HEALTH

Focus On: Clio carves a successful niche in retail

BY Seth Mendelson

Jamie Leventhal is well aware that there are larger businesses in the space Clio, his company, competes in. He also is aware that with the right marketing philosophy and a lot of hard work, he can carve a successful niche in the marketplace despite those competing operations.

As CEO and president of Clio, a Newton, Mass.-based personal care, sexual wellness and beauty appliance operation, Leventhal and his team have developed a business strategy that focuses on giving consumers less expensive, high-quality alternatives across a wide range of categories. The result: A growing presence in the mass retail world and an annual growth rate hovering around 50% annually over the last few years.

Not too shabby for the 17-year-old privately owned company, now with nearly 50 employees and offices in three countries, that started as a dream by Leventhal and has turned into a growing player in five categories: grooming, nail care, skin care, cosmetic appliances and, most recently, sexual wellness and beauty care devices.

“I think the key to Clio’s success is that we are a company with many hard-working employees, who operate under the philosophy that we need to be quick on our feet and nimble to create a niche in the industry that makes us unique,” Leventhal said. “We are defined by our passion and work ethic, and the fact that we work quickly to meet the needs of our retail partners, oftentimes ultimately over delivering. Over the years, we have built sustainable relationships with retailers and have become a trusted partner.”

Leventhal said he quickly saw a niche for Clio in the opening price point segment of the grooming business when he started the company in 2002. While other manufacturers were offering products at prices that could reach $100 or more, Clio entered the marketplace with an obsessive focus on price points, mostly at $10 in the food, drug and mass arena.

“We definitely hit the ground running,” he said. “Retailers were extremely receptive to what we had to offer and they were quick to get on board. In year two of business, we had already sold over a million units. That was quite an accomplishment.”

A breakthrough moment came in 2005 when Clio introduced the Palmperfect Shaver. “Sales just took off. It was the first product to resonate with both the preteen girls and their moms,” Leventhal said. “We still have it as part of our product line and it still sells extremely well.”

Private label also plays a key role in the company’s success. Leventhal estimated that private label makes up about 30% of his company’s sales and the category will continue to play an important role in future growth. “It goes back to being nimble and able to understand our clients’ needs, and then to get the job done for our retail partners as quickly as possible,” he said.

Plus, the economies and efficiencies of scale have helped a lot. Leventhal said that with millions of units sold annually, as well as a keen focus on the personal care and beauty appliance segments, Clio is able to accommodate large and small retailers in the private-label world.

“The efficiencies of scale and nearly 20 years of focus on personal care appliances allow us to bring products to market significantly faster than our peers,” he said. “That allows us to react quickly to client requests for new products. An in-house, world-class design and development team with offices in the United States, Hong Kong and mainland China helps us develop award-winning items for our clients.”

He said that a vice president at a major retailer called him and said he wanted a store-brand version of an item that sold at a high-end prestige retailer developed in less than four months. “He wanted to know if we could do it and do it in that amount of time,” Leventhal said. “We got it done, and did an amazing job, in 120 days. It is our style and it is our reputation.”

The company’s branded items also have gained trust with retailers and consumers. Thanks to a growing reputation for quality and the lower price points, branded items continue to gain space at retail.

Leventhal is particularly excited about the company’s plusOne sexual wellness and accessories assortment. The currently four-SKU line, which is expected to double in size by the end of the year, features feminine self-care items at price points between $10 and $40 — well less than comparable products from competitors that sell for as much as $200. The key, he said, is offering branding, packaging and product design that will catch the consumer’s eye and make the placement of these products more acceptable at mass retail, as well as, of course, emphasizing the cost savings with premium performance to shoppers.

“This is also going to assist brick-and-mortar retailers effectively compete against online retailers like Amazon by taking advantage of one thing that they have that the dot-coms don’t, which is self-checkout lanes,” he said. “For a sensitive purchase — such as sexual wellness devices — consumers can both buy the products with absolutely total anonymity and also buy them with instant gratification by using the brick-and-mortar self-checkout lines.”

The Plum Beauty line of anti-aging and beauty appliances is another new focus for the company. Leventhal said the line currently features six SKUs and should grow to 8-to-10 items by the end of the year. Besides much lower price points than competitive brands, the line features innovative and trendy functions that can build truly incremental, margin accretive sales for merchants, he said.

Leventhal said the future looks to be more of the same for the company. He said that Clio has no plans to expand its assortment beyond the categories it is in currently and its growing private-label business. “We believe that we have just scratched the service of what we can offer in these categories,” he said. “We have so many exciting and innovative ideas that can help retailers expand these categories and grow the business.”

“With a bit more time, we’re looking forward to adding more retailers to our portfolio. We prefer to take our time with each merchant — working closely with them on a one-on-one basis — to develop the right programs with the right products at the right pricing to maximize their potential from these categories and our products. We’re really excited about the prospects.”

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