manufacturer gets makeover
Saturday, October 20, 2007
By Sarah Bzdega
|Sanjay Srivistava immigrated from India,
earned an M.B.A. at the University of Michigan and joined Weeks
& Leo as executive vice president. Photo by Sarah Bzdega
|Weeks & Leo displays the historic
packaging of some of its leading products. Photo by Sarah
When Sanjay Srivastava became executive vice president of Weeks & Leo Co. Inc. two years ago, he could not believe that the Chamberlain Golden Touch brand, which has been on the market for 100 years, was still the company's top seller.
"It's really amazing what people say about Golden Touch lotion," he said. "I have never seen in my life a product loyalty like Golden Touch. People have used it generations after generations and they in fact swear by the products."
Now Srivastava wants to build on that success by looking toward new opportunities to expand the stagnant company.
"Today we are at a crossroad in which we have to move on from our historical past," he said, "using that going forward, but coming up with new technology and new products and new business strategies to expand."
Weeks & Leo has a deeply rooted history in Des Moines. Golden Touch descends from Iowa's first drug company, Chamberlain Medicine Co., started by Lowell Chamberlain in 1872, and the company, Weeks & Leo, can trace its ancestry to Carl Weeks, who commissioned the construction of the Salisbury House in the 1920s. The business was family-run until 2000, when the Peters family, then the owners, sold the company to one of its main suppliers, Achyut Sahasra of Vita-Pure Inc., a New Jersey vitamin company.
Today it generates about $2.3 million in annual revenues, and Srivastava plans to reach $5 million to $6 million in the next three to five years.
In two months, Weeks & Leo will introduce a line of anti-aging face cream, lotions and other similar products, which it has been researching and developing for the past year. Not only will these new products add to the Golden Touch line, but Srivastava also plans to ramp up marketing efforts to sell the Golden Touch products it already manufactures - including vitamin E cream, collagen cream and lotions - to more grocery stores, pharmacies and other retailers.
Srivastava also sees an opportunity to expand another area of its core business: printing private labels for independent pharmacies. Even as the number of smaller pharmacies is dwindling in the wake of big chains, Srivastava believes Weeks & Leo can get business from more than the 1,000 pharmacies it already counts as customers.
"We are one of the most unique companies in this country who does private labeling of store-brand products for smaller pharmacies," he said. "Many players do it for CVS or Walgreens, but we do it for independent mom-and-pop shops."
Srivastava also sees a chance to work with larger cosmetic suppliers to manufacture their products and print their labels.
"Our goal is to establish ourselves as a very, very serious and high-quality supplier and manufacturer of cosmetics," he said.
Srivastava believes the 40,000-square-foot Weeks & Leo facility located off 100th Street near Douglas Avenue, which the company built in 1963, has the capacity to handle an influx of new business. The company is investing in a new 150-gallon homogenizer and is in the process of transferring the old printing machines and other equipment it has stored at the building to museums to make more room.
The company employs 15 people at the plant, with two people dedicated to research and development, and 10 sales representatives around the country. Srivastava expects to increase the sales staff to get into new markets.
Srivastava, who came to the United States from India in 1997, joined Weeks & Leo after graduating with a master's degree in business administration from the University of Michigan and has striven to make sweeping changes to the company, whose sales have declined over the past decade.
A lot of his efforts are to reverse actions taken in the 1990s. After the Food and Drug Administration imposed more product testing requirements and labeling regulations on over-the-counter medicines, the Peters family decided to outsource manufacturing of those products. Sales began to decline and sales representatives left the company. After the owners sold the company, they remained in command for another five years while the business remained stagnant.
Entering a family-owned business with a long history was challenging, Srivastava said, and required "breaking certain traditions and habits, which can impede your growth." But the new owner has given him the freedom to develop new business strategies.
Though companies are outsourcing more manufacturing overseas, Srivastava believes cosmetic manufacturing will remain strong in the United States. "The import of liquid is not very cost effective because of the shipping cost, so it always makes sense to make it here and ship it here," he said. Weeks & Leo also receives most of its supplies, including chemicals and packaging materials, from local companies.
A bigger challenge may be the greater regulations the FDA could place on the cosmetics industry in the future. Srivastava sees Weeks & Leo as having an advantage as an FDA-certified company, but believes it may have to deal with stricter guidelines on research and product labeling in the future.
"Consumers are looking for one silver bullet in a product," Srivastava said, "and there are a lot of companies trying to give that.
"We've done a lot of changes and we are in the path of growth."
For a complete Weeks & Leo Co. Inc. history, visit http://www.weeksandleo.com/.