by Catherine Brinkman
There are times when you talk to someone and know they are not trying to hustle you but, they just hustle. Miguel Martinez is that someone. He doesn’t hustle just for green paper today, he’s hustling to protect the green on the earth from plastic razor cartridges and harmful chemicals in grooming products.
That’s Smoooth started out fulfilling Miguel’s personal need, to have a closer shave using products that were made for men of color. He created a razor and shaving products that would reduce bumps, irritation and help restore moisture to his face, with all-natural ingredients…. quickly men were asking him to make them shaving kits.
Within 3 months, Miguel found himself presenting his kit to hundreds and from there business took off. Like someone who likes the hustle Miguel is someone that is flexible, takes criticism with a grain of salt and adapts to the marketplace. Moxye spoke with Miguel about where he gets his drive and where he hopes to take That’s Smoooth.
Looking back how did the lessons you learned as a young person help get you where you are today?
It stems from my childhood, I was always adventurous and curious; I was never one who wanted to stay in my yard. If I saw someone doing something that looked interesting I went after it. I grew up in a part of Harlem that was mixed, kind of like today. I was half a mile from Columbia University. George Carlin and a few other Irish comics came from the neighborhood. There was a curiosity to get to know people.
When I was 5 or 6-years old watching TV with my Mom and there was a show that came on where they drove a nice car, had a nice house; they had a lifestyle I liked, and I didn’t have it. I asked my Mom what will it take to get that? She said, “I needed an education, you need to go to college. That costs money so you are going to find a way to pay for it yourself”, as she continued. My Mom finished by telling me, “No one’s greater than you. Set your mind and heart and you can do it. Anything you want you can have, don’t quit.”
I begin selling newspapers at the age of 9. I knew a man that sold trinkets. During the holidays I would ask my customers if they wanted to buy any trinkets for gifts. I would tell him how many I needed. He stocked them, and I sold them.
Tell me about Howard University?
It was incredible. I decided if I couldn’t get into Harvard I was going to the black Harvard. I met people that looked like me from all over the world. Washington DC is an international city. I scruffed through to pay for it.
Soon after you graduated from Howard, you moved with your wife to Atlanta. What was your first job?
I always had sales skills so, I went into the car business and was very successful, very quickly. I just outworked everyone. I also had to adapt. The dealership was just outside of Atlanta and the roads behind it, weren’t paved. I stopped wearing French cuff links and started wearing golf shirts.
What did you do after that?
I switched to financial services. I became a Million Dollar Round Table producer my first year; it was the early 80s with the phasing out of pensions and the onset of 401Ks. I was intrigued by Wall Street, all the money began and ended there. It went around the world, but it made its way back to Wall Street.
I left Atlanta in 1989, moved back to New York and became a VP at Gruntal and Company. I was divorced by this time and my Mom was diagnosed with COPD and emphysema so, I moved back; I wanted to be closer to home to care for my Mom.
Then 9-11 happened. Gruntal and Company shut down. You went to work for George S. May and then they ceased operations. What was your next play?
I always had a pet peeve with grooming products. I entertained clients after work for years. I shaved every morning and by 2p.m. I had a 5’O clock shadow. Around 4:30 I would have to shave again, and it was excoriating. I was buying high end products but still having to add products to help my skin type. Supposedly the technology behind the multi razor cartridges was to get a closer shave. They only made my skin more and more irritated and I started to get bumps.
Shaving products are made with Caucasian men in mind, that’s the reality, the rest of us must fall in. People spend $24 Billion on grooming products. There is no luxury item made for us. What is made for us is cheap and loaded with chemicals that help fight razor bumps. My Dad had prostate cancer and my Mom died from cancer. This is linked with what we are putting in our bodies. I cannot control the air, but I can control what I put in my body. Whatever I put on my body within two hours it’s in my body. I decided to create something that would help me.
You started out in your kitchen, exiling your wife out of the kitchen for 4-5 hours at a time so you could make your product. People you know were noticing the difference in your skin and how close your shave was and started asking if you would make it for them. Now you are in Whole Foods. How did you get there?
It was February 2014, my wife said I had a good idea and should go for it. She would help by giving me a platform at the Phenomenal Women Empowerment Alliance Wellness Expo in Harlem. They allow 10 outside vendors. If I was ready in May I could have a spot. I was ready for the Expo 3 months later. People benefited from it.
I decided I would go big or go home. That’s Smoooth was created.