THUNDER BAY -- Carlo Lombardo founded Forma Beauty Supplies in 2006 after he was approached by Kaaral, an Italian manufacturer of hair salon products. The family-run company was expanding in Canada, and was looking at similarly family-oriented entrepreneurs for partnerships. Lombardo, who owns Carlo and G Hair and Esthetics with his brother, fit the bill, and he was also impressed by the quality of the hair colours and hair care products that he tried out.
He decided to become a distributor, starting out with $20,000 of inventory in a small 400 square foot warehouse in 2006. He soon won over many of the hair salons in the city, and they started buying the products he sold.
Within a few years, he was able to move into his current location on Copper Crescent, which includes not only a storefront and larger warehouse with over $400,000 of inventory, but also a space for hosting workshops and courses. From selling only Kaaral products, he has expanded to over 10 manufacturers, selling a wide range of products for the beauty industry from nail art supplies to disinfectant and hair dryers. (He sells only to businesses.)
Last year, Forma Beauty Supplies expanded to Sudbury and Winnipeg. Lombardo credits his success to his policy of treating all his customers like family - even though he still owns and runs a hair salon, he does not view other salons as competition.
"I got into this because as a salon owner, I know what we need. I know what the customer wants,” he explains. Because he still works as a hairdresser, he says he knows all the issues his customers come up against, and how to make their jobs easier.
He also still works at Carlo and G - “between both places (Forma Beauty Supplies and Carlo and G) I work well over 60 hours a week,” he says.
Since he himself works with the products he sells, he is able to troubleshoot when things don’t work. “When a customer phones me and tells me their colour didn’t work the way they expected, I’m able to sit with them, ask them questions, and help them fix that.”
Lombardo’s two children, ages 11 and 13, come in once a week to help unpack inventory, and he hopes that one day, they will take over the business.
“It’s one of my goals. Looking at some of the other distributors across the world that are 70, 80, 90 years in the business, they’re there because their grandpa started it, then the dad took over, then the children took over. So that definitely is a goal for me,” he says. The hair-dressing industry is a little hard on the body, he admits, but he is firm in his belief that there’s a lot of career potential and a good future in it.
“The growth has been unbelievable for us,” he says. In Winnipeg and Sudbury, he hopes to have the same kind of success he has had in this area. For the Thunder Bay portion of his business, the future may include a larger building - “we are maxed out with space here, so we’d like to have a larger space for education,” he says.