Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, Creative Director of Nail Brand OPI, on DreamWorks & the Acquisition by Coty

The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series features Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, Executive VP & Artistic Director of OPI Products Inc., the world leader in professional nail care.

OPI Products is globally renowned for its Nail Lacquers, available in over 200 shades, each created personally by Suzi based on that season’s fashion and beauty forecast.

The company has partnered with and created colors for various brands, celebrities and film studios including Ford Mustang, Alice in Wonderland, Dell, Shrek, Katy Perry, Serena Williams, Pirates of the Caribbean, Miss Universe and Muppets.

In 2010, OPI was acquired by Coty, Inc.,the world's largest fragrance company. 

With an extensive background in the New York City garment industry and a degree from Hunter College, Suzi combines fashion-forward thinking with business-building savvy.

We spoke to Suzi about her part in rebranding the Ford Mustang; her tips for negotiating high profile partnerships; and how life at OPI has changed since the recent aquisition by fragrance giant Coty.

TNW: Looking back at the early days of OPI, what was the inspired moment that led you to change the company’s direction from dental to nail products?

SWF: OPI began as a dental supply company; however, some of the materials used in dentistry were also used for acrylic nails. At the time, enhancements were all the rage, so we began dropping off our “Rubber Band Special” at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid, and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, effectively paving our way into the professional nail industry.

TNW: OPI has some very high profile partnerships with companies such as Walt Disney Pictures and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. Who was your first high profile partner and how did you approach them? What is your advice for business owners looking to negotiate high profile partnerships?

SWF: OPI’s first high-profile partner was Ford Motor Company, and we were approached directly.

Ford came to OPI because the company realized women make the choices when it comes to purchasing a family vehicle, and that color and aesthetics play a large role in that decision. Ford was looking to rebrand the Mustang and give it new appeal to female buyers.

OPI and Ford worked together to match three nail lacquer shades with three Mustang paint colors. Lacquers and even manicures were offered at dealerships across the US. This partnership was very smart for both OPI and Ford. Ford was able to appeal to women, who were looking for an overall experience, at their dealerships. OPI was given a major boost in securing future collaborations down the line, as other companies saw Ford’s success.

My advice for business owners looking to negotiate high profile partnerships is to think of collaborations very strategically. Ask important questions, such as, “How will the partnership directly benefit my brand?” or “What I am trying to achieve with this partnership?” Partnerships that are mutually beneficial will be appealing to both players. When it comes to OPI, I am most interested in partnerships that will generate excitement – these have proven to be the most successful.

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?

SWF: Technology is a very important factor in OPI’s success. We place a strong emphasis on our Research + Development department, and we are constantly looking to bring newness to the category, from treatment products to salon services to nail lacquer. Our newest breakthrough service, GelColor, features full-gel lacquers that apply in minutes, for manicures and pedicures that last two to three weeks. Gentle on nails, GelColor is applied similar to traditional Nail Lacquer, then flash LED UV-cured in a total of four minutes per set (almost four times faster than standard gels). The line debut will include 30 of the most sought-after OPI hues – along with base and top coats – to produce glossy, smooth, chip-free color. Services like GelColor keep OPI relevant in today’s market, where consumers are always looking for new and advanced introductions.

TNW: OPI is known for its philanthropic involvement in multiple organizations that promote health and education. Which of these causes is particularly close to your heart and why?

SWF: Lung cancer is one of the causes that OPI supports which is very close to my heart. I had a very dear friend dying of lung cancer who had never smoked, leading to the realization that lung cancer is a major killer of women.

I created the nail lacquer shade Breathe Life to help raise funds and awareness for the cause. Newly generated discussion led to the government allotting 10 million dollars to research – a huge coup.

Of course, all of the causes OPI supports are very important. From breast cancer to bone marrow transplants, OPI seeks out ways in which we can carry a strong message in our bottle.

TNW: How would you describe your leadership style? How has your leadership style changed over the years, and why?

SWF: Over the past 30 years, my leadership style has changed from a self-proclaimed control freak to someone who knows how to surround myself with people who can translate the culture of the company. The key to being a good leader, so I’ve learned, meant relaxing my style. Today, I have an open door policy, and I encourage people to approach me with ideas.

I’ve also learned that some people can do things better than myself, which is why building a strong team and learning how to delegate is so important.

TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

SWF: In building my team, I looked for people with good work ethics who fit into our strong corporate culture. I also looked for people who would be able to translate my vision. I am very creative and rely on trusted employees to help turn my ideas into reality.

TNW: How did life at OPI change after the 2010 acquisition by fragrance giant Coty?

SWF: Life at OPI has not changed; no one left from OPI, and no one from Coty has joined the staff in North Hollywood. One of the wonderful things about Coty is that the company purchased OPI hoping to maintain and grow our successes. Coty kept the OPI team and culture intact – two elements which have been imperative to OPI’s triumphs.

TNW: What is next for OPI? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

SWF: “What’s next” for OPI is still on the horizon. Technology has changed both the products we market and the way we market those products. For example, in January 2011, new technology led to the launch of a revolutionary new product, Shatter. This instant graffiti-style nail art was such a big hit that we had to expand the line with new shades to meet consumer demand. In 2011, our two biggest sellers for the year will be Shatter shades in Black and Silver. In just one year, Shatter sold 5 million bottles worldwide.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?

SWF: Dell was a game changer for OPI; this partnership opened our doors to many more collaborations. There is a great relationship between personal laptops and personal nail color, but making that connection is an illustration of out-of-the-box thinking by Dell. Dell’s unique, exciting approach garnered a lot of attention, and caused other companies to look at OPI in a new way.

One of the biggest benefits of all-women networks like DWEN is that women love to talk and to share. What I appreciate most about these types of organizations is that there is always lots of discussion and networking, both so important in today’s global world.

TNW: Do you find that some people take you less seriously as a business person because you work in a “pink collar” industry? How do you combat this?

SWF: No, I do not think that people take me less seriously; not only have I earned a lot of respect through my work, the OPI brand itself is very well respected on a global level.

TNW: You write a beauty blog, www.suzisbeautyblog.com. What is your advice for business owners looking to write a blog that people want to read?

SWF: I no longer write a blog; today, OPI engages the consumer through Facebook, Twitter and our website. We are constantly active on all three arenas. However, I would advise other business owners looking to write a blog to update often, as we live in a world of immediacy. But don’t confuse quantity with quality; a blog should ideally come across with a genuine voice and should relate interesting content.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our readers?

A company’s greatest assets are the employees; putting together an effective team and creating a good corporate culture will lead to a stronger brand image.

Also, I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished! Not many jobs offer the chance to make women feel good and have fun at the same.

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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