Going Long On the Short and Curlies

Betty Beauty finds a colorful niche with its products for 'the hair down there.'

By Lorraine Sanders, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Nancy Jarecki met Betty in a Roman hair salon. She and her husband, Andrew, the founder of Moviefone, had moved to Italy to enjoy the good life after selling the company in 2001. A year later, getting blond highlights, she noticed women leaving with what looked like doggie bags. Turns out they were taking home extra dye to, in polite language, make the carpet match the drapes.

Inspiration struck; after a few years of marketing, medical, and toxicology research, Betty Beauty hit the market last summer.

The first home dyeing kit for below-the-belt hair costs $20 and comes in five colors--blonde, brown, black, auburn, and a pink called Fun Betty that outsells the others seven to one. A thousand salons and retailers carry the kit, ranging from funky Ricky's NYC to Amazon.com (Charts). Most customers are women ages 29 to 52, but 14 percent are men.

"They're young and old," says a Ricky's salesclerk. "A lot sneak in because they're embarrassed." Not too embarrassed: Jarecki expects $1 million in sales and a small profit by summer.

The Brazilian wax craze and "personal shavers" have made "that hair" a legitimate beauty niche. Jarecki wants to lure adventurous and more conservative customers with an image more playful than pornographic. "Betty," slang for female surfers and skaters, sounds friendly. The packaging, with a female silhouette and strategically placed triangle in the corresponding color, is frisky--as is the slogan "Is your Betty ready?"

"Betty might make people laugh," Jarecki says, "but I'll take a giggle over an 'ick' any day."

The novelty of Betty Beauty has paid off in cheap publicity. Jarecki has spent just $1,995 on advertising, for space in a Las Vegas beauty-trade-show brochure last year. That generated enough buzz to attract Jay Leno's talent bookers. A mention in DailyCandy, the popular style e-newsletter, followed. By the end of 2006, BettyBeauty.com was getting as many daily visitors as Clairol.com.

The Jareckis' money and connections helped too. AOL (Charts) paid a reported $388 million in stock for Moviefone, so they were able to seed the business. The couple socializes with A-listers like Tom Hanks, Al Gore, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who featured the product in the magazine.

Jarecki is now branching out with new colors, holiday kits (think St. Patrick's Day stencils), and a secret new product. The market seems endless. "I'm surprised," she says. "There are more people with a pesky gray hair or two than I ever imagined." Top of page

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