Christian Brickman is taking a brand that has long been content to exist in salons and on store shelves into a modern digital world. He’s five years into a stint as CEO of Sally Beauty, a Denton-based company that generates $3.9 billion in annual revenue, selling hair care products and tools and cosmetics to consumers and professional stylists. Those businesses were strong enough that prior leadership, Brickman says, never felt compelled to wander into digital marketing.
“For the first seven or eight years of the smartphone, we didn’t exist on the smartphone,” Brickman says. “We had no digital media. We had no social media. We had no apps. We had no connection to the smartphone at all. Between 2007 and 2015, we basically didn’t play in that arena.”
Brickman’s path to changing that approach started at Boston Consulting Group in Chicago, where he quickly made an impression on a boss who happened to depart for NutraSweet. At just 24 years old, Brickman accepted a job as manager of strategy and capital.
“It was more about working with a great person who I respected and knew I could learn from and less about whether that job or another company would be a cooler industry or anything like that,” says Brickman. “One of the things I learned early on in my career was to follow great people, learn from great people, and nurture great people because then they’ll follow you as well.”
Brickman moved to Dallas in 2006 as a partner at McKinsey & Co. It was there where he met Tom Falk, then CEO of Kimberly-Clark, a connection that vaulted his career into executive territory. By 2010, Brickman led Kimberly-Clark’s $3.5 billion professional division. By 2012, he was the jet-setting president of its $8.5 billion international business and sitting on Sally Beauty’s board. The company called him into duty as chief operating officer in 2014, with the understanding that he would soon become chief executive. In February 2015, he did.
Brickman walked into a company that today has around 5,000 stores, about 3,700 of them branded Sally Beauty and pulling in about 60 percent of the company’s revenue. The balance, 1,300 stores, sells directly to salon professionals under branding you may not have heard of—CosmoProf and Armstrong McCall—and pulls in the other 40 percent of sales. The company sells a growing list of its own products, some of them lines affiliated with social media influencers it sponsors.
Brickman says Sally Beauty has seen strong growth in segments like vivid color hair products and products developed for curly, natural hair. And the business is live—a celebrity posts on Instagram with honey-blond hair, and sales in that color soar. On the heels of store closures and streamlining last year, the company announced the creation of 40 new jobs around digital commerce and branding in October. It also added 270 jobs when it opened a new, 500,000-square-foot automated distribution center in Denton County last March.
“Part of what happened here at Sally was that it had an incredibly differentiated business model that obviously everybody made a lot of money off of,” Brickman says. “But the problem was it got tired. They failed to invest, they failed to change, and they failed to adapt. What we’re doing is taking that wonderfully differentiated model and adapting it and making it fresh.”