Super salesman, trailblazer, family man, war veteran, entertainer, guitar player, singer, aficionado of Country and Western music, yodeler, storyteller, hypnotist, conservationist, tinsmith, Oilers fan, businessman.
You name it – and no matter what it is, you’ll probably find Bert Stogryn probably dabbled in it as well. But years from now, Bert will probably be best known as one of the outstanding pioneers of the beauty industry in Canada – that and a genuine love for people that made life-long friends with just about everyone he met.
Everything in Bert’s life seemed to happen by chance. First, there was the Second World War, when he enlisted in the RCAF and, by chance again, he was posted to Montreal, where he became a metal worker at Canadian Vickers, working on Lancasters, DC3s and other bombers for the RCAF.
It was also by chance he happened to meet his future wife, Marguerite Dubuc, who was working as a receptionist with Helene Curtis in Montreal. Bert and Marguerite and their two best friends were married in a double wedding ceremony at the end of the war. Bert talked Marguerite, whose nickname was Margo, into returning to the West to his “gopher ranch” at his home in Opal, a small town near Edmonton, to meet his parents and three sisters and six brothers.
After the birth of their three children, Margo found work at the only Chinese restaurant in Edmonton – the Seven Seas, while Bert worked as a tinsmith at Vets Sheet Metal. One day, also by chance, her former boss from Helene Curtis happened to come into the restaurant. They talked for a bit and he told her he would like to meet her husband and family. Margo thought it was a social visit but it turned out to be anything but.
After a few pleasantries, he got down to business. He wanted Bert and Margo to run the Helene Curtis’ branch in Edmonton, promising to teach Margo how to operate the business, and Bert, how to do the selling. The year was 1957. They thought about it for a while, and gradually warmed to the idea of having their own business, especially when they could operate it from their home. Margo operated the business, took the orders and shipped products out. Bert left his job and went on the road.
Margo continued to play a key role in the business until her death 27 years ago. With Bert on the road three weeks out of every four, she was the real boss. “Growing up,” adds Glenn, “we really didn’t get to know our father. He was travelling all over Alberta and Saskatchewan – 100,000 miles a year.”
Helene Curtis promised to come out and teach him how to sell for the first two weeks. The day he was supposed to start, Bert received a telegram from Helene Curtis, saying that something had come up and that they would rebook a few weeks later. “They never did come,” recalls son, Glenn. “As it turned out, dad had a great gift of gab and was totally self-taught. Ironically, it’s probably one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful. We learned at an early stage not to expect too much from manufacturers, that any help we did get would be a bonus.”
On the road, Bert was a big hit. Most people can recall their first meeting with him, including Awni Abu Ulba president of Spa Utopia Health & Wellness Center, which operates three large spas in British Columbia. That, too, came about by chance. Awni had been teaching Beauty Culture at a high school in Red Deer, where Bert’s brother also happened to be teaching. “When I told Nick (Bert’s brother) I had a dream of opening a beauty salon and school, he told me he knew someone who could help me out. His brother, Bert.
Stogryn was a way of life for my mother and father. We were part of the beauty industry and part of that culture. Everything we did surrounded that. It was not a job by any means. It was our way of life.
– Glenn Stogryn
“I picked up the phone and told Bert I would like to come to Edmonton to talk to him about starting a salon. Bert’s response was immediate. Oh, no, I’ll be there tomorrow. Bert and Margo were here the next day and everything started with the first handshake. “And what a handshake. Like a vice. He made you feel he really meant it. “Where are you from? Bert asked me. When I told him, he said: Is that so … I’ll be damned.” It was classic Bert, and one of his favourite sayings that became one of his endearing trademarks.
His passion for what he was doing was amazing, Awni told a special gathering to celebrate Bert’s life. “We became fantastic friends. He was a huge hugger because he had a passion for others, regardless of who they were or what they did.”
For Bert, it was always instinctive. On his first day on the job, he sold a floor dryer, even though he didn’t know what he was doing and the sale was a big one. So, too, was Bert’s caring for people. He had a true interest in the people he was calling on and their immediate families, even in what they were doing and where they were going.
“That was his gift. The sale was a byproduct of that,” says Glenn. “Making the sale was never top of mind for him. In fact, sometimes, he had to be reminded why he was there. “That included everyone, including the people in our office as well as clients who happened to drop in. He would spend an hour with each of them and still get a day’s work done. He made everyone feel important.”
That included his competitors. Bert and Margo were welcomed into the homes and businesses of each of them, building relationships and friendships along the way. “We’ve carried on that tradition,” said Glenn, “as well as his philosophy and approach to sales. It’s all about relationship building. We believe that if you have a genuine interest in each person and their business, you’ll get a portion of their business. In our hiring, we naturally gravitate to individuals who have an interest in helping others.”
Stogrun or Stogrin?
The family name is pronounced “Staw-Grun”; in the beauty industry it’s pronounced “Sto-Grin”.
My father, says Glenn “explained it to me one day that he used to teach his customers to say our name “Sto-Grin” – and smile when they said it. “
Bert and Margo stayed with Helene Curtis until 1966, when the company approached them about becoming one of their independent distributors. There was no cost and the move enabled them to take on other products, brands, and equipment.
