Balance — While long days, hard work, and grit is certainly something that led to my success, balance is something that kept me going and kept me fresh each time I showed up at work. Family, fishing and my study of Kabbalah are all elements that rejuvenated me. This allowed me to come back to work each week with a fresh set of eyes and with a sense of renewal.
As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian K. Marks.
Brian has spent his 30+ year career dedicated to the entrepreneurial spirit, bringing excellence to women’s hair care products and helping the human condition through philanthropic work. His innovative approach to creating, developing, and marketing healthy, personal care and beauty retail brands and tapping niche consumer audiences in today’s culturally diverse society is a singular success story.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path?
The first company and brand that I started was a hair care line called All-ways Natural in 1981, and it was the first company to have a visibly herbal ingredient in the product. This was a very different concept for the industry at that time. So, introducing the concept of natural ingredients to buyers and consumers was quite challenging. However, I put in the work and remained persistent. After nine years with All-ways Natural, one of my trusted advisors, my accountant Phil, asked me, “What do you think about coming up with a new brand?” That is when I developed African Pride, a line of hair care products targeted specifically for African American women. African Pride took off and became an iconic product which is still selling today. The momentum continued when I launched the Dr. Miracles hair care collection, another renowned product line available to consumers still today. After the sale of Dr. Miracles, I again was motivated with the help of Marissa Schwartz to develop my latest brand, My Israel’s Miracle hair care line. While traveling through Israel, I became inspired to learn more about the health and beauty elements known to be essential in the region. It was then that I discovered the benefits of these powerful ingredients and wanted to share them with customers around the world and My Israel’s Miracle was born. We are currently on Amazon and there is nothing like it on the market. Interestingly, we are the first company using the word Israel in the brand name.
Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
At the time of the launch of my first brand, All-ways Natural, buyers and consumers had not grasped the concept of natural products. Since it was the first company to have a visibly herbal ingredient in the product, it required a lot of convincing for distributors to buy in to the brand. The first nine years were filled with rejection and buyers discontinuing our product. However, giving up was not an option, it’s just not in my blood. I woke up every morning and got back to it. This was certainly a hard time. However, with a focus on sales, we pushed through those first nine years and we were able to reap the benefits of success during those following years.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I often say fear can be a great motivator and can drive you forward. I had bills to pay and a family to support. I didn’t have any other choice than to power through. I had put years into the brand and was committed and determined to make it a success.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
Getting through those early years was a very long process. I had bought out my partner and was pounding the pavement on my own. During this time my grit and resistance really grew. A big part of grit leading to success had to do with being surrounded by good motivators. After nine years was when my trusted advisor put the thought of starting a new brand in my head, and African Pride was born. The launch of African Pride was a totally different experience. The first few months were tough, but I expected that to be the case. I had gone through the storm with my first brand and I came out with experience, tougher skin, and the grit I knew would help me drive my business. African Pride was quite successful as was Dr. Miracles, both brands are still selling today. Now we are looking to continue that success with My Israel’s Miracle. With this new launch comes new challenges. I came from a world of pounding on the actual physical doors of Walmart and Walgreens to navigating the digital consultants at Amazon. To say times have changed is an understatement. However, this doesn’t discourage me. Instead, I am learning to evolve with the new marketing and sales models. I feel confident that My Israel’s Miracle will follow in my other brand’s footsteps and achieve great success.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
1) Hard Work: You have to put in the work and be persistent. My paper route, when I was 12 years old, is where my grit truly began. Me and my buddies I would get on our bikes and sell the paper once a week. Not a complicated process; ring the bell and collect the money. Of course, with any business, there were challenges like who didn’t answer the door or who didn’t give a tip. As a kid, I could have given up. Instead, I kept working hard and when people didn’t pay, I just kept knocking on the door.
2) Think Outside the Box: As a kid, around 10 years old, I sold cold sodas in the park when people were playing ball. I knew I had to make money in order to help my family, so I thought of ways to do it. Be observant. Look around to see what consumers need, how things are made, how brands operate. Educate yourself and then think of how you can improve what you are observing. Whether it’s an innovative consumer product or a tool to streamline a process. We all knew people were going to get thirsty after playing in the heat. However, I took that and figured out what was missing in order to create an opportunity to help my family.
3) Persevere with Confidence: As I mentioned, the first brand I started was All-Ways Natural, and I had a rough nine-year start but I never gave up. Instead of the challenges getting me down, I assessed and learned from them. It made me smarter and more confident to persevere and grow my business.
4) Stick To The Basics: The basic building blocks of any company are sales, profitability, and building and developing the right team. With all my brands I never let myself get too distracted away from the basics because I knew they were the foundation to a successful business. Even when brainstorming next level strategies, I would always go back to the basics to ensure the foundation was stable and moving in the right direction.
5) Balance: While long days, hard work, and grit is certainly something that led to my success, balance is something that kept me going and kept me fresh each time I showed up at work. Family, fishing and my study of Kabbalah are all elements that rejuvenated me. This allowed me to come back to work each week with a fresh set of eyes and with a sense of renewal.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
My CPA, a man named Phil Garfield, was referred to me by my bank manager. Phil was a tax attorney and CPA and had a blessed gift where he could look at a financial statement and see things no one else could see. He had an ability to understand any business and advise. I always sought out people who I thought could teach me things. Phil became my mentor and was able to guide me in so many ways. The greatest thing he would do was to snap us out of it when things were down and motivate us to keep moving forward. I am a huge proponent of people seeking mentors and/or becoming one.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have six kids whom all bring greatness to the world. Also, I am a big supporter of the Birthing Project, which supports pregnant women who are in need. We have supported them for the past 15 years, not only monetarily but also working with their founder to assist in larger strategic projects. We are currently sponsoring a project in Africa, which has saved the lives of many women and babies.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’ve always have been fascinated with trademarks and intellectual property. I had the trademark for my new collection, My Israel’s Miracle, for over a decade. I was traveling through Israel while in my mid-40s, and I felt a strong energy, as Israel is well regarded as an energy center of the world. I truly felt there was something special about it. When you ask anyone who has ever traveled to Israel, and you see their reaction, it’s really remarkable. The reaction is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The long and the short of it — we wanted to bring a little bit of that special part of Israel to people here in the U.S. by using ancient Israeli ingredients in the My Israel’s Miracle products.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I’ve always believed in openness; so, it’s important my employees understand why they’re doing something, and that they don’t simply have tasks or minute-to-minute interference from me. I also feel it’s important to do things as a community, which has nothing to do with business. For example, one weekend we told the staff not to come in on Friday or Monday. Instead, we took all 87 employees on a cruise, where everyone participated in inclusive events such as karaoke and group get-togethers. Going beyond business is a significant part of our company psychology.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would create a system where young people can work legally and are rewarded for working. This is something we’re so far away from. Most minimum-wage jobs are held by adults. We are seeing more and more students graduate from college, who haven’t worked. Experience is so important, and I know it would help students if they began to develop hands-on skills while they’re still in school. I would love to change this.
Another movement I am passionate about is encouraging people to become mentors or to find mentors. The concept of mentors is seen today as something old, but when you read about the really smart people — all of them talk about their mentors. So, I think accessibility to becoming a mentor, or to find one, is still important.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Stop looking at your shoes and look out into the horizon.” This is a way of saying that whatever obstacle or problem you’re seeing today, it will clear up tomorrow just like the weather. This outlook has always kept me moving forward with confidence in all of my businesses.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook @My Israel’s Miracle
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.