Seven Questions With Suzi Weiss-Fischmann

OPI Nail Lacquer’s chief on turning from dental to beauty, the industry’s growth and the appeal of gels

Suzi Weiss-FischmannAs the executive vice president and creative director of OPI Nail Lacquer, you recently spoke here to Ace Hardware’s Women in Retail Leadership Summit. How was your talk received?

I got a standing ovation. These women are second-generation [hardware store owners]. A lot of them are family-owned. They are trying to make the hardware store more of an experience for women and trying to get into the social/digital world.

You worked with Ace on a line, Clark+Kensington …

They took 50 OPI shades, and you can make [them] into paint! OPI is a lifestyle brand—you cannot only wear it, you can wake up in it.

When did you discover beauty as a business rather than a hobby?

OPI [turned] 35 years old on April 1. We were in the dental business first. We sold acrylics in the ’80s, when people were wearing long nails. It’s very similar chemistry as making dentures. We took the liquid and powder monomer and polymer, and the primer, the adhesive agent. We met a young polymer chemist working in the movie industry in Hollywood, and he put together the formula. We put a rubber band on three bottles and called it the Rubberband Special. We went up and down Victory Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. We asked salons to try it for two weeks. People loved it—that’s how OPI was born.

OPI is from the dental industry, Odontorium Products, Inc. It was a family business. I actually studied biology in school, and I’ve always had entrepreneurial experience. When opportunity presented itself, my brother-in-law bought a dental-supply company from his uncle, moved to Los Angeles, and we started OPI.

“I want to make sure our colors appeal to everyone; whether you want to be edgy, sexy or conservative. Not just American women, global women.” – Suzi Weiss-Fischmann

Did you ever imagine that the nail business would become such a major industry?

Never. The last 10 years were huge. Times are good and bad, but a bottle of nail lacquer can make you feel good. That instant gratification passes any socio-economic level. It’s the one service in the beauty industry where you’re face to face with your client, touching someone’s hand—it’s so personal. You never miss a nail appointment. You get up from the chair, you feel better, your hands and nails look and feel better than when you sat down. You look at your hands and nails all day, you wear jewelry, and you speak and express yourself with your hands.

What color are you wearing right now?

I’m working on spring shades for 2017. Each nail is a different color

What was the first name of the first color?

The first that are still in the collection from 1989 are: Cajun Shrimp, Coney Island Cotton Candy and OPI Red. These are part of the Classic Collection. They come from what OPI loves: to eat and travel.

What has been the biggest advancement in nails over the last 10 years?

Gels have reinvigorated the market. We’ve had gels for 20 years. You’d have to cure one finger at a time and they were mostly for extensions or enhancements, then nail polish. So being able to apply gel and/or color for two weeks without having to worry about one finger being odd, or polish chips/nicks, it’s a huge advancement. Incorporating pigments into the gels has been a revolutionary innovation. We had Shatter, instant nail art, about five years ago. It lasted about a year. Diamond dust for special occasions like holidays. We’ve done many things, and are constantly looking for newness. Even top coats, that don’t yellow or clump and give you that smooth, high-shine gloss. Now, we have a hybrid of nail lacquer and gel that’s called Infinite Shine. It stays on longer than traditional nail lacquer and also retains its high gloss shine.

Who are your business mentors?

My mom is my hero. My daughter is 22, and I take a lot of inspiration from her. The average woman is also my inspiration. I want to make sure our colors appeal to everyone; whether you want to be edgy, sexy or conservative. Not just American women, global women. Trends go so fast because of social media; that’s whom I want to appeal to. Beauty is not artificial. If you look good, you feel good. It’s empowering.

Was there any one risk you took that really paid off?

Every day is a risk when you’re a manufacturer. You have to deal with regulatory issues … issues with your machines. Each time you grow, each time you take those next steps, it’s a risk and it’s difficult. People ask me what was my greatest success? Making decisions. Most of them were good; I was lucky. And if it was bad, just move on. Move on, you’ll catch the next one. Patience and making decisions are two things that any businessperson must have.