Four years of Mojave desert living had taken a toll on Psyche Terry’s skin. But that dry skin became the business opportunity she and husband Vontoba Terry took on as they worked on their master’s degrees at UNLV in 2009 (he in economics, she in business administration). The couple has spent the decade since then developing their multimillion-dollar company, UI Global Brands, headquartered in Frisco, Texas, north of Dallas.
At the center is their extensive line of natural skin and haircare products called Urban Hydration, the idea for which took shape while they were graduate students. Its moisturizing creams and lotions, body washes, shampoos and conditioners are now sold online and at 7,000 retail locations nationwide including Walmart, Target, Macy’s, CVS, JC Penney Salon, TJ Maxx, and Sally Beauty Supply.
However, the Terrys are quick to explain that it took plenty of tenacity and trial and error to get inside those retailers’ doors.
“We are the pioneers of the `clean-beauty’ industry, we really are,” says Psyche, co-founder and CIO (chief inspiration officer) of UI Global Brands. The sizeable line of Urban Hydration products features all-natural ingredients including lemon, vanilla, and rosehip extracts as well as castor, coconut, and hemp seed oils and shea butter. “Our products are known to be great-smelling and extremely moisturizing.”
“We say, `Nature unites us.’ So, no matter what you look like, if you have dry skin or dry hair, nature can unite us together. We’ll give you some good old-fashioned home remedies like shea butter and castor oil that can come in and do a good job.”
The Terrys credit their experiences at UNLV's Lee Business School with preparing them for their journey toward entrepreneurial success.
“Studying economics taught me how to think and form a balanced approach toward analyzing problems and looking at both sides,” says Vontoba, who earned a B.A. in finance from Bowling Green State University. He rose through the ranks to become a vice president with Comerica Bank before “stepping out” of the corporate world to take UI Global Brands full time.
While enrolled in an entrepreneurship class at UNLV, Psyche said she and Vontoba began to test some of the small business ideas that they had conceived, which included making and selling chocolate-covered strawberries and flavored popcorn. The duo failed “miserably,” she recalls.
However, participating in a business-plan competition sponsored by the university provided them some much-needed direction. “It made us write down an idea and identify a problem and a concept, and that’s really where (Urban Hydration) unfolded,” she says.
Just before submitting their plan for a skincare company into the competition, the pair decided to add a size-inclusive lingerie line into the mix.
Despite losing the competition, the couple remained undeterred. They attended MAGIC, the annual fashion-industry tradeshow in Las Vegas, and invested their own money to fund the production of their first batches of inventory. They networked with business pros, and even held fish-fry and spaghetti dinners in their small apartment to connect with potential customers.
2010 was a big year for the Terrys: They started a website and took their first online orders. Vontoba’s job transferred the couple, who at the time were expecting the first of their three children, from Las Vegas to North Texas. Meanwhile, Psyche decided to leave her position with Whirlpool Corp. and devote her career to developing UI Global Brands.
The following year, the pair applied for and were accepted into the inaugural session of The Workshop at Macy’s, an exclusive vendor development program to help up-and-coming business owners grow and succeed. The couple also launched Inspire Psyche Terry, a line of plus-size bras, sexy sleepwear and other undergarments, which were sold at Macy’sand featured at Walmart stores under the brand name Audrey Olivia.
Grabbing the attention of the world’s largest retailers has been no easy feat.
Vontoba and Psyche pitched Walmart a half-dozen times, road-tripping to attend meetings at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, before it agreed to stock UI Global Brands’ products in some of its stores.
“Every time, we’d get different feedback and suggestions,” he recalls. “We got told no several times,” including one occasion when they learned that their handcrafted product labels “weren’t good enough. If (Walmart) had put the original product out (with those), it wouldn’t have sold. When we did launch our bra line in Walmart, it sold out.”
Since 2011, their products have been available on Target.com – long before Urban Hydration was granted shelf space earlier this year at select Target stores, as well as some CVS locations throughout the nation. They shuttered the lingerie line in 2016 to focus solely on Urban Hydration.
“The future is looking bright. It’s full-speed ahead” for the family-owned-and-operated business, Vontoba said, adding that the couple plans to continue building brand awareness for its products. “We don’t just want to be in stores, we want to establish loyal customers who are like, `My first choice is Urban Hydration.’”
Philanthropy plays an important role in the Terry’s personal and professional lives. In 2016, UI Global Brands joined forces with WATERisLIFE, which provides safe, clean drinking water to villages and schools around the globe where it is lacking. A portion of the proceeds from every Urban Hydration product sold has helped to build and fill a pair of wells in Kenya. The company’s goal is to help fund the construction of 10 wells by the end of 2020.
“Overall, I think the people that we touch by way of giving them good products that they can actually use, that actually help, as well as knowing that we’re doing good internationally is what really drives us,” Psyche says. “I think I’d be successful no matter what — it’s just my makeup. I think Vontoba would be successful no matter what — that’s just how he’s created." That they’ve “chosen to use those gifts to help other people be successful is what matters most to me.”
The Terrys Business Advice
Psyche Says …
Put yourself out there: “Keep yourself around people that are (performing) higher than you. … If you’re the highest-paid person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room. If you’re the best-eating person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room. Go to rooms that you’re uncomfortable being in. That keeps you humble.”
Know your purpose: “If your product, idea or concept isn’t solving a problem or isn’t filling a space, go back – and keep going back – until you figure out what can and what does. It’s so crowded out here (in the marketplace). It’s best to figure out how you’re improving a process or improving a situation. That will guarantee sales.”
Marriage and business can mix: “We’ve learned that sometimes when you go to work, you treat your employer or your coworkers better than you treat your own kids or your spouse because you’re afraid of being judged. … If we’re willing to be extra nice to people outside our home, we should bring that same spirit into the home.”
Vontoba says …
There’s no time like the present: “If (aspiring entrepreneurs) wait until they’re ready, they’ll be waiting for a long time. You’ve got to leap in at some point, and when you do leap in, you’ve got to be together, you’ve got to be organized and you’ve got to be willing to learn a lot very quickly.”
Be knowledgeable: “People say the customer is always right. No, they’re not. Sometimes the customer is wrong. … But the customer is first, and the customer is most important. Knowing your customer, where to reach them and how to reach them, is important.”
Work together as a couple: “The first year, it was tough. … What we learned is that it’s important to be honest and transparent and to air our feelings so that everything is on the table. We’re on the same team and we’re respectful (toward one another) in front of our employees, even when our emotions get high.”