Jewish Entrepreneur Develops Unique, Successful Chain of Salons for Kids
Twenty years ago, Cozy Friedman was looking for her niche. “I always knew I was going to have my own business,” she said. “I just didn’t know what it was going to be. I just knew I would. And I was constantly looking for that great idea. How do you find that great idea? I would always talk to other entrepreneurs and say, ‘Well, how did you get this idea? What sparked it?”
One day, a friend was telling Cozy how she brought her young nephew to get his hair cut at the adult salon she frequented. “The little boy started to cry,” Cozy recalled, “so they asked her to leave. So I said, ‘Why don’t you take him to a place for kids?’ And she said, ‘I don’t think there is one.’ So that, for me, was my lightning bolt moment. There’s no place for kids? There should be a place for kids.”
Cozy began doing research and realized there was an opportunity to tap into a market that no one else was taking advantage of. She went to barber school and worked in many different children’s businesses such as gyms and clothing stores. “I learned everything there was to know,” she says, “because I didn’t know anything – I wasn’t married then, I didn’t have kids. It took me two years to open our first location – and the reason it took me so long was because no landlord would rent to me. Here I was this young Jewish not married no retail experience girl. Actually, I had landlords that said to me, ‘Sorry, I just can’t take a risk on you,’ and then in the next breath say, ‘Are you married? I’d like to set you up with my son.’ So I wasn’t really being taken very seriously.”
Cozy finally found a landlord called Mimi Maternity who was looking to rent out half of their space which was a separate store on Madison Avenue and 84th Street. “They thought it would be a great synergy to have the two stores together,” she said. She opened Cozy’s Cuts for Kids in 1994. “The day that we opened,” she remembers, “there was literally a line of people waiting to get in. It was incredible. It was the total ‘if you build it, they will come’ situation. It was great. And two years later I opened another location on the Upper West Side because we had to. We were so busy at Madison Avenue that we always had an hour or more wait. So we opened the second location which also did well right from day one.” In 2004 she opened a third location on Second Avenue and 74th Street, which is where Cozy’s corporate office is based.
Cozy Wolan was born in 1965 at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. And yes, Cozy is her real name (“My parents were hippies,” is her response when she is often asked about the derivation of her moniker). When she was three years old, her family moved to Queens. After graduating from Forest Hills High School, she attended the University of Massachusetts where she majored in communications. It was there that she met her husband of 19 years, Joey Friedman, a loan trader at Credit Suisse with whom she has two sons, ages 12 and 14.
After graduating from college, Cozy and Joey moved to New York where Cozy landed a job in advertising. “I despised it!” she says of her one year in advertising. “I hated it. I realized I could not work in a corporate culture. It wasn’t for me.”
With three salons doing well and quickly earning a reputation as the go-to place for Manhattan’s uptown kids to get their hair cut, Cozy found there was a void. “I couldn’t find a line of hair care products to use in the salon,” she said, “because I wasn’t going to use an adult line. We didn’t sell adult products. And adult products aren’t right for kids’ hair. But we did need styling products, we needed a gel, we needed a styling cream, we needed a detangler but yet I wasn’t going to use drug store products…because it’s just not right for a salon. You need something professional.”
Unable to find suitable products to use, Cozy decided she needed to create her own. The first obstacle was finding a lab that would produce small batch sizes. She eventually found one in Canada. “They created our first line of So Cozy hair care products,” she recalls. “What was great is that we could use our salons like our own lab where we could see how the formulations work. So basically our little clients were our little guinea pigs.”
Originally Cozy planned to just sell her hair care products in her salons. Ian Ginsberg, owner of the popular Bigelow Apothecary in Manhattan’s West Village, asked Cozy if he could sell her hair care products. “I had no idea how to pack boxes or ship or anything like that,” Cozy said. “I threw a couple of cases of the So Cozy products in my car, I drove downtown, and I delivered it to him. He looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I’m delivering your products.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to find another way.’”
