Vincent De Lorenzo – Chapter 10

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Chapter 10
De Lorenzo
“Creation is only the projection into form of that which already exists.”

In the mid 1980’s Australia had well and truly caught up to the rest of the modern world. Australia launched its first domestic communications satellite, from Cape Canaveral, USA and construction began on the redevelopment of Darling Harbour in Sydney while in Queensland, Australia’s first legal Casino, Jupiter’s opens for business.

In other news of the country, AM radio begins broadcasting in 1985, the same year that bushfires tore through Victoria and South Australia destroying dozens of homes and killing five people. John Howard becomes the leader of the opposition taking over from Andrew Peacock, Women began training alongside men in the army and Australia’s longest running television series Neighbours goes to air.

After the sale of Delva a few years earlier, the family’s future had seemingly taken a new path. With Vincent and Anton both in retirement the De Lorenzo sons went on to shape futures for themselves in the architectural and building industries- the new boom industries as Australia continued to grow and modernise.

Vinnie had become and architect for a government department in education. He worked on the 20th floor of a government building in the city known as “the back stump” and his work life was less than demanding. His brother Chris was a government engineer and worked two floors below him. Their cousin Anthony who had a building degree also worked in the same field. For all of the De Lorenzo sons, this new path was a lacklustre substitute for what was their life’s passion – working in the hairdressing industry.

Manufacturing was by now deeply engrained in each of them. Turning their back on the many years spent helping shape the family business just didn’t work.

Eventually, one day in 1983 Vinnie reached a turning point. He decided he had worked one day too many in a job that brought him no joy and when an opportunity came along for Vinnie to join the Delva sales team, he took it,
“Hugh Gresham had visited the house for dinner one night and asked me if I wanted a job in Adelaide, for me this was the out I was looking for. I knew I could do the job and so I took it. I bought a flat in Adelaide for $16,000 and a few weeks later made the move down there”

Vincent was not happy about this. His family being close to him was important and he was upset that Vinnie wanted to leave a career in achitecture to go back to the hairdressing industry – even if it was working for Delva. Vinnie and his father seemed to share a likeness to one another that caused the two of them to lock tenacious horns with one another. Like most father-son relationships, the more Vincent Snr pulled, the more his firstborn son defiantly retreated.

With hours of spare time on his hands and with not much else to amuse him Vincent began once again to formulate products in the lab in the basement of his point piper home. He concocted new formulas that adapted from collagen proteins to a newer innovation at the time- Keratin Proteins.

Vincent began to send these products to Vinnie in Adelaide to evaluate but Vinnie was busy carving his own path. He had done so well in his new role at Delva that within a year he was promoted to regional manager for Delva in NSW. Unbeknown to Vinnie, his father was silently pulling strings behind the scenes to get his son back to Sydney. Never the less Vinnie didn’t need his father’s help to make a win and eventually, showing much of his father’s talent for sales and charm, he lifted Delva to the next level and secured Delva’s first ever million dollar sales month.

By 1985, as if by providence, things at Delva took a turn for the worse and Vinnie was fired. Despite his success. The reason Vinnie was given was because there was a restructure in the business and the position was now redundant. Speculation circulated in industry circles that the real reason Vinnie was dismissed was because his father’s tenure as consultant for Delva was finished and the head boys at Recket and Coleman did not want another De Lorenzo in the business – this perhaps was considered a conflict of interest. Whatever the reason, Vinnie was devastated by the turn of affairs; Vinnie ‘s world began to turn on its head. This was a crucial turning point. Vinnie was more convinced than ever he did not want to return to architecture, this became the catalyst for the family’s next big venture – The creation of De Lorenzo Cosmetic Research & Development.

Meanwhile, Vinnie ‘s younger brother Chris De Lorenzo was back in Sydney working as an architect. Enjoying his work was not part of the equation. This was a career that he was not passionate about but remained in the position so as to keep the family boat from rocking or toppling over, as he feared it would. He too was yearning for a return to the family’s glory days. To Chris, Anthony and Vinnie, working outside of the hair industry was precisely that – work.

Vinnie recalls one of the first conversations they had about returning to the hairdressing industry:

“I think the first conversation we had about this idea happened in the car while we were driving somewhere. I asked dad how he would feel about going to business again. He looked at me like I was mad but there was also something in his expression that let me know this wasn’t the first time he had considered this idea. So we talked it through and agreed to meet at the house on Saturday with Chris and Anthony and Uncle Anton and put it all on the table to talk through and see whether this was a collective project.”

In our first meeting we planned our attack. We started with a name…One possibility that was thrown around was VA Hair products, my father joked to Anton “im the oldest, I come first, so get lost”….We then got talking about how much good will we still had in the industry – it seemed fitting that we use the De Lorenzo name…it was agreed the products were to be called De Lorenzo.

The family spent the rest of the year preparing for the launch. There was much to consider – finding a factory, creating a lab…They had many conferences, things needed to be decided on, what is their point of difference, what was their philosophy? What machinery was needed? Where would the factory be? What sort of staff did they need?. As with many family owned businesses, discussions were often heated as everyone had differing opinions on how to do things. Chris commented, “ Dad usually wanted things his way, and we could argue but usually, he would get his way. The funny thing was that he was usually right. We learnt to trust his judgement. He had a sixth sense for business”.

Anthony De Lorenzo adds, “In those early years, we spent a lot of time getting their bad golf swings out of the way”.

