Rigsby Frederick Salon, one of the most well-known hair salons in Baton Rouge for more than 30 years, began offering a new smoothing treatment last year that Sarah Frederick calls a “game changer.”
The treatment, dubbed Q-Smooth, is billed as a natural, less expensive and less time-consuming alternative to the popular keratin treatment, which can contain harsh toxins like formaldehyde and take hours to apply.
What’s more, the product doesn’t come from some major national brand, but from Lubricity Labs, a homegrown company located at LSU’s Innovation Park, less than five miles south of Frederick’s salon.
“We’re excited to have this, especially coming out of our area,” says Frederick, vice president of the salon and wife of founder Rigsby Frederick. “Quite a few of our stylists did not want to continue performing smoothing services because of the toxic load. This gives us an alternative.”
Not only is it safer, says Lubricity Labs founder Boyce Clark, Q-Smooth also captures an untapped market—clients who want smoother hair but don’t want to spend the time or money on extensive treatments that cost hundreds of dollars. They may be more likely to opt for Q-Smooth, applied in five minutes at the shampoo bowl for about $80.
Clark claims his product has the potential to disrupt the industry because there’s nothing like it on the market. But in a world where “disruption” is the buzzword du jour, is Clark’s product actually making waves?
Local stylists using the product agree with Clark, saying Q-Smooth works as well as other treatments in less time. The product, though, is still new and certainly not as widely used as keratin treatments, so it may be too early to say whether it’s disrupted the industry—though it appears to have the potential.
Partnering with local distributor Liquid Assets, founded by Sheila Phillips—who has long career in the hair industry herself—Clark created Q-Smooth, which lasts four to six weeks, in August and a longer-lasting version, Total Smooth, in February.
Lubricity Labs’ professional products have since made it into 153 salons across the Gulf Coast in less than one year, including 37 in the greater Baton Rouge area, with the help of Liquid Assets, which has an account portfolio of 2,800 salons from Louisiana to Florida.
And Clark’s products have been adopted by a variety of salons, proving effective for many types of hair. Ryan Delahoussaye, a Baton Rouge stylist catering to African-American women for 16 years, says he’s seen results first hand.
“I can’t say enough about it,” says Delahoussaye, who opened Mane Appeal Hair Studio in 2016. “Women of color deal with a lot more texture, tighter curls, kinkiness—for this to hit all targets with positive results, he’s onto something.”
A NEW CATEGORY
Most recognize Lubricity Labs founder, Clark, as the local chemist who gained widespread attention when he created a product line to help tame his daughter’s frizzy hair, because he wasn’t comfortable with her using other products that contained harmful chemicals.
His story went viral in 2017 after a local TV news segment on Lubricity Labs was picked up by dozens of affiliates around the country, and demand for his initial products—a shampoo, conditioner and two-step treatment—soared.
After that initial surge, Lubricity Labs grew its business operations to manage the demand. Meanwhile, Clark began working on his next big hit, Q-Smooth, stepping out from the direct-to-consumer market and into the professional salon-only realm.
He was contacted by Phillips at Liquid Assets to create a new type of smoothing treatment to rival the keratin service, which, though still No. 1 on the market, has been declining in demand as people become more conscious of the chemical impacts and the time the it takes.
“We contacted Boyce to see if he could create a different positioning for us to revive the smoothing category,” Phillips says. “The market is saturated with smoothing products, so if we’re going out on the battle field, we needed to have a different story.”
Once they perfected Q-Smooth, Clark and Phillips’ team hit the road to evangelize the product to salons. It helped having a distributor on board with a reputation like Liquid Assets, which only carries prestigious brands that Phillips calls the “Ritz Carlton” of salon products, such as Kevin Murphy and Davines.
Educating salons and stylists on the benefits on launching an entirely new treatment is a work in progress, Clark says, especially in the South, which is not as advanced as other areas when it comes to the health-conscious movement in the beauty industry. The challenge is overcoming a misconception that natural products aren’t as effective.
“People hear ‘naturally derived’ and think natural means it doesn’t work,” Clark says. “Our products have naturally derived ingredients, and they’re highly effective.”
The pitch to salons is not just about the natural ingredients, it’s also about the time saved and additional revenue to be made when stylists use Lubricity Lab’s new products, as well as the untapped customer base they can attract, which Clark calls the “unbuyer.”
“The woman who does not want to sit for three hours in a salon or does not want to spend $400 on a keratin treatment is an unbuyer,” Clark says. “The fact that we can now offer her an $80 treatment, add no time to her service, and she’s going to get amazing results is disruptive because no other major brand has anything like that.”
Adding an $80 service for little-to-no additional time could double a stylist’s revenue, Phillips says.
Lubricity Labs and Liquid Assets will soon find out just how well the products is received as summer rolls around—also known as frizz season in south Louisiana—the first since Clark launched his products.
“It’s hard (to determine results) until you get into that power season,” Phillips says. “I’m looking forward to seeing what that looks like.”
Early adopters have already seen the benefits. Since Rigsby Frederick began offering Lubricity Labs, Frederick estimates a 15% to 20% uptick in the smoothing treatments.
As for the results, she says they are on par with the keratin treatment. But it does take some time to sell clients on switching to a new treatment.
“In other areas of the country, consumers are a little more educated in clean beauty. There’s a task there,” she says. “Once you start to educate them, that’s when you’ll see the difference.”
Baton Rouge-based Salon Aerie also saw a 10% increase in the service since it began offering Lubricity’s professional products, says owner Lesli Stierle. Meanwhile, keratin treatments declined about 20% at her salon from 2017 to 2018.
“People are adding (Q-Smooth) to their hair service without even blinking an eye,” Stierle says. “Some of it has to do with price and some of it has to do time.”
And Stierle, who says she is a hold out when it comes to results, assures the Lubricity Labs treatment is the real deal. Before launching the line in her salon, she tested the products on people she knew, including her niece, who tried Total Smooth.
“The results are amazing,” she says. “She didn’t put a flat iron in her hair for two months.”