The Spirit of Giving: BSG's Mark Spinks

Beauty Systems Group president Mark Spinks talks charitable causes, the industry and being this year’s Spirit of Life Award recipient.

Surprisingly, Mark Spinks didn’t always imagine himself in the beauty business. After growing up in Columbus, Indiana, he attended college at Indiana University as a double major in economics and criminal justice (and remains a rabid Hoosiers fan). But his journey toward the beauty industry would begin with his very first assignment out of college, working within the department store industry, handling retail and operations for locations that boasted a solid dose of salon space.

Fast forward to today, and he’s firmly entrenched in the industry as president of CosmoProf and Armstrong McCall for Beauty Systems Group (BSG). While spearheading the largest full-service professional beauty products distributor in the world, he’s gearing up to accept one of the industry’s highest honors: the Spirit of Life Award, bestowed by the National Professional Salon Industry and the City of Hope, the life-changing organization that supports cutting-edge research and treatment of cancer, diabetes and other serious diseases. As the City of Hope’s most prestigious philanthropic accolade, the award is presented annually to “an industry leader who has demonstrated outstanding business and philanthropic achievement,” according to the organization.

As he prepares to be honored for his unflagging fidelity to the cause and decades of dedication, Beauty Store Business sat down with Spinks to discuss his beginnings and journey within the industry, why it’s crucial to give back, and the secrets behind his personal and professional success.

IN THE BEGINNING
Spinks’ journey in the beauty industry started at the outset of his career: working for the Mercantile Stores Company, a traditional department store retailer where salons enjoyed a major presence. “Within our stores, each location had a hair salon that varied from 2,000 square feet up to 5,000 square feet, and the salons reported through the store operations team that I was a part of, so we worked very closely with them,” Spinks recalls. “Some of our salon teams had in excess of 40 stylists working in them, and that was my first exposure to the professional beauty industry.”

Spinks was immediately inspired by the passion and energy of the beauty business and the hairdressers who wielded their tools of transformation at the in-store salons. After 13 years at Mercantile, he moved on to Saks Incor- porated, where he managed all salon and beauty-related businesses within its department store network. At Saks, he also enjoyed plenty of flexibility to work creatively—allowing him to try new ideas within the stores, like nail bars, spas and cross-promotion of the salon with the rest of the department store team. “This was also my first exposure to the distribution side of our industry, since we worked with distributors to supply our salons,” Spinks notes. “While at Saks, I had the opportunity to work with the supplier side of our industry, which eventually brought me to Sally Beauty and BSG.”

“I think getting involved where we can and giving our time and efforts will make a difference. My biggest hope is that within my lifetime we can say that we have found a cure for cancer.”

When Saks starting selling off its department store division (and the beauty-related business, which Spinks was responsible for), he was contacted by Sally Beauty about an opportunity. The timing was right; he joined the company in September 2005 and never looked back.

“I really enjoyed running the salon business, working directly with distributors in terms of our suppliers, and I got to know people like John Golliher [the former president of BSG],” Spinks remembers. “The one thing that has stood out to me over the years is the people within our industry. It seems that once people become a part of the professional beauty industry, they never want to leave. The relationships I have made over the years are what our industry is all about.”

ASCENDING THE RANKS
Since 2005, Spinks has steadily risen through the ranks of the organization. After joining Sally Beauty as director of business development, he was promoted to senior director of business development, working directly for Golliher for a couple of years. Switching gears to Armstrong McCall (BSG stores are branded as company-owned CosmoProf stores or Armstrong McCall franchise stores), he became the vice president and general manager, running the franchise for nearly five years. Then he assumed the position of chief operating officer at BSG, until Golliher retired and Spinks accepted his current position as president of CosmoProf and Armstrong McCall for BSG just over two years ago.

In his role, every day is different— one of the biggest draws of the business, Spinks says. “I don’t know if there’s a typical day or week. I tend to talk to our manufacturer partners every week and meet with the internal team here, but there’s always so much going on in our industry: shows, meetings with vendor partners and events around the country.” Spinks frequently travels with his team (his favorite spot is “anywhere with a beach”), taking note of new trends and meeting customers and external team members nationwide. And, of course, happenings like trade shows or manufacturer events fill plenty of weekends each year.

“When you think of how many lives cancer touches, you have a difficult time finding a family that hasn’t been impacted.”

No one said heading up behemoth BSG would be a breeze. Headquartered in Denton, Texas, BSG began with 39 stores in the Midwest and, through organic growth and acquisitions, has now become the largest full-service professional beauty products distributor in the world. Through a vast network of more than 1,300 CosmoProf and Armstrong McCall stores, plus about 950 direct sales consultants in North America, BSG sells exclusive professional salon brands to licensed beauty pros—roughly 10,000 products from beloved brands like Paul Mitchell, Wella, Sebastian, Nioxin, Joico, ISO, Rusk, Aquage, Goldwell, Schwarzkopf and Kenra.

Spinks is thankful for the opportunity—and up for the challenge. His deep-rooted background with leading salons, stylists, store operations and the franchise business within BSG has uniquely prepared him for his current role; he’s also quick to point out that his army of backers remains a crucial key to success.

“My philosophy is to surround yourself with the most talented team you can assemble, then get out of their way and let them run the business,” he explains. “I think any successful leader would tell you that much of their success is a direct result of the team surrounding them. And I also love surrounding myself with competitive people who want to win as a team, not win at the expense of others.”

