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Helen of Troy sharpens customer-centric strategy

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NEW YORK — Helen of Troy is transforming itself, with the goal of delivering results for customers and shareholders. And there has been much progress toward achieving that goal over the past two years, according to Julien Mininberg, the company’s chief executive officer.

Along with tripling its size over the past decade, Helen of Troy — a $1.5 billion company — has reorganized and brought in new talent in key roles, overhauled its global operations, and made three acquisitions within the past two years.

Since January 2014, according to the company, this has resulted in growth, improvement in its market position in most categories, a significant increase in its earnings and a doubling in its stock price.

Helen of Troy HQ buildingBeauty care, Mininberg says, is the company’s historical core, representing 30% of its sales. And this sector has been the one most significantly revamped in the transformation, with new management and a focus on consumers. The company remains a leader in retail appliances, personal care, and brushes and accessories, and it says it is “focused on consumer-centric innovation to bring growth and profitability to the categories it competes and participates in.”

Leah Bailey, Helen of Troy’s president of global beauty, describes “consumer-centric” as developing products rooted in a deep understanding of the habits, practices, needs and desires of consumers. “We have made a significant investment in consumer research,” Bailey says. “Retailers can rest assured that the biggest innovations we bring them are based on premarket testing.”

Bailey cites three examples of the company working with its manufacturers to create custom designs with new features that differentiate its products and brands in the areas consumers care most about: Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer and Styler, a hair dryer — with the power of a dryer and the precision of a styler — that delivers greater control and speed; the company’s relaunch of Pro Beauty Tools, to meet the needs of consumers wanting professional-grade products in the retail channel; and Hot Tools XL, a line of professional styling appliances to address the needs associated with longer hairstyles.

To illustrate Helen of Troy’s “restructured management” and reorganized sales force, Perry Sansone, the company’s vice president of beauty sales notes that, with Bailey, the Helen of Troy Beauty business unit now has a global president for the first time.

Bailey has nearly 30 years of experience in the beauty business, most recently as CEO of Paris Presents. Sansone notes that since Bailey joined the company a year ago, she has restructured the beauty division from many silos into a global organization “that goes to market in each country with a unified sales force retailers can rely on as their one source for hair care and personal care needs.”

The company’s new team, Sansone adds, represents “top talents from within Helen of Troy” as well as new managers with backgrounds from a variety of respected and well-established consumer-led organizations, including Procter & Gamble Co., Alberto-Culver/Unilever and Clairol. “Retailers should also know that our retail and professional beauty organizations now collaborate extensively,” Sansone says, “ensuring that the right innovations are available through our brands in each channel to meet the needs of consumers and customers.”

To gain “consumer-validated insights,” Bailey says she and other leaders at Helen of Troy listen to consumers to learn what they want and need. “We do not guess or decide for them,” she says. “We ask them, both qualitatively and quantitatively. We call it ‘In Touch,’ and it is so central to us that it is one of the core values in Helen of Troy’s new culture we have adopted across all parts of the company worldwide.”

For example, Bailey notes that consumers might not always articulate how to solve a problem such as frizzy hair. “But they are very clear on what they wish for and need, which helps our marketers and engineers prioritize what they care about most so we can create new products they will buy, use, love and ­recommend.”

Beyond investment in its retail marketing and sales organizations management, Sansone says, Helen of Troy has made significant investments in upgrading its innovation team, bringing in expertise in both consumer-based marketing and highly trained technical management in both appliances and personal care as well as in the company’s newly reinvigorated worldwide shared service capability. “Our innovation group has developed an exciting pipeline of new items we look forward to finishing developing and bringing to market in the future,” he says.

Sansone notes in particular the new Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer and Styler. “This product has been so successful with our consumers and retailers that we are now launching our next product in the range — the Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer and Volumizer.”

Sansone adds that the enhanced positioning work the company has done for Revlon Appliances in its new advertising and packaging has significantly increased Helen of Troy’s brand impression and its messaging of key features.

The drug channel continues to play a major role for the company, according to Sansone. “We will make excellent partners in pursuit of bringing a greater beauty focus to the hair category in drug,” he says. “We will bring innovation to this flat category that will drive traffic and profitable sales as consumers choose to buy products that will make a difference to their daily routine of hair care and style.”

Rick Cutler, the company’s vice president of global beauty marketing, adds: “The new Hot Beauty has a renewed focus on the drug channel, as we plan to detail at the NACDS [National Association of Chain Drug Stores] Annual Meeting.

“At Hot Beauty, we are primed to grow in drug with our beauty focus and with our Revlon and Pro Beauty items.”


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