Meet Bonnie Steen

Location: Lake Havasu, AZ
Age: 68
Marital Status: Widowed
Education: Antelope Valley College

Tell us a bit about your background.

I was born in Dayton, Kentucky and moved with my family to California at age 12 in 1955. I met my husband in California when I was 14 and we married when I was 15.

How old was he?

Claude was 21. And we were married 49 years and it was just a wonderful marriage. My son and daughter were planning our 50th wedding anniversary when he died suddenly of a heart attack at 69. That was three years ago, and it’s been a devastating time for the whole family. He was a wonderful husband, a wonderful father, and my best friend.

I’m so sorry for your loss. How did you know, at 15 that you were in love?

I’m not sure that I knew what the word even meant at that time. I had a wonderful family but I just wanted to be with him. So we eloped—and it just was a tremendous life. We were blessed.

What did he do?

He was Chief of Instrumentation at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

What did you do after you married?

I quit school and had a son and two daughters. Before they started kindergarten, I got my high school diploma. I didn’t want them to know that I never graduated from high school. Then I went to work at Antelope Valley College part time as a selective service clerk, took college courses and ended up getting a full-time job there. When I retired at 58, ten years ago, I was director of financial aid. I absolutely loved my job, and was at the college for 27 years.

Did your husband mind that you were working?

I had to convince him that nobody, nothing would suffer. I just really wanted to work and dinner was going to be on the table.

How and when did you come up with the idea of Roots Only?

I first had the idea for Roots Only in 1994, when I was fifty. I colored my hair myself because I didn’t feel like sitting in a salon for hours every month. I thought it looked okay, but my hairdresser told me I was damaging my hair with too much color. ‘You either need to have me, or your husband, do it.’ I knew Claude wasn’t interested, but I still didn’t want to spend hours at the salon. One day, after I washed my hair—it was shoulder length—I was combing out the tangles with a hair pick and I suddenly thought, what if the teeth of the pick were hollow and you could attach it a bottle of hair color and squeeze the color out through the teeth. You’d be able to comb and apply color to the new growth at the roots in one action.

Tinkering around the garage, my husband created a ‘model’ by attaching 10 tiny plastic straws (that come with WD-40 lubricant cans) to 10 small holes he drilled into the side of a plastic hair color bottle (he sealed off the bottle top.) I filled the rigged-up bottle with conditioner to see how it would work. (Conditioner has the same consistency as hair color.) By squeezing and combing, I was able to keep the conditioner concentrated at the roots of the hair.

When my niece used the prototype applicator we created to apply real hair color to her roots, she said: ‘My gosh, Aunt Bonnie, this thing is fabulous. I didn’t have to section my hair like I usually do when I’m coloring it and there was no dripping. The color went exactly where I directed it. I did my roots in less than five minutes.’”

What happened next?

We did the patent search, hired a patent attorney and went forward with baby steps at that point. It wasn’t until 1998 that we had our packaged product. We debuted at the Antelope Valley Fair and did very well. Then we showed it at flea markets and got awesome testimonials.

Now Roots Only is sold in every Wal-mart store. That’s an incredible accomplishment. How did it happen?

We were moving along smoothly, doing our flea markets, but my son-in-law and daughter, who have a really good business background, said they wanted to help us take the business to the next level. First they brought the product to the manager of their local Wal-Mart. Their persistence, patience and passion paid off after a year, and the product was placed in that one store. Over the next two years, more local Wal-Mart stores starting selling it. In 2001, we met with the buyer in Bentonville, AK, and he committed to selling Roots Only in over 1,000 stores. However, he said he wouldn’t keep it if it didn’t have an 80 percent sell-through. We sold through 80 percent during the trial period, and today we’re in over 3,500 stores across the country.

Is Roots Only sold in other retailers, too?

Yes. Roots Only is available at other retailers including grocery, discount drug and beauty supply outlets. Roots Only is also available online at rootsonly.com.

How much is it?

It retails for less than $5.00 and it’s reuseable. Including the box of color you buy, it’s far less expensive than having your roots done at the hairdresser. We partner with VIP Solutions, a non-profit company in the Rancho Cucamonga area, who hires workers with disabilities to do our packaging. It has been a terrific partnership in that we are keeping jobs in our community and maximizing the potential of individuals with disabilities.

Do you enjoy this second career at 68?

I’ve had a tough time since I lost my husband. I will always be passionate about Roots Only, but now I like concentrating on the public relations and going into the stores. My husband was so supportive and wanted to see me realize my dream.

Besides work, what makes you passionate?

I’m starting to get into golf a little bit. It’s provided a little bit of therapy. And fishing. Claude and I retired in Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 2004, where we had a little vacation place. He was quite the fisherman. We’d get out in that boat, and it was just paradise.

Where do you live now?

In Lake Havasu, because it holds so many memories of Claude.

What was the secret to your successful relationship?

I think early on it was putting him first, doing special things for him. I then became first for him. We surprised each other; we were best friends. It worked all the way through our marriage. When roses came to the switchboard at the college, everyone would say: ‘These must be for Bonnie.’ He would send roses for no reason. I was so blessed by God. Not very many people can make it work when they’re so young. We were married in December of 1958 and had out first daughter a year later. She died when she was two after she got a hold of a bottle of pills. Tragedy would pull many people apart, but it brought us even closer.

Tell us a little about your parents?

My dad was a very brilliant man who quit school in the eighth grade, and my mom quit school in the sixth grade. My dad had odd jobs all of his life and my mom was mainly a homemaker. She raised five children and always made each one of us feel like we were her favorite. We were very poor, but we had a wonderful family. My mom never had an enemy. Everyone loved her.

How do you like working with your daughter?

It’s wonderful. She was my sounding block before she ever got involved in Roots Only. We’re very close. I’ve got the best of everything right now because I get to do the PR and she and Mike take care of the business.

What hair color do you use for your own hair?

Garnier.

What is one of your favorite books?

My favorite book is Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. This was the book that inspired me to move forward with Roots Only. Currently, I’m reading Rule #1 by Phil Towne, a book about the stock market that presents a very simple formula for how to choose stocks and invest. I’m finding it very interesting. I also loved reading A Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren because it lifts me when I’m down.

A favorite restaurant?

I like the ambiance of the Nautical Inn Restaurant in Lake Havasu City. It’s right on the water.

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