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Expanded: Bringing a Beloved Brand Back to Life

Brian Budzynski

An expanded interview with The Village Company's Frank Klisanich, president and CEO, and Dan O’Connor, vice president of marketing, from GCI's March 2010 Added Value print section.

EPGP. An unusual acronym that neither codifies itself into a pronounceable word (e.g., radar, Interpol, NATO) or bears the instantly memorable syncopation of initialisms such as FBI, FAQ or html. Yet, EPGP—which stands for “Exceptional Products at a Great Price”—has been quite the success for Chaska, Minnesota-based The Village Company (TVC). Purveyor of the entire collection of Village Naturals bath, shower and personal care products and in operation for more than 30 years, company leaders concluded in recent years that, due to the gradual evolution of the beauty market, they were only providing their consumer base with half the message.

“The Village Company has always been about offering exceptional products at a great price,” says president and CEO Frank Klisanich, who led the adaptation of the EPGP philosophy. “The company has always been a value player. We focus on offering the best quality products for the money, [and so] we decided to start communicating that value message more broadly to our consumers to give them a better understanding of who we are and what to expect from us.”

It was not enough that products such as Village Naturals Bath Shoppe and Village Naturals Therapy had successfully melded a reasonable and attractive price point to a high quality product, in an effort to realize market expansion and renewed depth in areas complementary to those already successfully penetrated, company leaders realized that more was not only needed, but was, in fact, expected by consumers. Enter EPGP. And once this corporate philosophy was filtered out through the marketplace, the company set its sights on diversification, specifically on the acquisition of brands that would allow the company to continue to meet the EPGP criteria—and found it in the kids’ bath segment with Mr. Bubble.

The company already owned the number two selling kids’ brand (number one in licensed kids’ bath products), Sesame Street, and Dan O’Connor, vice president of marketing for TVC, readily admits that it was felicitous opportunity that allowed the company to procure the number one brand. “It really was an opportunistic purchase,” says O’Connor. “Ascendia Brands [former owner of Mr. Bubble] went bankrupt, and we had the desire to purchase the brand. [We now] have the expertise and focus to drive category sales. Mr. Bubble fits the EPGP approach. It’s recognized as a very gentle, high-quality brand that is also the best value in the market.” At price points that hover under the four-dollar mark, the entire line of Mr. Bubble products came complete with a ready-made marketing campaign—a rich history with the American consumer. But that wouldn’t be enough to bring a once-trusted product back to life.

“The brand hadn’t been advertised for years,” says Klisanich, “but the old advertising [tagline: “Makes Getting Clean Almost as Much Fun as Getting Dirty!] was strong and memorable, and that benefit carried over.” In light of recent concerns about both the efficacy and safety of children’s products, TVC took the opportunity to improve on a good thing. “We saw no reason to makes changes to a brand that had such a strong and positive quality,” says Klisanich, “but today’s moms are very concerned about the safety of the products they purchase for their kids. We [knew] we should also be communicating those improvements.”

All Mr. Bubble bubble baths were reformulated with gentler ingredients and were, for the first time, both dermatologist tested and pediatrician approved, the result of safety-in-use tests vetted by board-certified doctors. Furthermore, TVC was able to drop the initially estimated price point by instituting a more efficient production process—purchasing ingredients individually and formulating themselves, as opposed to purchasing more costly premixed ingredients at small quanities—which again reinforced the EPGP axiom.

The promotion and marketing campaigns remain in their beginning stages, yet results are already being realized. Says O’Connor, “Our first job was to get the brand integrated as quickly as possible, and get back to filling orders. [We] needed to better understand the expectations of the consumer and get the product and the communication just right. After all, the vast majority of purchase decisions are made at shelf. Now that that’s in place, it’s time to take the next step.”

“In 2010,” adds Klisanich, “we will be focusing on social marketing to build a community of users, as well as more traditional marketing tools—including consumer promotions, couponing and retail promotion.” Jenna Thomas, marketing coordinator for the brand, echoes Klisanch’s statement, adding, “Social media is good for generating conversations. We can respond to favorable comments and then gather information from those commenting. We’ve [again] used it for coupons, reviews and giveaways to blogs, too.”

The future of The Village Company sees expansion within the category and reinforcement of existing product lines. Most notably, the company is set to unveil a line of Mr. Bubble Hand Soaps, formulated to moisturize and deeply cleanse without the use of triclosan, a decision made in response to studies by both the American Medical Association and the Center for Disease Control that conclude that the chemical contributes to antibiotic resistance in both children and adults without a demonstrable increase in cleansing results over soaps without it. A Mr. Bubble Body Wash lingers, as well, on the horizon.

“We will remain opportunistic in seeking acquisition candidates,” says Klisanich, “that will allow us to expand our capabilities and further drive the category. At the same time, we are continually monitoring consumer trends and working on new brands that meet consumer needs in an EPGP way.”

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