I rushed back to work as soon as my treatment was finished. Everything was the same, but I was different. My colleagues got all fired up about the minutiae of marketing materials, and I’d think: “Wow, that used to be me.” I felt I could make a bigger contribution, but I wasn’t sure how.
People often asked me to talk to their family members or friends who had cancer. One of the first questions people asked was: “What about my hair?” I had worried about that, too, and wondered if that made me shallow and vain. But when you’re healthy, hair is just hair. When you’re ill, it is something else entirely. It’s the moment you take a very private struggle public.
I cautioned people about wig shopping by sharing my own experiences, which were terrible. Salespeople rushed, tried to push me around, and didn’t want me to bring a friend for advice. I started my company so others wouldn’t have to go through that.
I immersed myself in the wig business. I met with wholesalers, retailers, and stylists in Brooklyn’s wig district and spoke to women who wore wigs. I hired four part-time stylists, each of whom had a connection to someone with cancer. They bring wig samples into people’s homes and style them as the client likes. My prices — anywhere from $50 to $5,000 for a wig, depending on the hair — are comparable to those in wig stores because I have no overhead.
My three oncologists placed my brochures in their offices on Dec. 17, 2003. I got my first client on the 23rd. I had helped 100 clients by the time my business became full-time in October, 2004. Now, I’m setting up agreements with other women to expand into a handful of states.
This is not the kind of business that people scribble down the name of in case they ever need it. You won’t know about the company until you need it. I rely on word of mouth from doctors and service providers. I knew I’d arrived this November, when my business made it onto Oxford Health Plan’s preferred providers list.
Soon I started getting calls that were way out of my geographic area — women in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and West Virginia — which led to a new service called Look Just Like You. Women send us pre-chemotherapy pictures with their hair styled as they like it, and we recreate that style and color in a wig.
Part of my philosophy is that any franchise has to give back to the medical community. All our business expenses are charged to credit cards that give 2% of case back to St. Jude’s Hospital for Cancer Research. I also intend that one day we’ll be able to contribute to cancer-research trials.
My business is all about service. I will not take on a franchisee who can’t treat clients with the same level of compassion and care that we give them in our existing territories. That’s a lot of work on our end — interviewing prospective franchisees and their character references and work references extensively. We have to make sure they’re excited about the impact they can have on others, not just about the business.
Quite frankly, far and away the biggest is increasing awareness, letting people know this kind of service even exists. I often say that a client will not know about us until they have to. You don’t file away the name of Girl on the Go so that you’ll have it one day in case you need it.
A lot of our clients find us on the Internet and some find us on the American Cancer Web site — the New York City chapter lists us. When people find out about us, they say they feel so lucky to have found out. I wish I had the funds to do advertising that would reduce the role luck plays in finding us.
Sheril Cohen Story