘85, she was voted one of the Top 100 Entrepreneurs in the United States under the age of 30, following that award in 1986 as an Outstanding Young Women of America. American Salon named her their 1988 Retailer of the Year- the first person to hold such a title from that magazine.

Talking with Phillips, who generates more energy in a single day than most of us muster in a month, you can sense her conviction to purpose for whatever project she is undertaking at the moment. Perhaps it is her eyes: electrifying pools of energy that convey a message of commitment to anyone in her presence. But there is more than mere commitment at work here. Phillips is intensely curious; matching this trait with a powerful need to dig in, roll up her sleeves and make things happen.

"I need to transform my environment," she says as if sharing an important secret.

"To feel like I have made an impact for the better."

"She didn't follow the crowd on anything," recalls Beulah Buhr, Phillips' home economics teacher at Grant Park High School in Illinois. "Not that she didn't mingle and do things with other students. But you could see that little bit of independence there as a high school student, which I think is kind of a rarity in young people." Buhr said.

Phillips, an only child, was born in Harvey, Illinois, farming and manufacturing area 55 miles south of Chicago's Loop. She acknowledges her parents as the first key to her success. "They never said ‘you can't do that because you're a girl' " she recalls. "Instead, they would say ‘tell us what you want to do and we'll help you do it,' whether it was a class play or science project."

After working in a Merle Norman Studio throughout high school, Phillips enrolled in the Broadway Beauty School in Bradley, Illinois, to learn more about the esthetic field. Although the Broadway curriculum was mainly hair design, with hardly any makeup or skin care, she stuck with the tough 1500 hour program to achieve her goal: a cosmetology license.

It was in beauty school that Phillips realized she has tremendous charisma to the consuming public. "She brought in more new clients to the school than any of the other students," says Marry Goggins, a Broadway instructor.

In March, 1980, after a world wind period of presenting workshops and seminars to cosmetologist, appearing as a guest makeup artist in salons, and guiding salon owners in the intricacies of setting up makeup and skin care centers for Myra Deane Cosmetics, Phillips decided to settle in Wichita, Kansas. By May, 1981 she was working for someone else and frustrated. At dinner one night, a friend suggested she start her own company.

With $25,000 in family and SBA loans, the budding entrepreneur opened her new salon's doors on October 13, 1981. "I signed all the loan papers two weeks before my 21st birthday," remembers Phillips. That salon became the successful DermaSystems.

But life as DermaSystems was not always roses. Realizing beauty school did not give her the skills necessary to achieve finical success, in 1982, Phillips signed on with Wichita University's Center for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management. "When I took the class, I was working 12 or 13 hours a day, six days a week, and the idea of growth on any grand scale seemed farfetched," she remembers. The course suggested a new tactic, "I listened to other entrepreneurs talk about how they made their businesses grow and realized that I could do the same thing. But to do it, I had to train other people to provide the services so that I could run the business."

Drawing on material from the course, Phillips, then 24 generated written training programs, technical manuals on beauty products, and a way to keep track of what products each DermaSystems client had tried. A year later she talked over her cash flow difficulties with Fran Jabara, the center's director and her teacher the previous summer. Jabara suggested that she find a way to reduce her debt, and reduce it quickly.

Recognizing "You can only give so many facials in a day," Phillips embarked on a strategy that highlighted the sale of new products, putting services in a secondary role. She returned to her old capacity as promoter, reaching out to the women and men of Wichita with seminars and other community services to convey DermaSystems' commitment to beauty as a total part of a person's well being.

That's when DermaSystems started to gross $275,000 a year in retail revenues alone.

Phillips realizes she is a role model of retailing success to many people in the beauty business. Comments her Broadway instructor, Mary Goggins; "I use Carol's name many, many times with my current students because she is a model of success and drive."

"Being a woman helps," comments Phillips about the example she sets in an industry composed mostly of females. "One of the things that women who run their own company have a tendency to do is to become very isolated. We don't have a support-base or network for ourselves. Women are not used to networking with each other. Men have always been taught to work in teams, whether it's football or baseball. They may not act like each other but they'll put together to achieve a common goal. Women are not traditionally taught to work in teams. They're on their own."

Who are Phillips' role models? "In the industry, Robert Diemer, for his sense of caring - genuine caring about our industry, his clients and the people around him.and Rebecca James. She showed me that research pays off, and the value of communication." Phillip is also an intense reader, finishing two books a week on a variety of topics. "I love Lee Iacocca for his Americanism. He brought back the fact that ‘Made in America' really does have value. And Og Mandino. The man helps me remember that when I don't feel real good about myself, when I question what I do - that despite any self doubts - I really am a miracle. We all are. But we get so bust with ourselves, we forget that."

"I want to remind people that they must continue to try," she adds. "Don't be afraid of your mistakes, look at what went wrong then do it differently the next time. And don't loose your humanness. Getting wrapped up in business can dehumanize you. Keep your sprit live, touch other people, and continue to care."

Today, Carol isn't in Kansas anymore. After leaving DermaSystems last year to pursue a new phase of her career, Phillips signed on briefly with Diemer's American Institute of Esthetics as the company's Vice President of Sales and Marketing. In pursuit of goals closer to her own interests, she's now gone on to greener pastures. Where to?

"I'm not telling," she says, her luminous eyes shining mysteriously. "Not yet."