How the Las Vegas Desert Inspired a Married Couple to Start Urban Hydration
Like many other founders, Psyche Terry and her husband, Vontoba Terry, started the business out of a personal need.
Both Psyche and Vontoba have struggled with eczema for many years. Living in the Las Vegas desert — Psyche for an MBA and Vontoba for a master’s degree in economics, both at the University of Nevada’s Lee School of Business — they both face near-constant dry skin. But neither of them could find any affordable skin care options made with natural ingredients. So Psyche started her own line: Urban Hydration, which she now runs as CEO under her parent company, UI Global Brands. Vontoba, who co-founded the company and joined full-time in 2016, serves as COO.
While in graduate school, both Psyche and Vontoba continued in corporate jobs, with Psyche at Whirlpool and Vontoba’s business development as underwriter and then vice president at Comerica Bank. headquartered in Dallas. But they dream of starting their own company; so in 2009 they launched UI Global Brands with Urban Hydration.
They attract early customers by giving away products to doctors and dermatologists, and exhibiting their products at trade shows. As for production, in 2009, Psyche partnered with the Nevada Center for the Blind (where she was a board member) to produce body butter, with the idea of creating jobs for its members. blind and visually impaired community. The partnership has helped make Urban Hydration a success. But once the company secured customers like TJ Maxx, the Center encouraged Terrys to move production to a factory that could produce at the scale their growing business required.
After completing his master’s degree, Terrys moved to Frisco, Texas to raise a family and expand his business. They are not native to the state, but its lack of income taxes is appealing, and Frisco in particular, has attracted several corporate offices, including Walgreens and Home Depot.
The couple started (or, as Psyche liked to say, “wearing heels”) their business for six years; in 2010, Psyche was earning 401(k) cash from her previous job when she quit her job to focus full time on UI Global Brands and Vontoba also withdrew a small portion of her cash to support business work.
Although the business quickly took off after the move, the early days were hectic. We moved the product out of my car,” Vontoba said. “This is before you can schedule a UPS pickup, so we’ll pick up the products at a friend’s warehouse, bring them to our garage by U-Haul, and pack them there.”
It was demanding enough because Urban Hydration secured more retail partners, including Target. The pair then stepped up the challenge by launching another lingerie brand, Urban Intimates, a lingerie brand, at the same time. They have secured positions in stores such as Macy’s, Walmart and JC Penney, attracting favorable press and television spots. But Urban Intimates never turned a profit. “Marketing to drive a fashion line crazy. Retailers also promise to buy more than they actually do,” Vontoba said. “We had to use the profits from Urban Hydration to pay for the loss of the lingerie brand.” In 2017, the couple dropped Urban Intimates to focus entirely on their skincare line.
A real turning point came in 2019, when the couple, both 40 years old, decided to change the look of Urban Hydration’s packaging and change the brand’s retail strategy. “Before that year, about 85% of our business was off-price retailers like TJ Maxx, Ross and Burlington,” Vontoba said. “At the end of 2019, only 15% of our business was for those retailers.” Instead, Urban Hydration secures placements in stores like Sally Beauty Supply and CVS – locations where many customers are likely to find the brand for the first time. They raise the price a bit, but stay true to their core value of accessibility (all Urban Hydration bestsellers are $10 to $13). The price increase allows them to increase profit margins, invest in consumer engagement and testing, and expand the range of services.
Urban Hydration posted revenue growth of 47 percent in 2021 and 37 percent the year before. Starting in 2019, the company landed Inc. 5000 years in a row. Philanthropy is also a core part of the business. In 2018, Urban Hydration began giving away one gallon of clean water for every product sold through the nonprofit WATERISLIFE. Urban Hydration also offers $50,000 in scholarships annually to students in need at Western Michigan University, Psyche’s college. They never sought outside funding until 2016, when they met their angel investor, a retired major league baseball player, through their church.
Psyche says their unwavering focus on quality is what keeps Urban Hydration going strong. “I sat down with the chemists and our daughter and showed them specifically how I styled her hair, and what I needed our product to do differently. I have dark skin and I’ve been showing them videos of how the product looks on my skin and I don’t want it to turn out,” says Psyche. “We are customers with very high maintenance needs for our plants, but we all benefit from the fact that we care so much about the quality of the products we sell. I bring to the world.”
The couple has not only built a successful business; they did so as a couple with three young children. Business may not be the only conversation at the dinner table, but it certainly isn’t the limit. “When the kids learn our letters, they get excited when they flip through CVS because we’ve worked with CVS and they can recognize it,” says Psyche. “Or they’ll recognize the name ‘Macy’s’ because they’ve heard Mom talking on the phone to Macy’s.”
Vontoba and Psyche started their business after 5 years of marriage, and now they are 18 years old; they even taught a “Business with Your Honey” class at their church, providing examples of how couples can successfully communicate and handle conflict both in business and at home.
“We learned a lot and we grew,” Vontoba said. “We call it our family business – and we treat our customers like family too.”
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