The roles for the company though were decided early on and according to skill sets. Anthony shared his father Anton’s nous for chemical engineering and so Anton and Anthony looked after that department, Chris looked after production and Vinnie took on a national sales position, already having proved his skill at Delva.

The family then had to find a home for their new burgeoning business. After much searching they settled on a property in Leichardt. Although slightly run-down with a little TLC, the family rolled up their sleeves and began to prepare the empty warehouse for the arrival of new manufacturing machinery. There were two, almost adjoining properties on eon Hall Street which was the production Headquarters and the other on John Street, the marketing and sales department. Vincent and Anton held forte at Hall Street while the younger boys took up residency in John Street. Anton and Vincent spent hours cleaning and scouring every old surface in the warehouse until it sparkled.

Once the machinery arrived, they had to learn how to run it and there were many teething problems, which inevitably lead to much family friction.

At first all of the bottles they produced had paper labels stuck onto bottles, this meant thousands of labels had to be soaked and ready for application.

“It wasn’t easy at first. I fought with dad about the structure of the business and as we started the business, no one took home pay – we only had the promise of pay”. Says Vinnie. Infact Vincent and Anton never took a cent from the company, such was their love for their business.

While structures were put in place, equipment sources and finer details looked after, Vincent and Anton were working hard on their first De Lorenzo product developments. They had developed twenty products to go to the market with. They weren’t general products either; they were specifically designed for various hair and scalp conditions and became known as Prescriptives. Through developing these products, they coined the concept of the four natural hair balances as a way to help hairdressers understand hair health. For each balance you would score on a scale of one to ten – sebum, acid mantle (or pH balance), moisture and protein.

“The products were labelled with factors or levels for each type and the hairdresser would decide what the hair factor was. No one has ever done that before! We registered this as our trademark – all of our products even today are based on that prescriptives philosophy.”

Unfortunately people don’t understand what hair is all about they think that by washing hair that’s all you need to do – you can often damage their hair in the process of watching – cheapness is rawness – the quality of the chemicals are raw. We lead in that area in Australia.

The next step was to find top staff, which they did. Many of these staff members came and went but De Lorenzo grew from the moment they opened for business. They grew from a staff of 20 to 130 people in the organization today.

In Australia De Lorenzo is still the only Australian haircare brand executing their own development and research. It’s a long and laborious process – while some products take 3 months, others can take over two years.

Hair colours take two years to develop. De Lorenzo source and buy only the best chemicals from all over the world. The constant challenge as Vincent put it was “how can you improve on the best?” Some chemical manufacturer would refine a chemical better than another so we constantly source out the best ingredients to use. It’s always evolving. We can’t create something and keep that way for three years; we have to constantly ensure our ingredients are of the highest quality. When we test products we have a standard to reach and then we have to better it. When we think it’s nearly right then we give it to the girls in the training room and they do half head tests. It then goes to a panel, then to the lab for more work and it goes back and forth until we are happy with the result. First they get the body of the formula settled on – then they add the fragrance. The chemist goes to a perfume company and they get samples to do tests with. Once the fragrance is added to the product it changes – then the panel test it and narrow it down to three. These three get sent to an independent panel of 26 hairdressers who rate each one and they go with the winner. Today fragrances are for younger people – older people prefer flowers and now people prefer fruits. But don’t let fragrance be the point you use to select it – is the product right for you that is the important thing.

The process doesn’t stop there either. Once the formula is developed our Microbiologist looks for bugs in the formulas, if the product has germs it will deteriorate so if he finds bugs it gets dumped – there is a strict quality control on this! The products have to last on the shelf for three years without its performance deteriorating. This is why providing refillable containers for retail is not an option we consider viable. We cant quality control the formulae with refills. When you have millions of dollars worth of stock all over Australia that needs to last three years, you have to be very careful and they achieve that through microbiology testing. Once it goes through all of these stringent tests, its ready to be packed and marketed.

We are confident our manufacturing process is as good as anywhere else in the world – that’s why we are ISO approved. It’s an internationally recognised quality standard.

Today the process remains as stringent however refined. The key components of the process include:
1. Research and development are recorded and file
2. Administration
3. Packaging
4. Education
5. Microbiology
6. Warehousing
7. Pick and packing
When they went to market in June 1986, there were 20 products. Eventually the brand range would expand to 220. Within three years of business the company had surpassed Vinnie’s record at Delva in sales and every year since the company has grown. This was attributed to their reputation in the industry as well as their natural approach.

In the mid 80’s the word Chlorofluorocarbon or CFCs started to get bandied around. It became a buzzword for the generation. It was CFC that was believed by scientists to be responsible for a thinning of the earth’s ozone layer and it seemed that the use of aerosol cans, the burning of leaded petrol as well as industry that contributed. In 1987, the issue in Australia was magnified by scientists discovering that a hole in the earth’s ozone layer had moved over south Australia for a month. The following year, the Australian government signs the Ozone Layer treaty (what does this mean).

In response to the issue, Vincent and Anton decided they needed to create an Ozone layer friendly alternative for their hairsprays and aerosol products. The family designed a pump action, non-aerosol spray. Unfortunately, the hairdressing industry and general consumer did not share the De Lorenzo’s philanthropic approach to haircare and the product failed to make any significant blip on the sales radar. Eventually, the company discontinued the production of this new product. It seemed the De Lorenzo’s corporate eco-conscience was before its time.

In1989 De Lorenzo, the family identified the exporting opportunities that existed for the brand and, sooner than they had hoped, they crossed the great Tasman and launched in New Zealand. (go into detail here)

(Include details here about Vinnie’s venture to NZ and to US)

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