Q&A: Kao’s Frank on the company’s pandemic response, future
In May 2019, Kao USA named Karen Frank president of mass business for the Americas and European region — the first woman to hold that title at the Japan-based beauty powerhouse.
With less than a year in her role when the world changed, Frank kicked into gear to make sure Kao’s brands were ready for the new market dynamics. She discusses with Drug Store News the challenges and opportunities for the company during COVID-19 and beyond.
Drug Store News: What decisions did you make to pivot, especially since demand for some of your categories probably skyrocketed?
Karen Frank: The first thing that took off was Jergens Hand Wash, which was interesting because it isn’t a category we focus on. We saw sales double, triple, even more. Right behind that, our hand and body lotions, Jergens and Curel, started to take off as people were drying out their hands and bodies from cleansing and needed nourishing. The other business we saw change was John Frieda. With salons closing, everyone wanted to get our box color and our John Frieda Colour Care. It was interesting because a couple of these other businesses weren’t priorities for us. We had to make sure we could meet the demand. We had to pivot and turn to where we were getting our supply chain from. We don’t expect all these changes to go away. You are going to see a lot of companies tending toward more hygiene and wellness.
Another pivot we had to make was to online. Amazon went crazy. E-commerce performed for how we projected it would in five years. Channel shifting is going on and will be permanent. At first, e-commerce, which includes click and collect and deliveries, was viewed as safer, but now more convenient.
DSN: Do you think as consumers couldn’t go to salons or specialty beauty stores who tried mass brands will stick with them?
KF: One of the hardest things to do is get a consumer to try your products. Take John Frieda as an example — it often gets compared to salon quality. If they can’t get to a salon and tried John Frieda, they’ll see the value and quality, and we have that value and quality across our brands.
DSN: What types of products are in your pipeline?
KF: Second half, we have a ton of products coming, including innovations in Biore Skincare — one will include cannabis sativa oil. In Jergens we’ve had great trends, in Ultra Healing we have decided to extend it with innovation. And we have a lot around our direct-to-consumer Wakati hair care for kinks, curls and coils. We are continuing to innovate.
DSN: Can you talk about being the first woman in your role?
KF: When I first started with the company in 2009, it was still men on the leadership team, so this has been a big move. They have been working on diversifying our senior leadership. We have a woman who heads up R&D and human resources. They also named the first black man, Jesse Grissom, to president of operations Americas. It is a very diverse team I am proud of. I feel we have one of the most diverse teams in America.