Spinks oversees many arms of the sprawling organization: a store division led by Mike Flahaven, a full-service group led by Mike Heinz in the U.S. and Mark Shaw in Canada, and the Armstrong McCall franchise group led by Reed Boyd. In addition, the Denton headquarters houses vice president of marketing Jen Wilder, vice president of merchandising Stacy Gaspard, senior director of human resources Annette Igo and vice president of finance Jeff Harkins. Each oversees his or her own key people and teams, and these pillars directly report to Spinks.

To be given the opportunity to lead such a capable group at BSG, in fact, has been “the highlight of my career,” he says. “Every week, I get a chance to meet the many talented people on our team that take such great care of our customers. I get the chance to work with the leading brands in our industry as well as lead our teams that service salons and stylists across North America.”

JUST CAUSES
Amid such impressive success within BSG over the past 12 years, Spinks notes that he has always taken the approach of earning every opportunity along the way—including treating people with respect, honesty and integrity in all facets of life. And this year, his efforts and ethics will be celebrated in a major way as the Spirit of Life Award recipient.

“Mark is an industry leader and respected amongst all the elite executives in the industry; his unparalleled work ethic and philanthropic mindset made him a great fit for the Spirit of Life Award,” says Andrea Courtney, director of corporate and national volunteer philanthropy for City of Hope, headquartered in Duarte, California. “It’s our pleasure to join forces with Mark Spinks and the entire BSG team.”

But Spinks stresses that the beauty industry as a whole is a natural force of change, always seeking to give back. “I have been amazed over the years at the beauty industry’s generosity and willingness to support worthy causes; it seems like every time there is a need, the industry is there,” he notes. “Whether it is contributing to local communities when natural disasters occur or supporting causes that positively impact society, the beauty industry makes a difference. And it’s important for all of us to give back—when you think about how many lives the beauty industry touches, we have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on society.”

Indeed, Courtney agrees that the beauty industry has supported City of Hope for more than 30 years now, and in many ways. Most recently, she notes, the industry joined together to donate product, furniture, design support and more to completely renovate the Positive Image Center on the City of Hope campus. (The Positive Image Center is a safe place for cancer patients to go and get necessary beauty products, wigs and other items to help make them look and feel good as they undergo treatment.)

BSG specifically has always supported City of Hope campaigns by helping fund the campaign of the Spirit of Life Award each year through generous donations. And, over the years, the National Professional Salon Industry has raised more than $20 million in the fight to find a cure.

“We wanted to be a part of such an important mission,” Spinks says. “I had an opportunity earlier this year to tour the City of Hope campus, and I can tell you it was a life-altering experience. When you get a chance to see the work they are doing to find a cure, you can’t help but want to support all the work they are doing.”

Spinks even had the opportunity to meet some of the patients that City of Hope is currently treating—an unforgettable chance to match the cause with the real faces of those who benefit from the tireless work of City of Hope, BSG and the industry as a whole. “I will never forget some of the people we had a chance to meet and spend some time with,” he reflects. “When you think of how many lives cancer touches, you have a difficult time finding a family that hasn’t been impacted.”

Despite all of BSG’s amazing efforts for the City of Hope, Spinks was surprised when—instead of helping the Spirit of Life campaign behind the scenes as usual—he found himself front and center as this year’s award winner.

“It’s very strange to be on the other side, but receiving this award is a reflection of all of the talented people I have had the honor of working with over the years,” Spinks says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of some of the most passionate and dedicated people in our industry. This award isn’t about my achievements; it’s about the achievements of the many talented people on our team that I have been given an opportunity to lead.”

“This award isn’t about my achievements; it’s about the achievements of the many talented people on our team that I have been given an opportunity to lead.”

And, of course, he points out he couldn’t do it without the support of some very special people in his personal life: Maggie, his wife of 30 years who has been with him “every step of the way,” and their three sons. “Success in life is not really success if you don’t have a great family to share it with,” Spinks says. “I’ve been very fortunate to have my wife and three beautiful boys to enjoy it with.” Ultimately, Spinks hopes that this year’s event will prove yet another great opportunity to spend an evening with the leaders in beauty to celebrate the industry and its charitable contributions to worthy causes.

“I hope that we bring our industry together for a fun evening and unite to make a difference,” Spinks says. “I will continue to support the City of Hope as well as other organizations that make a difference. While we would all like to be able to do more, I think getting involved where we can and giving our time and efforts will make a difference. My biggest hope is that within my lifetime we can say that we have found a cure for cancer. With organizations like City of Hope, that dream is possible.”

HOW TO HELP
Inspired by Spinks’ story? Here’s how to get involved.

Every dollar matters when it comes to finding a cure for cancer, and getting the support of the professional beauty industry can make a difference. “I think it’s important we all give back in whatever ways we can,” Spinks says. “There are so many ways we can make a difference in someone else’s life. It doesn’t have to be in the form of money—often our time and personal involvement are just as important.” At the salon and stylist level, the new initiative Love Out Lavender is helping raise money for City of Hope through cut-a-thon efforts. Meanwhile, the manufacturer community can support the City of Hope at Cosmoprof in Las Vegas by attending the annual Spirit of Life Annual Gala on July 8, and anyone can reach out and make donations at cityofhope.org.

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