OPI is a nail lacquer brand known for its witty color names. Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, a second-generation Holocaust survivor and the Jewish mom behind OPI, talks about her immigrant struggles and balancing life to being globally recognized as the First Lady of Nails. She introduces her book, I’m Not Really a Waitress, where she writes about her journey to changing the beauty game. She recounts how they stumbled upon a hole in the beauty market that they could fill, as well as the sacrifices and the discipline it takes to running and growing your own business.
Listen to the podcast here:
Suzi Weiss-Fischmann on Immigrant Struggles, Building OPI & Balancing Life!
I’m so excited for our very first podcast episode and this new journey we’re about to embark on together. Here to celebrate the start of something amazing, we have OPI Co-Founder and nail mogul, Suzi Weiss-Fischmann. Welcome, Suzi.
Thank you. I’m honored to be here.
I’m honored to have you. I don’t know about you, guys, but I have seen OPI in every single nail salon I’ve ever been to. Global nail salon, I’m not talking just local. I’m talking Armenia, Paris, Milan, everywhere I’ve gotten my nails done, OPI is front and center. I’m sure that’s such an amazing thing for you to see when you visit nail salons. Tell us about that little bit.
It’s one of the great pleasures when you’re walking down the street of Paris or Milan or anywhere in the world and you see a salon and there’s OPI.
I can only imagine what joy it brings to your heart and what a smile it puts on your face.
A huge smile and it’s always fun. When people find it, they will say, “That’s OPI.”
Do they call you that? Do they say, “It’s OPI?”
Yes, but it’s still exciting and definitely a big smile on my face.Women are always asked to be multitaskers because they can do many things. Click To Tweet
I can already imagine what I would feel. A fun fact, I used to work at a receptionist office. Naturally, sometimes people come in confused because they’re like, “What’s new? What’s popular? What do people get?” They’ll show you a dress they’re wearing for an event. They’ll say, “I’m getting married,” and they ask for suggestions. At the time a few years ago, the most popular color that we were always had to have backups was Mod About You. This was maybe 2011, I don’t know if that was a new launch or what it was, but it was the number one color in our salon. I remember the one thing we had was backups in the back. I never had to check. I knew we always had that color. Another favorite was Cajun Shrimp. That was my favorite summer color. Tell us some of your favorite colors.
There are two answers to that question. My first favorite is always the one that equaled the most dollar signs. I always love reds and Cajun Shrimp, I still wear it sometimes. It’s an amazing summer color. I love reds but in the past, I’ve worn every color that I would have never imagined several years ago that I would be wearing like blues and greens. I even tried yellow, not just on my toes but on my hands. They’re such an amazing way to self-express and they become such conversational pieces. Changing colors excites me and excites people who see me.
The names that these polishes have bring some emotional factor to it. I know sometimes when I’m down or something, I might wear Lincoln Park After Dark or if I’m in a fun mood, I might do something funky. Do you sometimes pick your polishes based on mood or you go in, you know what you want or is there something you always do that’s a staple for you? For me, Tiramisu for Two, at least once a month I have that. It’s the one thing that I know is neutral, it goes with everything and it’s a staple for me.
The names have become such a huge part of the brand’s DNA. They make it so personal for women when they’re choosing their colors and even for the nail technicians to suggest it. Honestly when I go, it’s such a relaxing thing for me to get a manicure and I get a massage and then they ask me what color. I’ll say, “Whatever you want.” I love what they pick for me. Sometimes I know I want a special color, let’s say for a wedding or a party or something, but normally I would have fun and have the nail technician pick the color for me.
I like that. That’s cool. Who would have thought a nail mogul would let a technician pick their color? That’s interesting. For anyone who follows me on social media, then you saw that I went to Suzi’s book launch/reading in LA. She read the introduction to her book out loud in front of a crowd of editors, bloggers and family. I was so inspired by your story and your journey that I immediately turned to my friend, Alina, and said, “One, I can’t wait to read that book. Second, she has to come on my podcast. This has to happen.” First of all, I can’t forget the suit you were wearing and your nail polish. I don’t know why that stuck with me. You were the epitome of what I expected an OPI mogul to look like. You know how satisfying it is when you have an image and then you put a face to the image and it’s exactly what you imagined. I was so inspired by your presence, the book and your story. Tell us about it. Talk to us. Tell me how it was like growing up in Communist Hungary.
I was born in Hungary and I lived there until I was ten years old. It was a childhood of fun, but also lots of what you would say stress and worries and it’s not an easy life for sure. I day-to-day go to school with friends and play but then so many times at night, the secret police would come and take my dad and mom. It was a scary time but as a child, it was a little bit normal. I have very warm, loving, parents and I have one sister. That’s all I knew exactly. I didn’t know anything else. Now looking back was like, “Wow.”
