Ever wonder what OPI stands for? We’ll save you the Google: It’s Odontorium Products Inc., which probably wasn’t what you were expecting. Back in 1981, George Schaeffer bought the dental supply company, and thanks to some unlikely customers — manicurists who were coming in to buy dental porcelain to make acrylic nails —he was inspired to ditch the denture business and start making nail lacquer. Thirty-six years and several thousand bottles of “I’m Not Really a Waitress” later, Schaeffer has set out to redefine another part of the beauty industry. Here, he shares the stories behind his biggest innovations, the secrets to his success and why he thinks it’s crazy that you don’t know what your colorist is putting on your head.
What was missing in nail care when you created OPI?
There was no personality to it. The color name “Red 192″ did not resonate with me. And sometimes it didn’t even have “red” on it, it just had a number. We started with 24 colors and launched seasonal collections like they do in the fashion industry. And we retired colors every year. When we took those shades out of retirement, they sold like crazy because people were like “oh my favorite color is back!”
What are your favorite OPI color names of all time?
“OPI Red,” which is a classic color, “Up the Amazon Without the Paddle”, and there was a Russian collection with all kinds of names like “Russian Navy.”
After Coty purchased OPI, you started a haircare brand named Aloxxi Hair Color. What made you want to get into that space?
I went into the hair business because nails is a very tiny part of the whole persona, but the hair is everything. I always looked at nail color as an accessory to fashion. It’s a very individual thing. Fifty percent of women never change their nail color. They’re so dedicated to that nail color. And in a way, I think it’s even more with hair.
And you’re taking a page from the OPI playbook and giving the hair colors names.
Colorists are so afraid to reveal what color goes on the hair, so you’re only giving them the end result. I wanted to make it easy. Give it a name. Not “7N” or “9N,” but “Nero to My Heart” or “Haute Chocolate.” It’s a language, not some vague communication, so I’m not gonna walk out looking like this when I wanted to be that.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
I approach everything I do with quality as number one because I cannot sell something I don’t believe in. And it has to be consistent. That’s extremely important with color. You have no idea the behind the scenes effort to get it right every time.
Speaking of your success, you’re also known for being very generous with your money. You’ve given away several scholarships, computers and more to your employees’ children. Why is that important to you?
I’m an immigrant. My family came here from Hungary with zero. But in this country you can sell a business for close to a billion dollars in a lifetime. And even before that, I always believed the number one factor in any business is the people. Nothing is more important and I believe in taking care of the people we have.
When you look back at all your accomplishments, what’s one that you’re the most proud of?
I think the charity stuff that I was able to do was great. And I’m in five different businesses today. One is beauty, which I insist on staying in. It’s the one business that the Internet won’t change because you can’t do somebody’s hair or a manicure over the Internet.
What’s your favorite OPI shade? Sound off in the comments below.