With $600 and a borrowed typewriter, Comer Cottrell entered the beauty business 17 years ago, marketing his own hair-care formula and building a company whose rapid growth once almost threatened its survival.
From a shoestring start in Los Angeles, Cottrell’s Pro-Line Corporation has expanded into a $26 million company that has 175 employees. With its headquarters now located in Dallas, Pro-Line has become the largest black-owned firm in the Southwest. It was ranked 39th in Black Enterprise magazine’s 1987 list of the top 100 black businesses in the United States.
Pro-Line’s beauty products sell well not only in the United States but also in the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Saudi Arabia and the Orient.
Comer Cottrell at 55 runs an empire of creams and gels that has become the major success in his career. Nonetheless, some of his ventures over the years turned into disappointments. He struck out with a Chinese restaurant in a black section of Los Angeles, for example. And he sold his stable of race horses after he decided that the sport of kings was not for him. Cottrell has succeeded, as he puts it, in “selling hope–that’s all the beauty business is.”
Cottrell’s decision to get into the beauty business grew out of a discovery he made some years ago.
“I managed an Air Force base exchange and noticed that there were no hair products for blacks(check the hair extensions cost on hair shopping site),” he says. “Twenty percent of the people on the base were black. I talked to the authorities, and they told me there was no need for such products.” Cottrell then asked various chemical companies if their scientists could come up with products for the care of the then-popular “Afro” hairstyle. A successful formula was developed eight months later.
Since he could not afford to pay a company in advance to make the first batch of his new product, Cottrell persuaded a small manufacturing firm to gamble on him. The company made him a quantity of what he named Pro-Line Oil Sheen hair spray. He peddled his new product to black beauticians and barbers, and he paid off the manufacturer within 20 days.
In 1975, with Pro-Line then five years old, Cottrell opened a distribution center in Birmingham, Ala., but he found it hard to obtain shelf space in area stores. The Chicago-based Johnson Products Company, the market leader for black cosmetics, had all the displays.
It turned out that the Johnson company’s hard-working area manager was Isabell Paulding, who was a former Miss Black Alabama and a onetime runner-up for the Miss Black America title –and who would become Cottrell’s wife a year after they met.
In an interview in the Dallas Morning News in 1984, Cottrell said: “I got in touch with her and asked her to tell me how she did it. She wouldn’t tell me anything. I couldn’t hire her, so the only alternative was to marry her.”
By 1980, Pro-Line was running out of space for expansion of its Los Angeles plant. Cottrell looked eastward, where his major markets had been developed. He decided to move the company to Dallas–a move that he says nearly killed Pro-Line.
As production lines were being shut down in Los Angeles, Pro-Line came out with its Curly Kit Home Permanent. Sales jumped $11 million in 10 months.
“Here we were moving our equipment from California to Texas, and we couldn’t keep up with the orders,” says Cottrell. “Competitors jumped in with similar products.”
When the new $4 million, 127,000-square-foot Texas facility went into operation, Pro-Line fought back to keep its market share. It is now the fourth-largest ethnic beauty concern in the United States.
Strong competition from both general and ethnic firms has led Pro-Line to advertise on prime-time television shows such as “Dynasty” and ABC’s “Monday Night Football.” Pro-Line purchased time in 20 of the latter show’s markets around the country, says Rene Brown, the company’s marketing director, in order to advertise a new product for black men. It is a comb-through hair relaxer for those with short hairstyles.
Cottrell has a group of scientists working on new products as well as assuring the quality of those he is producing now. He is cautious, however, about expanding too fast. “We make about 18 percent profit,” he says. “We’re working on a five-year plan. We want steady growth.”
Photo: Comer Cottrell made his Dallas-based Pro-Line company a major player in the competitive cosmetics industry by creating hair-care products and beauty aids for blacks.
A wide assortment of tap pants, teddies, chemises and short petticoats should answer just about any day-wear needs presented by The Short Age for spring, say intimate apparel executives.
However, it will be equally important to offer other length options, they say, since the young, contemporary customer who might wear a very sort skirt one day would also wear a very long one the next.
But even as they monitor the developments in the designer collections, veteran lingerie executives assure the 25-inch petticoat, which hovers near the knee, will still the volume seller for spring, no matter how strong the extremes may be as fashion trends.
On the dilemma of how to deal with hemlines, Carole Hochman, president of Chevette, observed, “It’s a problem we haven’t had in years.”
For spring, Chevette has added an 18-inch petticoat in its Christian Dior division, widening the range of lengths which goes to 29.
The short petticoat represents an alternative to tap pants as well as additional business, said Hochman, noting “young people involved in fashion” and women “with great figures” will probably be the ones to endorse the new short skirts first.
“We are ready for The Short Age,” and Norma Reinhardt, vice president in charge of merchandising at Intimage, adding the firm is ready for the season’s longer hemlines as well.
