Bonnie Steen Fab Over Fifty Interview
- FOF: Tell us a bit about your background. I was born in Dayton, Kentucky and moved with my family to California at age 12 in 1955. I met my husband in California when I was 14 and we married when I was 15.
- FOF: How old was he? Claude was 21. And we were married 49 years and it was just a wonderful marriage. My son and daughter were planning our 50th wedding anniversary when he died suddenly of a heart attack at 69. That was three years ago, and it’s been a devastating time for the whole family. He was a wonderful husband, a wonderful father, and my best friend.
- FOF: I’m so sorry for your loss. How did you know, at 15 that you were in love? I’m not sure that I knew what the word even meant at that time. I had a wonderful family but I just wanted to be with him. So we eloped–and it just was a tremendous life. We were blessed.
- FOF: What did he do? He was Chief of Instrumentation at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
- FOF: What did you do after you married? I quit school and had a son and two daughters. Before they started kindergarten, I got my high school diploma. I didn’t want them to know that I never graduated from high school. Then I went to work at Antelope Valley College part-time as a selective service clerk, took college courses and ended up getting a full-time job there. When I retired at 58, ten years ago, I was director of financial aid. I absolutely loved my job, and was at the college for 27 years.
- FOF: Did your husband mind that you were working? I had to convince him that nobody, nothing would suffer. I just really wanted to work and dinner was going to be on the table.
- FOF: How and when did you come up with the idea of Roots Only? I first had the idea for Roots Only in 1994, when I was fifty. I colored my hair myself because I didn’t feel like sitting in a salon for hours every month. I thought it looked okay, but my hairdresser told me I was damaging my hair with too much color. ‘You either need to have me, or your husband, do it.’ I knew Claude wasn’t interested, but I still didn’t want to spend hours at the salon. One day, after I washed my hair—it was shoulder length—I was combing out the tangles with a hair pick and I suddenly thought, what if the teeth of the pick were hollow and you could attach it a bottle of hair color and squeeze the color out through the teeth. You’d be able to comb and apply color to the new growth at the roots in one action. Tinkering around the garage, my husband created a ‘model’ by attaching 10 tiny plastic straws (that come with WD-40 lubricant cans) to 10 small holes he drilled into the side of a plastic hair color bottle (he sealed off the bottle top.) I filled the rigged-up bottle with conditioner to see how it would work. (Conditioner has the same consistency as hair color.) By squeezing and combing, I was able to keep the conditioner concentrated at the roots of the hair. When my niece used the prototype applicator we created to apply real hair color to her roots, she said: ‘My gosh, Aunt Bonnie, this thing is fabulous. I didn’t have to section my hair like I usually do when I’m coloring it and there was no dripping. The color went exactly where I directed it. I did my roots in less than five minutes.’”
- FOF: What happened next? We did the patent search, hired a patent attorney and went forward with baby steps at that point. It wasn’t until 1998 that we had our packaged product. We debuted at the Antelope Valley Fair and did very well. Then we showed it at flea markets and got awesome testimonials.
- FOF: Is Roots Only sold in other retailers, too? Yes. Roots Only is available at other retailers and now in more than 2700 Sally Beauty Supply Stores in the USA and Canada. Also, Roots Only is available in grocery, discount drug and other beauty supply outlets. Roots Only is also available online at www.rootsonly.com.
- FOF: How much is it? It retails for less than $6.00 and it’s reusable. Including the solution or box of color you buy, it’s far less expensive than having your hair treatment done at the hairdresser. We partner with VIP Solutions, a non-profit company in the Rancho Cucamonga area, who hires workers with disabilities to do our packaging. It has been a terrific partnership in that we are keeping jobs in our community and maximizing the potential of individuals with disabilities.
- FOF: Do you enjoy this second career at 68? I’ve had a tough time since I lost my husband. I will always be passionate about Roots Only, but now I like concentrating on the public relations and going into the stores. My husband was so supportive and wanted to see me realize my dream.
