Bye-Bye Razors, So Long Wax—if You Want a Clean Shave, the Krok Sisters Are at the Epicenter

updated 12/11/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/11/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

The year is 1987, and in a sleepy Israeli kibbutz, just a bomb's throw from the Lebanese border, South African tycoon Solly Krok and his daughter Loren negotiate with local manufacturers for a revolutionary new weapon, codeword: Epilady. Within days, the two obtain American rights and prepare to unleash it upon an unsuspecting United States. Two and a half years and 6 million Epiladies later, the country has fallen: In the war against unwanted hair, Epilady is a screaming success.

That's screaming, as in literally. "Epilady—ugh!" Malibu hairdresser Sandra Mott groans as she remembers the pain of the revolving metal coil yanking the hairs from the skin on her leg. "I felt tortured alive," Mott says. Comedian Joan Rivers agrees. "I walk down the hotel corridor," Rivers tells audiences, "and when I hear screams, I say, 'Is it a murder—or is it an Epilady?' " Oh, c'mon, protest the real EPI ladies, Loren, 24, Arlene, 29, and Sharon, 31, the three Krok sisters who own and run EPI (Essential Personal Items) Products. "It only hurts a little," says Sharon. "It's just getting over those first three or four times," adds Arlene. "If women would just persevere...."

Many have. So many, in fact, that the controversial grooming aid has become a veritable money machine. And the bucks don't stop there. Since introducing Epilady, the Kroks have begun marketing 19 other personal care products, including a shower head they claim "minimizes" cellulite and a mini facial steamer billed as a skin cleanser and clarifier. Last year the company did more than $100 million in sales, and an estimated $300 million in sales is expected for 1989.

"There has never been or ever will be anything like the Kroks' operation," says Doreen Erickson, cosmetics buyer for the 1,350-store J.C. Penney chain. The sisters' business savvy, she believes, boils down to this: "They never say no to anything without first checking it out." That would account for the oddball nature of such EPI products as the retractable bristle hairbrush they introduced early this year. Who needs it? Indeed, who needs any of the Epi-majigs? To convince consumers, the Kroks spent $4.6 million on TV advertising in November alone.

Spending (and earning) such huge sums comes easily to the Krok sisters—they've had plenty of practice. Their father, Solly, 60, is a self-made multimillionaire of Russian-Jewish descent. After founding the South African company Twin Pharmaceuticals with his twin brother, Abe, he expanded his empire to include supermarkets, amusement parks, clothing stores and real estate. The success afforded the family a comfortable life-style, but Solly was a workaholic who expected the same commitment from his children—the EPI-three plus daughter Bernice, 26, and sons Ian, 36, Martin, 33, and Paul, 23. "I was lolling around the house after high school," recalls Loren, "and Dad said, 'Get up. I don't care if you have to go and rent cars. You're not doing nothing.' "

Soon enough, that wasn't an option: After buying them the rights to the Epilady—the device was invented by an Israeli engineer—Solly left Loren, Arlene and Sharon alone in the product's development. By the mid-'80s, the three sisters had all moved to the U.S., where Solly's push-'em-and-watch-'em-fly policy has clearly contributed to their success. But personally? "Dad is driving me crazy to get married," says Arlene, who lives close to EPI's Santa Monica headquarters in the family's Beverly Hills mansion, "but I'm married to my work." Loren concurs. In addition to her Epilady involvement (she handles East Coast distribution from her New York City office), Loren co-produced the current Broadway musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Only Sharon, who lives with her husband, Isaac (who owns a baby-proofing business), and their two children in Bel Air, has taken Dad's advice on that score.

Indeed, the sisters' concept of family remains very much tied to Solly and their mother, Rita. Though they are still based in Johannesburg, the elder Kroks frequently visit the Beverly Hills mansion. But even as the Kroks convene in America to celebrate their good fortune, the political unrest continues in their homeland. "We all deplore apartheid," says Sharon, "particularly my parents, who had relatives involved in the Holocaust." But while it was apartheid that pushed Arlene to leave South Africa—"I was so repelled by the politics, I couldn't wait to get out," she says—Loren and Sharon confess to less noble motives. "In the United States," Sharon explains, "it's possible to make more money faster."

—Karen S. Schneider, Eleanor Hoover in Los Angeles

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