I can’t believe that. I’m from Armenia and that was under Communist rule for so long. I don’t remember because we came to America when I was five. My mom always tells me stories of how we could go days without any light, days without water and she had me, a newborn. She had to bathe me, she had to feed me. Like you mentioned in your book, you become so disciplined by these circumstances you’re forced to be in. I can only imagine what that was like for your parents to have to support two children and to go through things like getting thrown out of their house in the middle of the night and taken to jail. Tell me how those childhood experiences shaped you.
Certainly, discipline is a huge part of my upbringing. For example, the discipline of my mom, making sure that we have food. We had this basement food, it was very cold and I remember her putting away potatoes for the winter and onions and all kinds of things so that we would have food for months. That discipline, even though I probably would have loved some freedom, it has served me in my adult life and certainly in business and in my career. Part of my success is being a very disciplined person.
How would you practice this discipline in your business? How do you think it applied?
The discipline of hard work.
To push yourself. I feel like I struggled with that for a while because when you own your own business, no one tells you, “You have to do this by this time.” You give yourself deadlines, you give yourself work to do. I found myself when I was younger struggling with that. Now I’m a mom and I feel like that’s changed a little bit. I’ve become more disciplined. For me, it was after I became a mom that this was the new me. I gave myself discipline. I told myself, “By this time, by this day, this needs to be done.”
I always taught my kids, “In order to be successful in school, you need to learn study skills.” Study skills are part of that discipline that you don’t leave the assignment until the last minute and you finish your reading. The same thing applies to business. Sometimes you have late nights when you have to sit there to finish whatever you need to do, whether it’s putting labels on a bottle or filling up some bottles or in the beginning, putting together orders or writing invoices or piling upsells. Little things like that may seem tedious but they are such a huge part of starting and succeeding in the business and growing a business. That’s the discipline that was very important especially early on throughout my life, but especially when you’re a startup or starting business as you experience the same and so did I.
Many times with the first business I had, we taught makeup classes in LA and New York. I taught them in LA because we couldn’t afford to pay for a teacher in LA and it made more sense. I remember we had note cards. We had to print every single day on the day of class, an hour before I had to leave. I would go to the printing place and print it. Every single time I’d tell myself, “Why do you leave it last minute? You don’t have kids. You don’t have anything to do. This is your job.” That was hard for me. If a girlfriend called while I was trying to look for sponsors or people to print the gift bags, I’d be like, “I’ll be right out in five minutes.” Now I’m like, “I can’t talk to you. Call me in an hour when I’m finished.” Now, I have a child. I have limited time, especially because I’m so present in his life and I’ve learned to be disciplined. You’re right, it’s absolutely important in school and in business and in order to succeed because you have to put in the work. If you’re disciplined, I feel like you will.
That again is a huge part of success.
In your book you mentioned a mistake that OPI had made, and that was branching into the makeup industry. I’m sure that was hard for you and the business to go through. Talk to us about that. Tell us how you overcame that.
In specific, we got into lipstick. It was a time when people love to match the lips and nails, whichever came first, in our case nails. We thought it would be nice to expand the category. In beauty, lipstick seems the right way to start. The mistake we made is we did not input enough research on what exactly happens to lipstick and the time of the year to ship lipstick. As you read in the book, there was a huge issue. They bloomed. They had sweat marks on them. They truly looked like they’re having some horrible disease. It was in the middle of the summer and it had to be a huge recall and everything was to be trashed.Hiring people who can do things even better at certain tasks than you are is when any business can grow and be healthy. Click To Tweet
The good part was that when you do something like that, when you do want to branch into something new, make sure that your core business is grounded and somewhat established. OPI was well-established at that point, so it was okay to take this risk, which we didn’t think it was going to be a risk but it turned out to be a huge one. Even though financially it was hard on the company, but since we had OPI Nail Lacquer and the other products as our core business, it allowed us to get through this time of financial setback and immediately figured out what else pushed our core business forward even harder. If we had some things in the back burner, we put that in the front burner now and accelerate a new launch or a new promotion to get back to positive cashflow.
Was that a stressful time for you?
Extremely because OPI was the darling, we could do no wrong. Everything we were launching was a success. I always say we were smart, but very lucky. There is this setback. It’s very stressful. Are we losing our mojo?
Did you ever think about that?
No, I didn’t. I’m an extremely positive person. I always say that and I mentioned it in my book. It was a stressful time. Certainly, when you sit with the financial team, it makes it even more stressful when they give you the facts as they are, but you push forward.
I feel like everything is a lesson learned. It’s wrong to call it a failure. It’s a lesson that you learned that you need more research before you branch out and you add a new branch. Companies make that mistake now. They are too quick. They don’t do their research and that’s when the mistakes can happen. I want all my guests to get raw and talk about their struggles. What was your biggest struggle when it came to business and your personal life?
