In the language of the Cree Indians of the northern Rockies, “keyano” means a therapeutic mountain breeze.
It’s a poetic and appropriate name for the company Bill Comiskey of Clifton Park started nearly 20 years ago, Keyano Aromatics. It sells health and beauty products to salons and day spas in the United States, Canada and halfway around the world.
The company expects to keep creating new product lines in 2009 to keep customer interest high despite the economic downturn.
With a warehousing and production operation that today fills most of a 20,000-square-foot building and employs eight people, both Comiskey and Keyano have come a long way since beginning in the basement of his wife Kimberly’s day spa in Colonie.
Comiskey had been a salesman for beauty product suppliers and worked in environmental cleanup before deciding to start his own salon products company, with its own hand-formulated line, built on foundations of quality and environmental consciousness.
“It started out with just me and one part-time person in a dark basement,” Comiskey said. “We put up shelves and put in a ramp for sliding product down. It had only one bare pull-string light bulb.”
Keyano Aromatics has grown steadily, though, into a major salon and spa products company, selling its unique products to day spas and their customers. Comiskey’s wife, Kimberly, owns Kimberly’s Day Spa in Latham, meaning he hears quickly about customer needs and gets feedback on new product ideas.
“Having a working spa behind us is a huge help,” said Comiskey, 49, who is president and CEO of Keyano.
Extensive product line
Keyano makes and sells multiple product lines comprising about 200 different products, including moisturizing shampoos, facial cleansers, hair gels, body butters, skin masks, hydrating creams and massage oils. The company sells directly to the spas, where customers come for beauty treatments, relaxation massages, anti-aging therapies and other professional services. Sales are about $2 million a year.
The company moved from Ushers Road in Clifton Park to a warehouse building at the corner of Knabner Road and Route 9 in June 2007, marking its third move in 20 years.
Here, boxes of things like Austrian mud and vitamin compounds are stacked almost to the ceiling in a fragrant warehouse. Orders and deliveries are accepted, products mixed and jars filled by hand, and outgoing shipments packaged.
“We sell to 3,000 spas in the United States, 500 spas in Canada, 500 spas in Russia and a handful in the Caribbean,” Comiskey said.
He said Keyano began selling in Russia after a distributor there contacted him about carrying Keyano products several years ago.
With health and beauty products a multibillion-dollar industry, Keyano has found a niche in making products that are unique. Comiskey comes up with ideas and has them designed by industrial chemists, but still emphasizes natural ingredients.
Natural is in
The salon products industry has evolved over the last decade toward more natural ingredients, he said. That has meant a demand for new products and sometimes has required reformulation of older products, if new research points an ingredient — preservatives have been a big culprit — as potentially harmful.
Comiskey holds a doctorate in naturopathic medicine from Clayton University, though he practiced alternative medicine only briefly.
“In the spa industry, a naturopath had a lot of credibility,” Comiskey said. “You’re designing products for the body, so people will have a lot of questions.”
The company has a line of champagne and rose products, and others that use mango, cucumber, lavender, cranberry, pomegranate — even chocolate, which is a big seller around Valentine’s Day.
“It’s something I swore I would never do, but it’s a big seller,” Comiskey said of the chocolate line, which like most of the others includes a butter cream, scrub, candle, massage oil, mineral bath, pedicure mask and facial modeling mask.
Keyano also pioneered vinotherapy products, derived from grape-based products.
All the fruit products take advantage of the plants’ antioxidants and other beneficial chemistry, Comiskey said.
Keyano is keeping new products coming in 2009. Comiskey sees it as essential to remaining competitive, even though he said the current recession is the first time he’s seen the health and beauty product business affected by an economic downturn.
“We can’t sit back and wait. We have to keep going,” he said. “[Spas] are always looking for something new. It gives them something new to talk about with their customers.”
A line of coconut lime products is on the way this spring, and much of the existing product line will be repackaged in 2009, Comiskey said.
“Every time we do a launch, it stimulates new business,” Comiskey said.
Help for fundraisers
Keyano has also ventured out in the last year into fundraising sales for school organizations and nonprofit groups.
Splitting proceeds 50-50 with the sponsoring organization, the fundraising product line, which features basic scrubs, gels and creams, is a way for Keyano to reach new audiences for its products, while also benefiting community organizations like the Junior League of Schenectady, which is one partner.
Keyano’s products have also just begun appearing in a 2-million-circulation product catalog that primarily focuses on the massage industry. Comiskey is hopeful that will lead to new sales.
“They’re always looking for innovative new products,” Comiskey said.
The search for new Keyano lines is always on. Comiskey attends trade shows to get ideas, meets with therapists and flavor-marketing companies that suggest product ideas, and listens to what the spas and salons he sells to say their customers are asking for.
In the early days, Comiskey mixed ingredients for products in the kitchen sink. Now, he provides a concept to industrial chemists who actually work up the product.
Once a new product is developed, ingredients are stored in volume in the Malta warehouse, and when big orders come in, employees are working at locations throughout the building, mixing ingredients and filling jars and bottles.
Information on the company’s products is available at www.keyano.com.