At that time, Stogryn was only one of four companies in Alberta and Saskatchewan that called on beauty salons. By the time Glenn joined the company in 1977, there were 14, and by 1990, the number had grown to 44. “The market had become quite crowded and by that time, shampoos, had become another commodity, which you could buy at gas bars and convenience stores.”
In addition, the hair care business had become fleeting, where salons would try every new shiny thing that came along – different from the skin care industry, where therapists tend to stay with the products they trained with. That strength was also to become a challenge when Stogryn entered the skin care business later.
Glenn had studied business and worked in the airline industry for three years to prove himself before joining Stogryn. One of his first tasks was to branch out into other directions – and that was skin care. The industry was still in its infancy in 1997, essentially Quebec and Ontario based, and Glenn saw it as a major growth area for the company. At that time, Canadian women got their first facial when they discovered their first wrinkle. In Europe, it was all about never seeing that wrinkle.
Stogryn entered the spa industry the year before it really started to blossom. “Everyone thought I had some kind of crystal ball. But it was really dumb luck. It just came to me one day as I was thinking what we could do next.”
“At that time, we were virtually alone – one of a very few distributors that stocked product out West. For spas, it was a welcome change. They no longer had to send their money out East and wait two weeks before getting delivery. They could now order from us and get their products the next day. That helped to establish us in the skin care business. We were one of the very few in the West that had skin care inventory. It was a real advantage.”
So was becoming Jane Iredale’s distributor for Canada. It was also one of those things that happened by chance. It was at an ISPA show in the U.S., Glenn’s wife and Stogryn’s spa director, met Jane first. They were at the other side of the show and when they returned, Glenn’s wife tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to find his wife’s face had changed. “One of her eyes looked an inch higher than the other,” he recalls.
Before this, skin care professionals didn’t sell makeup because they couldn’t put makeup on after most treatments because they suffocated the skin. Jane Iredale’s formulations allow your skin to breathe, making it possible to use this product after a facial, waxing or other treatments you would normally do only after 24 hours. Stogryn formed a separate division to promote and sell its products to spas. Unlike some of its competitors, which used their hair product sales people to sell to skin care clients, Stogryn used professionals from the skin care business from the start.
It was the uplifting effect of Jane Iredale’s skin care mineral makeup. Glenn had reservations about taking it on initially, essentially because of the inventory headaches associated with makeup products. That changed when Glenn met Jane and learned that her product was more than just another makeup – but a skin care product that promised to revolutionize women’s lives.
“We’ve been their top distributor in the world, outside the U.S., for four out of the past five years. We believed it was because of the way the industry endorsed the brand – and the wholesale change in the way makeup was being made and worn. Jane’s products stood out because they allowed the skin to breathe.”
Says Glenn, “Skin care people can tell if you don’t know their business.” He is also very proud of being the first distributor in Canada to have an all-female sales team. Stogryn still does. He believes women are far better at multi-tasking and have the edge when dealing with spas that are either owned or run by women.
“It’s very difficult for men to understand the challenges women face the way another woman does. Women have to be the strength of the household, be there for their kids, their spouses and their careers. They’ve got to be in shape and take care of themselves and be all things to all people.
“Women sales professionals have an understanding that helps them run their business better, smarter and to get a return on their hard work … and be part of their success.” In the end, it all comes down to building relationships and teaching therapists and spa owners and managers about business and the products they’re using.
The Stogie Fan Club
Bert Stogryn’s nickname was “Stogie”. He played the guitar since he was 14, usually Country and Western music. He even brought his guitar to the Allied Beauty Association’s annual shows. After the show, he would play and sing into the small hours of the morning. “He worked all week and partied all weekend with his friends, neighbours and customers,” recalls son, Glenn. One of Bert’s friends started the Stogie Fan Club. Membership cost $20. “One of the members show me his card at my father’s funeral,” said Glenn. “It was wrinkled and faded with age. But it didn't matter to him, “I may be giving up my membership card but I’ll never cease being a fan.”
Letters from former employees and business associates were read at Bert Stogryn’s Celebration of Life, including one from Stephen Pavlick, then president of the Allied Beauty Association:
“In your entire lifetime, count yourself lucky if you become acquainted with someone like Bert Stogryn, who was indeed special.”
“My mother understood multi-tasking. Three weeks out of four, she was alone, looking after three kids, running the business, shipping the product, and when I had a new badge to put on my Cub shirt, I found it sewn on the next morning. Everything, no matter how small, was done.”
When Glenn joined the company in 1977, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. His parents did not know how to hand the company over. It was a learning curve for them and for Glenn. “At first, I tried to do it their way but it didn’t really work. Then, doing it part their way and part my way. That didn’t work either. Eventually, I tried it my way. Fortunately, everything I did worked out, mainly on instinct. Even so, these instincts came from my parents. How do you teach that?”
Even after he was no longer active in the business, Bert still came to the office almost every day. Everyone loved having lunch with him in the staff lunchroom. Then around 2 p.m., he’d make his way back home. Then one morning, a few days before his 90th birthday, he told everyone: “I’m tired. I’m going to retire and not come in anymore.” He packed up his desk and gathered his photos. And that was it.