The guilt is a huge struggle having two kids and having my private family and my business family, the OPI family. There was always guilt when you have to travel, when you have to go on the trip and then your kid says, “Mommy, please don’t go,” and you say, “I have to go.” Women are always asked to be multitaskers. We can do many things. We manage the household, we work with the children. My husband is super smart and if I tell him two things I go, “I tell you two things so when you finish the first one, then you know what to do. There’s the second thing.” I would never say that when I’m told what I have to do. I go one at a time and I’m happy to go to my next task.
That’s why your story is especially inspiring because you are a wife, a mother and you ran this multimillion-dollar amazing company. You’re right, women are superheroes. We do it all. We keep our mouth shut, we do it perfectly and we get it done. We sacrificed so much for our family. Tell me how you sacrificed for your family.
There are a couple of things. My first sacrifice and it was always my choice was me time. When people ask me, “When did you have a facial?” I said, “Twenty years ago,” but that was okay. Those were the choices I made, but I also had help and I mentioned that in my book. I’m a mom. I always say my kids are my greatest passion. I love every day what I did and do. My kids, my husband and my family are always first. I had help, my parents, family, it’s extremely important. If you have a family to help, it makes it easier. There are a lot of expectations of us women that is out there of us but we need help. That’s okay to ask for help. I want the audience to know that it’s certainly okay to ask for help.
I wished I heard that advice when I had my son because at the time I was like, “I can do it. I can watch him all day and then stay up all night trying to do something, build a business and build a brand.” I realized I was slowly getting depressed and then nothing was happening. I was being overwhelmed and more pressure was put on me. You fall almost, you collapse into these negative emotions because you’re overwhelmed. The minute I acknowledge that it’s okay to ask for help is when I felt a little free. My babysitter has been gone for one month and I’m drowning. She comes three days a week. Three days of help for eight hours made a significant difference. It’s not like I was doing me time like a spa. I haven’t been to the spa in months, but I was working in that quiet time where I can focus on work made me a better mom, made me more patient, made me miss him and made me more present. You’re right, it’s okay to acknowledge that you need help. We’re super women, superheroes, but even superheroes need sidekicks.
Even in business, part of OPI’s success, while we were growing, is to recognize that I needed help. At first, you want to micromanage everything. Then when you realize that you can hire people who can do things even better at certain tasks than you are, is when the company or any business can grow and be healthy. It’s the same thing in my personal life with the kids. I recognize I needed help. I have a housekeeper, my sister and my mom was my greatest help.
It’s like a family business. I feel like everyone who had a little bit of part of OPI, it was very family-oriented and I respect that so much, especially being a huge global company that you are and were at the time. That’s special that everyone was a part of it.
There was a family culture at OPI. I tried to stress this in my book and recognize people. There are so many more, but I want to recognize all the people because I always said if it wasn’t for them, I would not have been able to do what I did in business. If it wasn’t for my family, I would not be able to do what I did.
You definitely need a support system to grow.
The sooner one recognizes it, the better it is.
In this day and age, I feel like everyone’s an entrepreneur or that’s the goal. What is one common mistake you see many entrepreneurs are making?Patience is a virtue of a successful person. Click To Tweet
Having no patience. Patience is such a virtue of a successful person and it’s important. In this day and age, where we must have instant gratification because of our iPhone, that device that we cannot live without from morning to night and everything is so instantaneous. If you don’t respond to something instantly, if you don’t acknowledge something instantly, if you don’t find something that you’re looking for instantly or if you can’t buy something. Many times, entrepreneurs or startups don’t have the patience to grow the business and to give it a good base. That is so important. You have a vision. You have to follow that vision. I always say it’s important to know competition around you. It’s important to study and learn that category that you are launching, but have the patience to carry something through. If it doesn’t happen in the first month, second month, then it’s okay. As long as you’re going on some path that you set out for your business, for yourself, personal goals, business goals, see it through before you jump around and move around and start other things.
I want to say I’m one of those impatient people. For me personally, it’s that I’m so excited about a concept that I want to go full force. I want to jump in. I come across hurdles and then I’m like, “Why is this happening? You need to slow down. Take your time.” It’s something I’m still learning, but I’ve taught myself to take a chill pill a little bit, calm down, slow it down a little bit and take all the necessary steps so that something is successful because I not will regret it, but it won’t be a nice feeling. I know if I take my time with something, I’ll perfect every detail, micromanage every detail. Did you have trouble with that? I feel like I would suffer from that when I needed to hire.
It’s very hard in the beginning, especially when you start a business to let go of certain tasks. It’s probably one of the hardest things.
What was the hardest task for you to give up?
