PORTLAND, Maine — “When I was 12 I was made fun of all the time because my hair was poofy like crazy,” said Alanna York, 42, a bouncy brunette with enviable curls.
As the Windham native got older, attended cosmetology school and opened a salon in downtown Portland, she developed a product to tame curly and wavy hair.
“There is no such thing as frizz. It drives me nuts. I can fix all of that with this one product,” said York, owner of Head Games Salon for Hair & Body at 116 Free St.
On an episode of ABC’s reality series “Shark Tank,” which aired Jan. 8, York pitched that product, a curl creme called Controlled Chaos. Much to her surprise, a bidding war ensued. Lori Greiner, known as the “Queen of QVC,” is now a majority partner in the Maine-based business. York and co-owner Erica Gray of Scarborough have each maintained a 25 percent share.
“I was not hoping to give away that much. I was happy to get a bidding war between three of them and have Mr. Wonderful actually be wonderful; he was a complete sweetheart,” recounted York of Canadian investor Kevin O’Leary, one of the “Sharks” that appears on the show. “The other two men were a bit grumpy that day.”
York had QVC on her mind and jumped when Greiner entered the fray and made an offer.
“It was the only offer I could consider,” she said.
Though she pitched her product to the “Shark Tank” cast in September, all fall and into the holidays, negotiations continued to hammer out details. She wasn’t sure when the episode would air and when her rebrand would kick in.
Recovering from abdominal surgery in December, York got the call and sprang into action.
“I had two weeks to reinvent the entire website,” said the Falmouth resident.
The product, formerly called Use Me, will be available in seven weeks. On the market since 2012, her line of style cremes was well received, but the company was floundering. Stumbling blocks stood in the way of Use Me’s growth.
A huge order from a network of Canadian salons was hard to maintain.
“It was too much, too fast,” said York.
“We were selling out of product but couldn’t get new inventory fast enough to keep everyone happy. We could have grown, but [we] were underfunded from day one,” said York.
“Something like this takes millions and millions,” she said.
With a pro such as Greiner at the helm, those problems will be resolved.
Originally launching with $300,000 and 12 products, now she is focusing on one — Controlled Chaos Curl Creme. As she phases out her Use Me line, the company is a work in progress.
Eventually, the founder said, popular style agents such as matte paste will be re-introduced under the new label.
Greiner has agreed to put in $60,000 to help with the rebrand and to hawk it on QVC.
“I went in with the idea of reining it into one product,” said York. “I walked away with my company being able to continue. We were running low on everything and did not have enough money to create more product. These are all great changes. It’s going to be an even better product.”
Sales have been humming since her “Shark Tank” appearance.
“We sold more over this weekend then we have this past year,” said York last week, who calculated that 500 units sold within 30 minutes of the show’s airing.
Is this how Paul Mitchell started?
“I work best under pressure. I feel that the universe forces things like this. If it hadn’t aired till May, we would be out of business by then,” York said.