- FOF: Besides work, what makes you passionate? I’m starting to get into golf a little bit. It’s provided a little bit of therapy. And fishing. Claude and I retired in Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 2004, where we had a little vacation place. He was quite the fisherman. We’d get out in that boat, and it was just paradise.
- FOF: Where do you live now? In Lake Havasu, because it holds so many memories of Claude.
- FOF: What was the secret to your successful relationship? I think early on it was putting him first, doing special things for him. I then became first for him. We surprised each other; we were best friends. It worked all the way through our marriage. When roses came to the switchboard at the college, everyone would say: ‘These must be for Bonnie.’ He would send roses for no reason. I was so blessed by God. Not very many people can make it work when they’re so young. We were married in December of 1958 and had out first daughter a year later. She died when she was two after she got a hold of a bottle of pills. Tragedy would pull many people apart, but it brought us even closer.
- FOF: Tell us a little about your parents? My dad was a very brilliant man who quit school in the eighth grade, and my mom quit school in the sixth grade. My dad had odd jobs all of his life and my mom was mainly a homemaker. She raised five children and always made each one of us feel like we were her favorite. We were very poor, but we had a wonderful family. My mom never had an enemy. Everyone loved her.
- FOF: How do you like working with your daughter? It’s wonderful. She was my sounding block before she ever got involved in Roots Only. We’re very close. I’ve got the best of everything right now because I get to do the PR and she and Mike take care of the business.
- FOF: What hair color do you use for your own hair? Garnier.
- FOF: What is one of your favorite books? My favorite book is Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. This was the book that inspired me to move forward with Roots Only. Currently, I’m reading Rule #1 by Phil Towne, a book about the stock market that presents a very simple formula for how to choose stocks and invest. I’m finding it very interesting. I also loved reading A Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren because it lifts me when I’m down.
- FOF: A favorite restaurant? I like the ambiance of the Nautical Inn Restaurant in Lake Havasu City. It’s right on the water.
Mother/Grandmother turns her idea in to a successful business!!
In about 1978, Bonnie Steen became a blonde. It’s a decision she has never regretted, despite the huge maintenance responsibility it carries with it. We’re talking dark roots here. To remain perfectly coifed, a bottle blond must religiously cover those unsightly roots as her hair grows. Otherwise, she’ll risk looking like, well, a bottle blonde, or bottle redhead, or bottle brunette. While some gals regularly visit a hairdresser to keep telltale roots in check, many women such as Bonnie are do-it-yourselfers.
They cover their roots at home, alone or with the help of a friend. But even with an extra pair of hands to apply the color, it’s a difficult and messy chore that can produce spotty results. Then there’s the added danger of frying one’s hair with the chemicals, which is what happened to Bonnie. “My hairdresser said I was damaging my hair to the point that it was going to start falling out because it was over-processed. She told me to apply the hair color to my roots only if there was going to be any hope of saving my hair,” Bonnie explained.
The troublemaker for do-it-yourselfers is the single-head applicator bottle that comes in the hair color package. Working with small sections of hair, the chemicals must be applied to the roots only — a clumsy and imperfect process. “When I would do my roots, I’d end up with globs of color in the wrong places. And it was especially hard to do the back of my head because I couldn’t see what I was doing,” Bonnie said.
“I thought, ‘There has to be a better way’.” So she invented it, with the help of her late husband, Claude. “I asked him to build a hair pick with hollow teeth that would screw onto a hair color bottle so I could comb it through my hair,” Bonnie explained.
Using one of Bonnie’s plastic hair color bottles, Claude capped the top and drilled 10 small holes down one side of the bottle. He cut tiny straws from WD-40 cans to comb-size length and glued them in place. A prototype for Roots Only was born. The year was 1998. “I put hair conditioner in it to test the bottle, to see if would saturate just at the scalp, and oh…my…gosh! It worked!” Bonnie said.
