Ron Cummings' blotchy, sun-damaged skin improved so much after a golfing buddy gave him some special face cream that Cummings thought, "Somebody...
Ron Cummings’ blotchy, sun-damaged skin improved so much after a golfing buddy gave him some special face cream that Cummings thought, “Somebody ought to sell this to the public.” Little did he know in 1995 that he would be that somebody.
Four years later, he founded a company, AminoGenesis, to sell a newly reformulated version of the face cream. Now that enterprise has grown from a mall cart and boxes stacked in his garage to an international export business with sales nearing $10 million. It is a tale of risk-taking and persistence that anyone thinking of starting a business should know.
About two months after Cummings started using the cream, he ran into a couple of friends who hadn’t seen him for a year.
“They said, ‘Hi and what did you do to your skin?’ I didn’t know the improvement was that evident,” Cummings said. As the friends reminisced in a bar, he recalled, “I told them about this cream, and the bartender, who was a lady, leaned over and said, ‘Where can I buy that cream?’ That’s when the wheels started turning.”
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Cummings found out that the non-oily cream with amino acids had been used since the 1980s by doctors to treat such problems as burned skin, but the high cost of making the cream and its natural odor — like rotten eggs — hindered commercialization.
Cummings at first tried to partner with others to bring the product to market, but in 1999, he told his wife that if this cream was going to get to the market he would have to pay for it himself. She said, “Go for it.” Cummings took $25,000 in savings, worked with a chemist to mask the amino acids’ odor and made the first batch of AminoGenesis Therapeutic Facial Repair Formula.
“I built a cart and took it to Fashion Island [mall in Newport Beach, Calif.] in May 1999 and sold my product 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” Cummings says. “I sold four jars the first day.”
He told anyone who would listen the story of how amino acids and water can repair and beautify the skin. From his cart, he told the story so often that he honed it into a three-minute message that answered three questions: What is AminoGenesis? How is it different from all the other skin-care products on the market? Will it work?
“I treated the cart like my outdoor office,” Cummings said. “When I wasn’t talking to customers, I was on the phone calling estheticians whose ads I found in Coast magazine, and beauty-shop owners.”
Within six months, he was getting telephone orders from all over the world as his initial customers told their friends about the cream.
He joined a trade association, got its list of beauty-supply distributors and started calling. No one was interested until he got to Maly’s in Valencia, Calif., a salon-products distributor.
“Ron left me a message that was very compelling,” John Maly said. “He was very professional and gave me the impression I would be missing a great opportunity if I didn’t buy.
“I tested it with some people and said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ We like entrepreneurs.” Cummings added a lotion to the product line within a year, then eye gel and cleanser.
In April 2004, AminoGenesis added Photolagen-AGF, recently named product of the year by Day Spa magazine.
In 2002, Cummings’ assistant asked if the company was advertising in Soap Opera Weekly magazine, because callers were ordering “the cream Renee Jones uses.” Cummings had no idea who she was, but fans of “Days of Our Lives” know her as Lexie. The actress had told the magazine that her secret to beautiful skin was AminoGenesis.
“I order tons of stuff by mail order, and I saw this ad for AminoGenesis, and I fell in love with it,” Jones said. “I’ve used so many different products, but this is so easy, and even the makeup artists comment on my skin.” She gave the product to castmate Kristian Alfonso, and both actresses used the product for two years before agreeing to be paid spokeswomen for AminoGenesis.
Since its startup, AminoGenesis’ sales have doubled every year. Cummings participates in trade shows for the beauty-supply industry but most of the growth is from word of mouth.
Only 7 percent of skin-care products purchased are sold in professional beauty shops, so this year Cummings is starting an advertising campaign to get AminoGenesis into department stores.
“I’ve never had to go outside for funding. We have grown from profits,” he said. “I can afford expensive brochures and advertising because I have been very frugal about money I spend, including what I pay myself.”