Everything. I used to place the orders for bottles, for labors and for everything. I thought if I don’t do it, somebody’s going to mess it up and we won’t have the inventory we need, but it was better than when I was managing it. The other thing is if you can have a mentor, when you face those challenges, if you can discuss them as you go along building your business, that’s an amazing thing to reassure you that, “Stay the course, you’re doing fine.” Those things along the way become very important words to somebody who’s starting a business.
Did you have a mentor with the business?
George Schaeffer and I are partners. If it’s possible to have a partner, it’s also important to find the right partner to do different things in the business. I had somebody to discuss things and he had somebody to discuss with as well, so it worked for us. Many times, when I speak to young people or entrepreneurs who are starting out, mentors are extremely important.
It never crossed my mind to have a mentor. I usually talk to a girlfriend who was more knowledgeable or ask for advice from fellow entrepreneurs that are friends. A mentor is an awesome thing to do. With partners, which I want to touch on a little bit, it’s definitely important to have the right partner where you balance each other out and you’re stronger together. That’s another mistake young entrepreneurs make or I see people make is they partner with the wrong people. They don’t see eye-to-eye and then the business flops. What can you tell us about that?
If you have a bad feeling and it’s doesn’t work, don’t go for it, if you have some doubts. The best partnerships that worked for me, it was that George did one side of the business, more of what I call the infrastructure, machinery, the warehousing, all those details, financials. I was more the creative side, the marketing, the public relations, creative as far as colors and all those things. The partnership worked well for us. Don’t try to do everything and oversee your partner. Have weekly meetings or twice a month, whatever works or needs. It doesn’t have to be written in stone. You could meet every day and bring what each of you brings to the table and see what the next steps are. Put out a vision, a goal of what you both want to achieve, and see through it step-by-step.
There are many places for networking in the beauty industry or in any industry, which is nice. I was in San Francisco and there were 150 young women that came. I told them, “No matter what I say, you showing up is the first of your success going forward because you’re going to meet people, maybe your mentor, maybe a friend and maybe somebody who can recommend you to another job. It’s important.” What women do best is tell our stories and relate to each other, to our struggles, to our highs and lows, through what works, what doesn’t work and we share that and we all grow and we all learn from each other.
I want everyone to take away that women should always help each other. We should never be against each other. It’s always community over competition because it doesn’t hurt to give a helping hand to someone next to you. The first step is showing up. If you’ve made a decision that you want to go to a networking event or maybe a seminar of some sort, the first step is to buy your ticket, show up, be present, learn and be kind to those around you. Have you ever experienced unkindness in the industry?
Many times and people ask me, “What’s your advice to people who are growing and are up the ladder?” I’ll say, “Be nice.”
I think so too. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be.
Many times, people turn out not as nice as they move up the chain or the ladder. Be nice and take people along the ride. When you are fortunate enough to be able to do that, take other people with you, mentor them, teach them and help them grow. It is such an amazing satisfaction.
I feel that instant gratification when one person can even message me saying, “This was insightful or helpful or resourceful.” That’s how the podcast idea came.
That keeps you saying, “Let me do the next podcast.”
I feel your book touches on that so much. It’s inspiring and there’s so much that people can learn from it. I wanted to mention we will be having a giveaway. We’re going to have two signed books from Suzi. All you have to do is subscribe to the podcast and rate it and that’s how you enter. We will pick two winners and you are going to love and enjoy this book so much. Suzi, thank you so much for coming. It’s such an honor to have you here. To our audience, we have a YouTube channel. We’re going to offer a separate business segment that Suzi will be doing, so keep a lookout for that. We’ll chat soon. Have a good one.
- Mod About You
- Cajun Shrimp
- Lincoln Park After Dark
- Tiramisu for Two
- Instagram – Greta Gasparian
- YouTube – Suzi Talks About Building The Billion Dollar Nail Polish Brand
About Suzi Weiss-Fischmann
Born in Hungary, Suzi was attracted to the beauty world at an early age. She cultivated her instinct for color and style in the garment industry of New York City, where she also attained a degree from Hunter College. Suzi’s passion for fashion translates into year after year of on-trend nail lacquer shades, worn by celebrities and consumers alike to accessorize the season’s hottest looks.
“This is the era for nails. Gone are the days of wearing dark colors in winter, bright shades in summer, and neutral hues for work. Now, color, shape, and texture of all varieties are being embraced. Nothing is taboo when it comes to nails!” exclaims Suzi.
Suzi places a strong emphasis on philanthropic contributions through the Fischmann Family Foundation, which focuses on education. The Fischmann Family Foundation provides scholarships and financial aid at various institutions. “I strongly believe that education is one of the most important things we can provide our children. No one can take away from you what you learn, and with education comes so many other opportunities,” Suzi explains.
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