Bonnie’s invention worked so well, she instantly knew she had discovered a pot of gold. “I felt like I was sitting on a winning lotto ticket — I knew it was a winner because I was not the only one with this problem of coloring my roots.” At the time, Bonnie and Claude were still a couple of years away from retirement. She had logged 25 years at Antelope Valley College in California and was the assistant director of financial aid. Claude was in his 28th year at Edwards Air Force Base and was chief of instrumentation. Neither one had experience with patents, manufacturing or marketing.
So Bonnie did what most people do when they need to learn something new. She went online and bought a book. “I did a lot of research. One book in particular had a quiz. It said if you had more ‘no’ answers than yeses, then you may not have a good invention. Well, for us, just about every single question was a yes. So I applied and got a patent for our idea,” she recalled.
The couple dipped into their retirement savings, investing $30,000 in a custom mold to manufacture the Roots Only applicator head and packaging. Selling the product became a family affair, enlisting the help of the couple’s daughter, son-in-law, niece and Bonnie’s sisters Peggy and Nancy. The troupe set up shop at county fairs and festivals, selling hundreds of Roots Only applicator bottles to grateful customers.
“We didn’t have a clue how to price Roots Only. We ended up charging $12.95 for it. Our first time out, at the 1998 Antelope County Fair, we sold 250. We were thrilled,” Bonnie said, adding that Roots Only sells itself. “I can do my roots in less than five minutes — I just comb and squeeze. There are no drips and globs.” As retirement neared in 2000, Bonnie and Claude were considering moving from their Palmdale, Calif., home to Lake Havasu City.
“Since the early 1980s, we’d been hooked on Havasu. We bought a small vacation home and Claude loved to come here and fish. In 2004, we bought a bigger house and moved here full time,” she said. Despite the move to Havasu,
Bonnie and Claude decided to keep the Roots Only manufacturing and packaging processes in California. It was a good thing that their business ran like a well-oiled machine because things were about to change in a big way for their product.
“In 2000, I met with Rodney Colycott, the Wal-Mart store manager in Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.). I showed him Roots Only and he helped me start the process of getting our product in his store,” Bonnie said. About 18 months and several hurdles later, Roots Only was for sale at the Rancho Cucamonga Wal-Mart. Priced at $4.94, it flew off the shelf. In a few short months, Roots Only was in six more Wal-Marts. Again, it sold well and was put in more Southern California Wal-Marts, bringing the total up to 35 stores.
“It was an exciting time for us. We put Roots Only in a few privately owned beauty supply stores, but we also had a stack of rejection letters from several national chain stores. To be in all of these Wal-Marts was really something,” Bonnie said.
In 2002, Bonnie and Claude’s invention was selling like hotcakes at Wal-Mart. She said the retailer required that each week, four units must be sold in each store to keep her product on the shelves. Roots Only was selling 15 to 18 units per week in each store. Based on their product’s strong sales, Bonnie and Claude were invited to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville. Ark. to meet with buyers. As a result of that trip, Roots Only was placed in 1,028 Wal-Mart stores.
The product again performed well. In 2004, Roots Only was placed in 3,500 Wal-Mart stores and Super Centers. Though Roots Only is no longer available through Wal-Mart, Bonnie estimated that she’s has sold close to a million Roots Only units so far. When Claude died unexpectedly in 2007, Bonnie ratcheted down her involvement in the day-to-day business. Daughter, Susan Ladua holds the company’s reins fulltime from Rancho Cucamonga, California, but she continues to keep a close eye on sales and answers e-mails from customers from the comfort of her Havasu home.
The Roots Only Application System is now used for many other applications such as applying conditioning growth oils, hair conditioners, anti-itch medications medicated shampoos, moisturizing oils and of course hair color. So basically with Roots Only, you can apply most liquid or cream hair treatment solutions to the scalp and roots.
Though Roots Only is no longer available at Wal-Mart, you can now find Roots Only in more that 2700 Sally Beauty Supply Stores across the USA and Canada. Soon, Roots Only will be expanding in Mexico and South America through Sally Beauty Supply Stores.
John likes working on this job!!!