Fairy Tales Hair Care Co-Founder and CEO Discusses Life in the Fast Lane

Risa Barash discusses what it's like to be an entrepreneur running one of the top hair care product companies in the US.

MP recently spoke with Risa Barash, CEO and co-founder of Fairy Tales Hair Care, a leader in all-natural hair care and lice prevention products for children. Created in 1999, Fairy Tales Hair Care is the first line of natural lice prevention hair care products and is now sold in nearly every retailer in the United States. After years working in other career fields such as stand-up comedy and given that hair care for kids was the family business, Barash was ready to explore the entrepreneurial gene she was gifted. After 20 years, Fairy Tales Hair Care is sold in thousands of stores, pharmacies, grocery chains, and salons. Never one to slow down, Barash created the TBH Kids line when she noticed her children were growing up and entering the scary land of puberty. TBH Kids is a DTC brand that focuses on hair, skin, and body care for tweens.  

MP: What’s Fairy Tales Hair Care, and what makes it unique?

RB: Fairy Tales Hair Care is the bestselling kids’ line of salon-quality hair care products in the US. We provide salon-quality, natural, good-for-you products with no harsh chemicals. That’s our core purpose and has been for the last twenty plus years. Outside of being an early adapter to cleaner, greener products, Fairy Tales Hair Care is unique because we also created the number one lice prevention product in the US, our Rosemary Repel line.

Girl in robe holds Fairy Tales Hair Care products.
Photo courtesy of Fairy Tales Hair Care

Why did you start Fairy Tales Hair Care?

At the time, I was slowing down my career as a stand-up comic and had recently gotten engaged to my husband. One day he came home and started telling me about this lice shampoo that was flying off the shelves at his cousin’s hair salon for kids. What started as a simple conversation quickly turned into me rebranding and revamping the product. We updated the packaging, enhanced the formula to include natural ingredients, and added a conditioner and a detangling spray to create a product line. Next thing you know, I was going door-to-door down the streets of Manhattan to get this product put into salons.

What initially made you want to go after the ugly side of beauty?

I saw it more as a need than a want. So often, successful businesses are created because someone noticed a gap in the market or an opportunity to create a better version of something that already existed. That’s kind of what happened here. I didn’t expect to go from stand-up comic to kid’s hair care, but as a mom and a consumer, I realized I needed these products, and as it turns out, millions of other people needed them too. 

When did you first want to follow an entrepreneurial path?

It always seemed like an option to me as I have had many family members who have started their businesses. My husband’s cousin, Rob, owns the Fairy Tales Hair Salon in Long Island, where he specializes in kid’s cuts and also sells our products – this is where the first version of Rosemary Repel was created, and our business got its start. My great-grandfather started a flashlight and battery company, and it grew to be one of the largest in the US. We supplied US soldiers in WW2 with floating flashlights and BrightStar batteries. However, I took the next step when I felt the timing was right. My stand-up comedy career was wrapping up. I was looking for my next journey, an opportunity presented itself, and I jumped all in. 

What’s your typical day look like, and how do you manage your work-life balance?

I typically start my day with a Jess Simms run on my Peloton treadmill and some good strong coffee. After that, my shadow (aka Duke, my Havanese) and I leave for work and spend our days in meetings, on calls, and texting my children. Jack is a sophomore in college and Ava a senior in boarding school, so my work-life balance is not as crazy as it used to be. While I miss them terribly, it’s nice to focus on just one thing for more than an hour. 

TBH Kids product lineup
Photo courtesy of Fairy Tales Hair Care

What are your three greatest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears? 

  1. A global pandemic will shut down schools. I tried to manage the fear by realizing that we would all be back in school at some point and that the time was now to focus our efforts on our fabulous other hair care lines.
  2. I used to worry that competition would come into my space and leave me homeless, but after 20 years, I can confidently say that fear has gone. I managed that by working harder and making sure we always send the message to parents that we are the creators and leaders of the lice prevention category. 
  3. I always had a slight fear that we couldn’t scale the business. We created amazing problem/solution hair care lines such as Sun & Swim and Tangle Tamer, but we were busy with Rosemary Repel. The last 18 months have certainly proven me wrong, as each is up over 300%.

What’re three obstacles you’ve faced throughout your career, and how have you overcome them? 

  1. Transitioning from a salon-only brand was challenging. We worked with our stylists to create special sizes and sales to keep them engaged while entering mass retailers such as Target and Walmart.
  2. Scaling the brand is hard when your resources are limited. Making sure we grew slowly yet consistently was how we managed our growth.
  3. Hiring quality candidates is challenging. We are not typical “beauty,” and we are not a typical mass line of products, so finding the right people to help us grow can be a struggle. We now use a search firm to assist us – it’s expensive but saves time and money and mistakes in the long run.

What’re three pieces of advice you can share with people looking to become effective leaders in their businesses, and why? 

  1. Jump in! It’s ok to make small mistakes and learn as you grow. A good entrepreneur redirects quickly and effectively. When starting, getting bogged down in the details can not only waste your time but proves to be unnecessary. There is always going to be something you could have done better – just do it! The rest will work itself out. 
  2. Ask a lot of questions to your peers, friends, and those whose business acumen you respect. Learning from others’ successes and failures is a great learning tool.
  3. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. You started a business because you saw a specific need. Focus on that, do it better than anyone else, and then think about expanding.

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful leader? 

I think some of the biggest successes I’ve witnessed, as well as some of my own, have come from doing things in a unique way or in a way specific to yourself. You can’t formulize success. It comes from so much, including drive, ambition, and seizing opportunities at the right time.

What three questions should would-be entrepreneurs ask themselves before starting a new venture and why? 

  1. Why are you doing it? Is it because there is a need in the market, do you think you can do it better than what’s already being done, is it your passion, etc. Finding the true meaning of why you are doing something will help keep you focused as you go on your journey, and it will also become your mission statement. 
  2. How are you going to pick yourself up when you fail? Some people would say getting started is the hardest part. However, I disagree. What are you going to do if your idea doesn’t get immediate traction? What if you get turned down by a major client or retailer? What if a global pandemic happens? Obviously, in business and life, many things are out of our control, and you cannot plan for them, but being able to keep a positive attitude, stay motivated and weather the storms that come your way is not only what will drive your business. Still, it is what will keep you in business.
  3. Why would someone buy your product or invest in your service? If you can’t answer this question, you will have a hard time convincing consumers on a mass scale. 

How do you market your products, which tactics have been most successful, and why do you think this is the case?

  1. Retail distribution – shelf space is critical to growing a brand.
  2. Social media – we started growing our business online in 2001 and have stayed on top of trends, including UGC, always a winner.
  3. Email marketing – we did this very early on and are now working on this channel again.  Growing our “Fairy Tales Fans” database is important to us, and we grow and create more lifestyle products. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Growing a business is not for the faint of heart. It takes a certain kind of person to know that you might not succeed this time, you might lose money and lots of sleep, but you make that leap anyway. So, learning to fail is important – almost as important as a win. Each teaches you something, including what your next steps should be.  

Find Fairy Tales Hair Care on Instagram and Facebook

Cover photo courtesy of Risa Barash.

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