CINCINNATI -- Julie Pickens uprooted her Oregon life last May to be an Ohio partner on Procter & Gamble Co.’s Puffs brand.
Fifteen months later, P&G has a new way to combat private-label encroachment on its 53-year-old tissue brand and Pickens has “a great learning experience” to add to her already compelling tale as a mompreneur of national acclaim.
“It hasn’t come without challenges but I’m overall really happy about it,” said Pickens. “It was good for the growth of the business, both from a financial standpoint and bringing in people who had expertise where I didn’t.”
Pickens has garnered national media attention by making Boogie Wipes, a saline wipe that cleans the runny noses of children, into a national brand with $15 million in annual revenue. It took just three years to reach $10 million in sales at 50,000 retail locations. The mother of three daughters, ages 9 to 19, blogs about her entrepreneurial experiences at www.thebusinessbehindtheboogie.com.
Pickens relocated to Cincinnati in 2012 to join forces with P&G licensee Nehemiah Manufacturing Co. The deal was described as a Nehemiah purchase when announced last year, but Pickens now calls it a partnership between Nehemiah and her own company, Little Busy Bodies LLC. Pickens works out of a second-floor office at Nehemiah’s West End headquarters, where founders Richard Palmer and Dan Meyer are trying to build a social-purpose enterprise that creates 100 jobs for inner-city residents.
Employment doubled to 50 in the last year, thanks in no small part to Boogie Wipes, which has a 20 percent annual growth rate and is packaged at the Findlay Street facility.
In June, P&G launched a newly formulated version of Boogie Wipes as Puffs Fresh Faces. It comes in four scents, including lavender and Vicks menthol. Aloe and Vitamin E are among its ingredients. A package of 45 wipes sells for $4.99. It launched initially at Target stores, but is about to expand to Walmart and beyond. The companies won’t say how the product is selling, but Pickens said it has the potential to be much bigger than Boogie Wipes because its target – women from 16 to 45 – is much larger market than children under eight.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive consumer feedback,” said Puffs Brand Manager Lisa Feria. “Right now this is a very small part of the category but we believe it has tons of potential for growth.”
'Wet, Dry. Give it a Try'
Puffs is a roughly $470 million brand, based on 2010 data published by Euromonitor International, which identified Kleenex as the market leader with $2.1 billion in annual revenue.
Both brands are under pressure by private-label manufacturers, whose lower-priced facial tissue and toilet paper products gained favor with U.S. consumers during the recession.
Pickens sees wet wipes as a way to counter that trend. It’s already happening in toilet tissue, where products like Charmin Fresh Mates and Cottonelle Fresh Care reached $4.5 billion in global sales within a few years of their launch in the early 2000s, according to Euromonitor.
“Countries such as Germany and Switzerland have proven that consumers are not generally opposed to the idea of using wet wipes in intimate areas, with wet toilet tissue reaching a share of over 10 percent of total toilet paper sales,” wrote Euromonitor analyst Tamara Bartels in a February blog post. “However, particularly convenience-driven U.S. consumers struggle with where to place wet toilet tissue in the bathroom, which eventually prevents sales from taking off.”
Pickens said P&G is trying to educate consumers on the use of wet and dry tissues as part of a broader facial-care regimen. A Facebook campaign with the slogan, “Wet, Dry. Give it a Try,” will launch in late September for Puffs’ 677,000 Facebook fans.
The campaign will involve content that highlights how women might use Fresh Faces wipes to remove makeup or freshen up after a workout, then dry off with a Puffs tissue.
“We know that over 80 percent of women are doing this already. They’re using facial tissues and wet wipes to take care of their face,” Feria said. “At the end of the day, Puffs is about helping women put their best face forward and Fresh Faces is a beautiful way to do that.”
Additional marketing efforts include product sampling at medical offices, delivery of sample packs to about 1,000 bloggers – nearly 200 of them have written reviews about the product - and Fresh Faces coupon offers in two P&G brand saver booklets that will reach about 52 million people.
Kids Become Mini-Marketers
The launch comes at a time when P&G is trying to stretch its advertising budgets by using social media and other digital strategies to amplify – or do without – big ticket television campaigns.
Pickens is building on that theme with an Instagram and Vine campaign she is developing with three teenage friends of her daughters. Instagram is a social community site where 130 million active users share photography and video. Vine is a mobile service where users create and share short looping videos, which has been gaining in popularity.
Using the social tools, they’re putting together humorous videos she hopes will go viral.
“I kind of gave them free reign as long as it wasn’t crude,” she said. “They came up with very funny things like the Saturday morning face. I’m hoping to start within the next 30 days.”
While the launch has months to go before it’s fully implemented, Pickens is already brainstorming line extensions that could be used to build the brand in future years. At the same time, she is learning more about the manufacturing process, product formulation and packaging constraints from Nehemiah and P&G. Some of that she learned on the production line in May, when Target delivered an initial order that was three times larger than expected.
“Many of us worked on the line to make the first production run, including myself for about 48 hours,” she said. "It was really great. I think by the end of the week I knew three new rap songs and I could dance. It was just a kick. We had so much fun doing it.”
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