Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Maybelline Company was indeed much bigger than it appeared.


Anyone who visited the facility we looked at in the previous section would question how a dominant company in the cosmetics industry could possibly operate out of such a “cracker box.” Well, the secret had to be in the sprawling, nationwide network of suppliers and private-label companies that supported the company’s packaging and distribution activity. By careful vendor selection, scheduling and follow-up, Maybelline could indeed make itself bigger by far than it looked. It’s beyond my recollection to go through all of the suppliers that made up this extension of the company. It is, however, possible to look at a few examples and companies that stand out:

Deluxe Mascara, as described by Sharrie Williams in The Maybelline Story, had been a part of Maybelline back in history, but was now a separate company, located a few miles from the Maybelline building. Tom Hewes and Jim Hughes, brothers-in-law, operated the company and supplied all cake mascara to Maybelline. The market was not kind to cake mascara, probably because liquid mascara dominated, so in a sense Maybelline was not doing Deluxe any favors. There was no changing the movements of the market, although cake mascara must have had its loyal users, as it stayed in the line and sold in modest but diminishing volume.

Avon Products (yes, that Avon) supplied Maybelline with Sable Brown cream mascara in all sizes, as well as all shades of cream eye shadow. This was an historic relationship, probably going all the way back to T. L. and Noel Williams. At first Avon filled these products in their facility in Middletown, N. Y., but soon after I started John was able to get them to move this production to their local plant in suburban Chicago. The two companies had a close relationship, and had a totally different approach to the marketplace.

Plastofilm, Inc. provided all thermoformed blisters for our packaging operation. The blisters were formed of butyrate plastic, although that’s not how it started. Originally Plastofilm wasn’t even in the thermoforming business. The founder was in the medical x-ray game, chemically “washing” the photographic
surface from the acetate film for the value of the silver it contained, and only later went into thermoforming to reclaim the clear film. That explained why we’d get a picture of a broken bone once in a while in their inbound shipments. Nearly all packaging was blister-packed as time went on, so our volume with Plastofilm was huge. Also, the blisters were a high-cube commodity and strained our limited storage, so we ended up with daily shipments from them as our volume grew.

Anchor Brush Company, another supplier that went back to T. L.’s day, was a brush company as the name implies. However, over time it also went into plastic molding, and ended up doing a wide variety of packaging and product components for Maybelline. Think of the Magic Mascara and Ultra-Lash caps and “barrels,” and that’s the kind of thing they did.

Edwards and Deutsch, a Chicago printer, printed the classic white Maybelline cards with the familiar “eye” in the upper left corner. We ordered large quantities at a time, and they would send proof sheets as each run started, for our inspection and approval. They’d cover my office floor like so much linoleum, and we’d scan and measure them for corrections or approval.

Those are just a handful of examples of our national supply network. In their cases and all others we’d place major annual requirements orders, then “release” periodic smaller orders against the annual order for ongoing production. The frequency of these orders varied, from quarterly in low-volume packaging parts down to twice-weekly or even daily for high volume, high-cube supplies.

Throughout my tenure with the company, there was very little turnover among the many suppliers. This in no small part was to John Cole’s credit, who maintained good communications across the board and kept misunderstandings to a minimum.  

Thus we see both the internal and the external side of the Maybelline Company as I came into the picture in early 1959. Both of them would keep me busy for the next nine-plus years.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part 4 of Harris A. Neil Jr.'s
 "Chicago's Maybelline Story."

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