It was April Fools’ Day in the 1960s when Ken Maly told his wife Marlene he quit his job and was venturing out to start his own business.
“She thought it was an April Fools’ joke,” said John Maly, an 11-year partner at Wolf Creek Restaurant and Brewery, and the Malys’ youngest of five children. “But it wasn’t and so he started Maly’s.”
The company, a beauty distribution center, started off as a small operation with the help of his family in Michigan. From combs to clippers and everything in between, the business kicked off with the loading of a single truck early every single morning, John said.
Across 40 years of family work into the business, Maly’s quickly turned into a national, multi-million-dollar enterprise before selling to L’Oreal, considered the world’s largest cosmetics company.
But it didn’t happen overnight and the four-decade journey was not always smooth sailing. To help depict the reality of running a growing business and to highlight the relationship between the family in a professional setting, John wrote and published his book late last year titled, “A Beautiful Business: The Maly’s Story.”
The book, filled with vintage photos from when his parents met in the 1950s to images of the family at Paul Mitchell conferences, was mostly produced to pass on Ken’s legacy to the family’s younger generations.
“Over a year ago during Thanksgiving, my mom and I were reminiscing about the business and as we’re talking about it, my son, Luke, who was 21 at the time, started asking questions about the business,” said John.
Luke was only 10 years old when the company sold to L’Oreal. Now twice his age, he asked how the business grew from $2 million to more than $200 million in just nearly 20 years.
“He said at the end of all those questions, ‘You should write that down. That’s a great story,’” said John.
The Malys’ story traces back to just more than $5,000 Ken had to start his business. John described the family investing all their time in growing the business, which did as they expanded operations in 1988 across Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
The family business’ recognition solidified when Maly’s became a Redkin distributor. Soon enough, the owner, who had been a friend of the family, asked Ken to operate as its Los Angeles distributor. And he accepted but he soon realized the necessity to physically work from the West Coast. That’s when John and his wife decided they would be the ones to take over.
Not long after their relocation to the L.A. area, the company quickly became a Paul Mitchell distributor and later expanded its West Coast services into Oregon, Washington, Utah and Arizona.
By 2006, Maly’s had made 18 acquisitions and owned 130 stores for hairdressers to shop in by the end of the company’s life.
“After a long deliberation with my brothers and my sister, after 40 years in business, they felt that the risk of not selling was greater than selling,” said John. “So, the business sold to L’Oreal, which owned all the major companies we distributed, including Redkin.”
In between all the success, however, the family faced challenges that led them to lawyer up. At one point Ken had fired one of his sons and John’s sister was also dismissed from the business. Regardless of what he called, “family drama,” the Malys managed to surpass their rough patches.
And that’s really at the core of his book, persevering through the drama and challenges that come with owning a business, whether small or large — a message and legacy John would like his grandchildren to learn about.
Ken, who died 20 years ago, would have been proud of the book, John said.
John still invests his time in running a business, but this time in the restaurant industry. While his time at Wolf Creek at both McBean Parkway and Rye Canyon Loop marks 11 years, he is still learning every day.
One thing John brings from the beauty industry into the restaurant world is the passion to serve others, he said, whether that be providing the products needed for a quality hairstyle or the service to bring the Santa Clarita Valley community a delicious plate of food and a cool, craft beer.
“A Beautiful Business: The Maly’s Story” is now available for purchase online at Amazon.