Reinventing Private Label

Joe Pender - Aware Products

Private label bottle filling - Aware ProductsWe recently caught up with Joe Pender, President and Chief Executive Officer of Aware Products based in Chatsworth, California. We asked some very pointed questions about Aware's role, growth and subsequent success in the Personalized Branding industry.

Tell us something about yourself on a personal level?

JP: From the Los Angeles area originally, I'm happily married with three wonderful kids, all boys. I’m proud to say that I'm as passionate about my family as I am about my business.

Tell us about your education?

JP: My undergraduate degree is in business administration and I’m an alumnus of the Harvard University Graduate School of Business.

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How did you get your start in the salon industry?

JP: I've been with Aware Products since 1983 and have been involved in the industry for more than twenty years. Over that period of time I’ve been fortunate to work with visionaries (many of whom are our customers) who understand the everyday challenges a salon owner goes through to run a successful business. Those individuals continue to challenge us to make changes that will translate into their success. One of the lessons the founders of Aware taught was to “keep it simple, keep it pure and keep it right”.

Tell us about Aware Products.

JP: We have two distinct businesses. We offer products for the salon and spa industry where we create manufacture and help market a salon or spa’s own Personalized Brand. We’re also very proud to continually be chosen by some of the world’s major personal care brands to help develop and produce their specialty hair, skin and bath products. Between our Personalized Branding and Contract Manufacturing businesses, our products are found in more than fifty countries worldwide.

How was Aware Products started?

JP: The founders of Aware Products were hairdressers (hairstylists) and salon owners who, like many of their contemporaries, felt cheated or shortchanged by the branded salon products industry. Back in 1974, when the company was founded, diversion wasn’t the threat that it is today. Still, as national brands grew, they tended to grow away from the salon environment and very often were eventually sold to multinational corporations. As a result, the brands lost the salon heritage, typically shifted direction and ultimately migrated into the food, drug or mass-market shelves.

Seeing the need for a better solution, the founders created Aware Products to provide salon owners with a permanent solution to product diversion and exclusivity. By providing superior product that was exclusively packaged, salon owners finally had control over their retailing destiny.

I understand that over the years some repositioning has taken place. What are these changes and how did they come to be?

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JP: One of Aware’s strengths is the insight of many of our salon and spa customers who are true visionaries and understand the challenges of their industry. In order to insure that their ideas were driving our efforts, we created an Advisory Council that not only helps us create new products and promotions, but also tells us how we need to improve so our salons and spas can be more successful.

How about recently?

JP: Aware Products is embarking on a very new and exciting reinvention of the traditional approach of private label. We have added the merchandising and marketing support associated with national brands to the benefits of private label and created Personalized Branding. These changes were brought about through a combination of input from our Advisory Council and some honest corporate soul-searching.

We’ve worked hard to create an extensive customer base where many of our customers are very successful with their Personalized Brand. Unfortunately, some are not as successful. We realize all of our salons and spas must succeed if we are to succeed so we set out to better understand the key drivers.

We found ourselves analyzing the benefits (and detriments) of not only Aware’s offerings but moreover, those of private label versus traditional branding. The benefits were clear: equal or better product quality, superior profit margins, and exclusivity (i.e. brands that were truly “diversion-proof”). We also uncovered some shortcomings that had to be corrected to create the best possible program for our customers. We found that private label products were more difficult to create, and more importantly, didn’t come with the marketing support typically provided by national brands.

This led us to create Personalized Branding with the objective of blending the best of private label with the best of traditional branding. Our new approach to Personalized Branding is not only diversion proof, but also offers top quality products, compelling packaging, pleasant fragrances and superior profit margins as well as marketing and promotional support.

The Club Aware marketing program was designed to enable a salon or spa to position their Personalized Brand on par with that of national offerings. We provide access to point of sale collateral, display material, compensation plans, stylist incentives and all of the marketing tools and knowledge necessary to successfully retail these products.

How about pricing? Does Aware set the suggested retail prices for the salons?

JP: Sure we do. That’s part of the marketing support we provide. But, one of the benefits of Personalized Branding is that the salons and spas can make whatever pricing adjustments they feel are appropriate to their particular client base or marketplace.

What’s new product-wise at Aware?

JP: Our Color Retention System just launched. Since a dramatic number of salon clients use color services, we felt the need to have a line of products that help protect color and keep it vibrant between salon services.

JP: Besides color care, there are many other exciting segments that we are developing at Aware Products. We are actively working on technology driven skin care, men’s grooming, ethnic hair care and luxurious treatment products that better address the needs of the emerging spa market. In addition, we will continue to launch problem solving product systems that address specific hair care needs or support current styling trends.

What does the future hold for Aware Products?

JP: We will continue to leverage the insight and knowledge of our Advisory Council to introduce hair, skin and bath products that are unsurpassed in performance, fragrance, appearance and quality along with marketing programs that are on par with national brands to optimize our customer’s chance for success.

Is Personalized Branding right for everyone?

JP: We recognize that Personalized Branding is not for every salon or spa, but retail is. Salon and Spa owners need to find a retail solution that works for them. At Aware we are driven by our customer’s success. So, during the earliest discussion, we work closely with the salon to help identify whether or not Personalized Branding is right for them. We'd be doing a disservice if we were to simply sell Personalized Brand products to salons and spas that were not ready for such a venture. We’re not in the business of selling inventory; we’re in the business of partnering with salons and spas to create retail success.

What are you looking for when profiling a salon or spa for Personalized Branding?

JP: In order to succeed with Personalized Branding, the salon or spa must have a certain level of business sense and a positive retailing culture.

One of the things that we pay careful attention to is the success of their current retail program. It’s very likely that if a salon or spa isn’t successfully retailing national brands, they probably won’t succeed with Personalized Branding either. If there in an engrained culture against retailing, if stylists don’t understand the benefit we are providing by recommending products that are specific to their clients’ needs, then products won’t sell.

How will you conduct business in the years to come?

JP: What it comes down to is that we need to consistently provide great packaging, product that performs and the tools to help our salons become successful retailers. Since introducing the Club Aware program, the new Aware has blended the exclusivity of a Personalized Brand with the convenience of national branding all without the pitfalls of diversion or competition.

What would the founders of Aware Products say if they saw the business now?

JP: I'd like to think that they would be proud of how Aware Products has evolved over the years. It has been important to keep their dream alive. Even with recent changes, we’re not diverting from their initial dream, just growing with it and evolving with the times.

Joe Pender, President and Chief Executive Officer - Mr. Pender has over twenty years of experience with Aware Products in virtually all aspects of the company.  He holds an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and is an alumnus of the Harvard University Graduate School of Business. Active in the industry, Mr. Pender is a member of the Society of Cosmetics Chemists (SCC), Beauty Industry West (BIW), Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA), Beauty and Barber Supply Institute (BBSI), and Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers & Distributors (ICMD).