Officials at Focus Consumer Healthcare are extremely confident that they have the secret to successfully nursing ailing brands back to health, knowing that these products just need some tender loving care to start gaining traction on retail shelves.
Started seven years ago, Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Focus Consumer Healthcare is already making a major dent in the consumer packaged goods industry and creating a lot of buzz in a number of health and beauty care segments. The company, with just nine full-time employees and annual sales reaching around $40 million, offers 30 SKUs across 10 brands. Those include some well-known brands like Garlique, Herpecin and Pamprin, as well as more specialized lines like Ultra Swim, Sun In, Benzodent and Zapzyt.
“Our formula is pretty simple,” said Kevin Menzel, the managing director and COO of the company since its formation. “We acquire brands that have been neglected by larger companies for whatever reason and nurse them back to health with a lot of TLC. The key is it is all about advertising and getting the right consumer group for each product to realize that these products are available to them.”
In fact, Menzel is very big on creating what he calls “brand momentum” for each of the company’s product lines. With the help of its broker, The Emerson Group, Focus is able to show its retail partners the benefits of each product and the opportunity for greater sales and profits from brands and categories that had not previously performed well. “We utilized The Emerson Group to close distribution gaps and help get us back on retail shelves,” he said. “We really could not have done this without them. Emerson allows us to grow without scaling up on the number of employees we have.”
Yet, in the end, it is all about eyeballs — as in a lot of consumer eyeballs — that is making the biggest difference for the company. Advertising products through the appropriate media and to the right audience is the fuel behind the company’s rapid growth over the last few years and, according to Menzel, the key to future success.
“The secret is a blend, actually. First, we have the right and talented team at Focus who can hustle and look for every opportunity for marketing a unique product,” he said. “Then, we develop consumer insights to make sure there is a market for these products. Finally, and most importantly, we have a well-developed plan for buying media at a very efficient rate that will create awareness and give each of our products a great lift in terms of sales at retail outlets.”
Many mass retailers said they hope that more suppliers take this approach. With competition increasing from other brick-and-mortar merchants, as well as online companies, many retailers said that they need suppliers to increase their marketing and to be a lot smarter about who they are targeting their products to.
This is no easy task for any company. It takes a lot of work to determine where the best fit is for each brand and what percentage of sales should be used for advertising.
For example, Focus does most of its advertising for the top-selling Garlique garlic supplement brand, which has a heavy usage among those age 55 years old and older, on TV, with some digital ads thrown in. Menstrual pain relief product Pamprin, with a younger and female audience, and Sun In hair lightener sprays, are mostly advertised online, while Blue Star topical anti-itch ointment ads reach consumers through the radio. “It all depends on the brand and the audience,” Menzel said. “We go with each brand to the place where we think we can be more efficient reaching the core demographic.”
After 16 years at Sanofi/Chattem in multiple roles, Menzel founded Focus with a well-known Chattanooga entrepreneur and former Chattem executives he had worked with, all who now serve as board members and advisors. Chattem used a similar marketing and advertising approach to Focus, and it was there that Menzel learned that using efficient and effective advertising can do wonders for a brand, even a downtrodden one that is looking to rebound.
While Menzel said that acquisitions are essential to future growth, line extensions are also playing a larger role in the company’s fortunes. For example, he said that the Garlique brand was expanded to include a healthy blood pressure item that was released into Walmart and Rite Aid, and is now expanding into CVS, Walgreens and some food chains. “If you look at the population, there are a lot of folks out there wanting help to maintain healthy blood pressure,” he said. “This product will make the size of our original Garlique item without cannibalizing the base.”
The company is planning to introduce a Garlique Healthy Immune support product soon, first launching at Walmart and Rite Aid, as well as a line extension of Herpecin-L. “We are very bullish on these products and think they will create a lot of excitement in the marketplace,” Menzel said.
With investor money, Focus got its first break in December 2016 when it acquired Zapzyt, an acne medication from Waltman Pharmaceutical. Less than a half year later, the company acquired the well-known and respected Blue Star ointment brand, quickly followed by Pamprin, Garlique, Sun In, Ultra Swim, Premsyn, Benzodent and Herpecin-L.
“It all started happening very fast,” Menzel said. “We found brands that we could work with and would provide value to both the retailer and the consumer. The end result is that everyone is happy with the direction of our company. We are honest with our retail partners and do what we say we are going to do. I think they appreciate that.”
The future will be more of the same, he said. Focus is constantly on the lookout for brands that will add to its portfolio and may need a little bit of a push to rebound to past performance. “We think that with our strategy, we can double or triple the size of our company in a few short years,” Menzel said. “We are running as a super efficient, high growth Chattanooga success story. We intend to keep doing it this way.”