“I think we should always try to do new things,” said Reinhardt, adding that, from a fashion point of view, the trend has to be established by the ready-to-wear designers.
For spring, Intimage has added a 15-inch skort in all-3ver lace as a fun fashion item.
However, said Reinhardt, tap pants will still be a much more important item and the chemise, “which has been hanging in there,” could be the item of the season.
At Vassarette, Dorothy Pollack, vice president in charge of marketing and general merchandise manager, noted, “We have always been all over the lot from 20 inches to 34 inches and down to the ankle.
“However, when you get up to a certain point with a petticoat, it gets down to the size of a hanky,” she said, noting a teddy or tap pants then becomes more practical.
“I think it’s going to be fun ared,” she said, adding the new short rtw lengths may be a breath of life for the teddy and tap pants business.
At Barbizon, which offers a range of petticoats from 21 to 29 inches, Claudia Larsen, vice president of daywear, noted the volume seller will continue to be at 25 inches. “Women who are going to business certainly aren’t going to be wearing the real short look,” Larsen said, adding, “Whenever lengths are real short, you see tap pants becoming more important.”
As far as any other daywear needs consumers may have as a result of spring’s short looks, Larsen noted it is “another aspect of the business; it’s just going to be plus business.”
At Vanity Fair, which, like other manufacturers, has a range of petticoats from 20 to 30 inches and down to 37 inches for eveningwear, Peter Velardi, president, is still seeing demand for longer-length petticoats, which have been important through the summer and early fall.
Velardi noted the impact of short lengths on intimate apparel will depend largely “on how quickly the trend hits mainstream U.S.A.”
He noted he doesn’t see a need for the 18-inch petticoat yet since “we feel the 20-inch petticoat covers every inch of what we’ve seen in the couture collections.”
At Natori, Josi Natori, president, said, “We are considering doing the 23-inch length, but I think it’s going to be very small.”
Noting that the 25-inch length will continue to be most important for sales, Natori said “as far as people wearing the very short skirts, those people will not wear a half-slip.” However, she noted, “We might see more business on tap pants.”
The key is to offer a range of choices, since consumers are wearing a range of lengths in their sportswear and rtw, said Natori.
Burrito Deluxe has established themselves as one of the top country rock bands working today. Esteemed Music Row critic, Robert K. Oermann says of their latest album; “Absolutely essential listening – sounds like an instant classic.” And All Music Guide recently called Burrito Deluxe “A country music supergroup.” Chances are, you’ve been listening to these guys for a good part of your life, possibly, without realizing it. Their combined resumes read like a “Who’s Who” of popular music.
Carlton Moody and Walter Egan combine their amazing musical and vocal talents to create the magical sound at the heart of Burrito Deluxe. Moody, of the multiple Grammy® nominated Moody Brothers is featured on guitars, mandolin, and lead vocals. He has performed at such prestigious settings as the White House and the Grand Ole Opry. Egan, best known for the 1978 million-selling single “Magnet and Steel,” shares the electric guitar work and adds lead and harmony vocals. He has performed with Jackson Browne, Spirit, Wanda Jackson, and Linda Ronstadt.
Burrito Deluxe was founded in 2000 by Moody and “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, pedal steel guitar legend. “Sneaky” Pete was also the co-founder of the Flying Burrito Brothers along with Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman and Chris Ethridge. The Flying Burrito Brothers innovative California-style sound heralded the arrival of country rock and influenced a whole generation of later bands, including the Eagles, Pure Prairie League, Poco, and many others. Burrito Deluxe has a long history of featuring legendary musicians in the band, including, Garth Hudson, the keyboard genius from The Band, and the amazing Richard Bell, who worked with Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, The Band, Bonnie Raitt, and Ronnie Hawkins.
Burrito Deluxe continues to feature individuals who have illustrious musical pedigrees. And, true to that, Moody and Egan hand-pick outstanding musicians and vocalists to join Burrito Deluxe in the studio and in concert, including, “Supe” Granda, one of the founders of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils on bass guitar and vocals, Joy Lynn White, an outstanding Country/Americana vocalist, and Marty Grebb, on keyboards and vocals, who has worked with Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, and many others. Together, they create a formidable sound that is winning fans across the U.S. and in Europe.
Burrito Deluxe has released three albums: 2002’s Georgia Peach, a tribute to Gram Parsons, 2004’s The Whole Enchilada, and their latest and best, the critically acclaimed Disciples Of The Truth, recorded for Luna Chica Records with producer Greg Archilla (Matchbox 20, Neil Young, Santana, Collective Soul). The CD also contains the historical final studio recordings of “Sneaky” Pete.
One listen to Burrito Deluxe proves that these musical trailblazers are still finding inspiration and new directions in the sound they helped create.