Once Bigelow started carrying the So Cozy line, other pharmacies in the city began ordering the products for their store. Today Cozy’s hair care line can be find in pharmacies and hair salons throughout the country, and all of the products are now available on Cozy’s Web site (www.cozyscutsforkids.com) and Amazon.com, a far cry from the early days of her delivering each order by car.
“The mission statement for the salons was always: take something that’s a little scary for children and make it fun, make it friendly, make it something they actually look forward to rather than dreading,” Cozy said. “And I guess that’s really the mission statement behind everything that we do because with shampoo and with products – a lot of kids don’t like to shampoo their hair, they’re afraid of it, it gets in their eyes. So what we tried to do with the product line was to make it different than anything else that’s out there. And as a mother now, I want it to be good ingredients, good for you, healthy.”
Cozy’s biggest seller came about when parents started coming into her salons frantic about lice going around in their kids’ schools. “We started to research it,” Cozy recalls, “and I realized that tea tree oil is the strongest natural repellent of lice and actually ticks as well. So it works similar to the way citronella works with mosquitoes. Mosquitoes stay away from a citronella candle not by magic but just because the fragrance keeps them away. It’s a repellent. And that’s how tea tree oil works with lice.”
For her best customers, Cozy began putting drops of pure tea tree oil in shampoo and selling it to them. Realizing this was another untouched market, Cozy worked with her lab to formulate Boo! shampoo and a Boo! spray-in conditioner. “Again, if you’re going to get kids to use it, they have to like it, they have to want to use it. It can’t be clinical, it can’t be scary. The whole thing about lice is that it is such a taboo topic. There are so many misconceptions about lice, that you get it if you are dirty, which is actually the opposite because lice prefer clean heads because with dirty hair it’s more difficult for them to grip onto the hair.” The name Boo! came about when Cozy’s son was using the conditioner at home and said, “I’m going to scare the lice away! Boo!” “That’s it!” Cozy said. “I knew that was the name of the product.”
The day Cozy launched Boo!, it was written up in The New York Times style section and there were so many orders that it literally shut down her Web site. “We were so not prepared for it,” she recalls. “We knew we would get a boost but this was crazy – hundreds of orders coming in from all over the country… It’s still, to this day, our top two sellers of our whole product line.”
Cozy says that her philosophy for being successful in business is that she tries “to listen to the customers and listen to the staff, who are my eyes and ears.” She had been urged for years to write a book about her expertise in children’s hair care, and in 2011 she published Cozy’s Complete Guide to Girls’ Hair, which is now in its third printing and remains in the top 20 on Amazon.com’s Beauty & Fashion category.
Cozy’s latest edition to her product line is a magic wax stick that launched this week. “It’s amazing for spiking hair, for texturing,” she says. “Wild watermelon is the fragrance and it’s great for fly-aways, for smoothing the hair around a ponytail.”
“We have a lot of Jewish customers,” Cozy says. “More on the Upper West Side than the Upper East Side – it seems to be a bigger Jewish area – but still plenty in both. But what’s really interesting that I didn’t know about until I opened the salon is that in the Jewish religion for more religious Jewish people, they won’t cut a boy’s hair until they turn three, at which point there is a haircutting ceremony where it’s like a big party surrounding the first haircut of the boy. We actually do a lot of these – we’ve rented out the salon for these private parties. And we have a staff that can go to do these parties – a lot of people do them in their home. We even have kosher lollipops in our salons because of our Jewish clientele.”
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Cozy believes in giving back to the community and frequently donates hair care samples and gift certificates for free haircuts to many charitable causes. “We support every charity from pediatric cancer to breast cancer to autism in many different ways,” Cozy said. “There’s a benefit every year at the Jewish Museum and we send our stylists there and they do updo’s and fun hairstyles and a beauty bar booth. It’s always a very nice party and a great museum to support.”
After two decades of hard work to build a business and brand name that continues to garner her great press and media attention (she’s going to make a return appearance on the fourth hour of the Today show the day before Thanksgiving), Cozy Friedman still has one major taskahead, something most every Jewish mother knows from: preparing for her youngest son’s bar mitzvah in January. Mazel tov, Cozy!