Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on January 6th, 2015

Comer Cottrell: How he turned $600 into $80 million.

Comer Cottrell
Comer Cottrell   Photo: tmz.com

Comer was the great grandson of slaves and grew up in Mobile, Alabama, then a society of strict segregation in which white society deprived black people of their legal rights and treated them as trash.

Comer eventually settled in Los Angeles, 2000 miles away.

Before he attained success, Comer had a wide variety of jobs. Among them he had been a cab driver, a mail carrier, a railroad porter, a life insurance salesman, a Sears appliance salesman, and a military PX (store) manager.

But in 1970 at the age of 38, with his friend Huggy Henderson, and later joined by his brother Jim, Comer launched Pro-Line Corporation, which made hair-care products for black people.

Comer and Huggy began with just $600, and with so little money, they had to be creative.

They leased a burned out warehouse in South Central Los Angeles and in exchange for cleaning up the building, they paid no rent for the first six months.

But with no sales, they were barely hanging on when suddenly their breakthrough came.

The General in charge of all U.S. Air Force PX’s, with encouragement from a black Congressman and from Comer, agreed to allow black haircare products to be sold in the PX’s.

Until then, although 20% of Air Force personnel were black, black haircare products were not sold on Air Force bases.

Pro-Line quickly landed a large contract to provide some of those products, which made Comer and Huggy ecstatic.

But now they had a huge problem. They had no haircare products.

They hurriedly took that Air Force contract to a chemical company and also to a packager. One firm agreed to provide Pro-Line’s products and the other to package them on credit until the Air Force paid Pro-Line.

But Pro-Line also had cash flow problems. Businesses need operating funds so Comer took that contract to a bank, and borrowed against it. Now Pro-Line had funds, products and packaging.

Pro-Line began selling its products in the Air Force PX’s, and sold its products in stores, beauty salons and barber shops as well.

But there was another big problem. At first there wasn’t always enough money to meet payroll so Comer sometimes did not pay himself, so other employees could be paid.

However as time passed, the business prospered, and Comer bought out Huggy. Later he bought out his brother Jim, becoming the sole owner of Pro-Line.

In 1980, Comer moved Pro-Line’s headquarters to Dallas, formerly a bastion of segregation, but now opening its doors of opportunity to minority businesspeople such as Comer.

In Dallas, Pro-Line continued to grow and thrive, staying closely aligned with the latest hairstyles of black people.

Then in 2000, after 30 years in business, 68 year old Comer sold Pro-Line to global cosmetics giant Alberto Culver for about $80 million, making him a vastly wealthy man.

In the next KazanToday: The fascinating story of what Comer did with much of his money.

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