Thursday, May 16, 2013

ULTRA LASH MASCARA was Maybelline's prime money maker in the 1960s

By Harris A. Neil Jr.

Harris A Neil Jr with his son
 Harris Neil Jr . lll

Thus, the Maybelline environment, both internal and external, became the stage of activity as I joined the company in early 1959.

Very quickly John Cole introduced me around and toured the entire facility with me, from stem to stern. One of the first things I recall in looking back is Dorothy Molander asking me how often I wanted to be paid. How often? Yes, she said, some of us like a weekly check, some twice monthly, whatever you’d like. I had never heard of anything like that before or since, and I quickly opted for a weekly check. After all, I was broke.

Right after I started our Assembly Supervisor, Hazel Peterson, retired. It was just a coincidence but it put that part of the operation in a new and untested direction. Even though I was new, John asked me to “be the eyes and ears” of what would become the Production Department.

All of this moved along while the brand-new “Magic Mascara” was giving all facets of the company plenty of challenges. The several suppliers of packaging and product components were on maximum output, and the private label contractor came on line very quickly after the aborted start on Maybelline premises. Juluis Wagman, Chief Chemist, had set this up across town, and a small private-label outfit called Munk Chemical Company. This arrangement not only worked for the moment, the relationship between Munk and Maybelline grew over the years to encompass many new products. You name it, if it was a liquid product Munk was in the picture. As Maybelline grew, so did Munk.

New products began to roll out in rapid succession. It seemed that we’d just about catch up to volume from one blockbuster and another one, even bigger, was coming down
 the pipeline.

 If we could single one over the others, it would have to be Ultra-Lash Mascara, with a newer applicator brush and formulation. We chased after that one for months before volume leveled out, at a very high volume that never went down. It had to be the prime money-maker for the company from roll-out to the Plough merger and beyond.

(NOTE: The “money-maker” reference above is speculation only. I was not privy to the company’s finances except to track direct labor production costs.)

As this volume grew and new products came along, Tom Lyle Williams Jr., John and Harold “Rags” Ragland, Sales Vice President, worked together in their respective roles to improve the appearance and form of product packaging into a new, uniform appearance. Simplified, the whole product line (except for most Introductory sizes) soon went to market blister-packed on bright-white product cards, either in direct shipments or shipments coupled with carousel display stands that Rags had developed.

 They were called “Eye Fashion Centers” and they included a full array of the Maybelline line, insuring that retailers had a complete, balanced line of products.

This growth also required changes in the internal operation. Where packages had been mostly hand-assembled in all history, now blister packaging quickly became the dominant method. The equipment available for this new packaging setup was quite new, because the concept itself was just moving into the marketplace. It applied to many, many product lines, not merely cosmetics. Such other lines as writing instruments, batteries, shaving products, electronics, on and on, it was the way to go on all retail fronts.

Eventually, in order to get maximum production out of our square footage, we ended up after several generations of machinery, with a small, one-man company who was starting with a new and interesting machine. The company became Alloyd, Incorporated, and the machine produced 60 packages a minute. When we worked into this new machine we found in some cases that we could make “two-up” dies, thus increasing production to over 100 packages per minute. This advancement bought time for the company in the limited and unchanging space that production occupied in the building.

Even with these changes and improvements, time and space were both running out for the company. By 1966 it became painfully obvious that we had come close to outgrowing the “cracker box.” In early 1967 as I recall, Tom located and purchased a plot of suitable land on Algonquin Road outside Chicago, beyond O’Hare Field. He also engaged an architectural firm, Rabig and Ramp, to begin design work and develop preliminary plans for a new facility. Also, John Cole made contact with selected commercial realty companies to scour the existing inventory of properties for a possible facility.

I remember going with John and a real estate agent to a building in Chicago that had been vacated by Kitchens of Sara Lee when they moved to their own new facility in suburban Deerfield. It was obvious that Sara Lee had left that building in the same predicament that was facing Maybelline. It had been subdivided, repurposed, overworked, and just plain worn out. When John and I left that place we never talked about it again. There wasn't anything to talk about, really.

As this period of growth moved along, all of our jobs moved with it. Even without formal guidelines, it was the natural position of the company to keep staffing “thin,” with no bureaucratic build-up. A good example was with Rags, who managed the national sales and marketing function with only one assistant, Carle Rollins, and an executive secretary, Gladys Johnson. John’s staff consisted of myself, and an excellent administrative and inventory person named Joan Lundell. In turn, Joan had one clerical helper.

In my case, my job began to “transition” to accommodate both the company’s growth and also new tasks that became necessary with that growth. I remember on day, back in 1961, when I got a carbon copy of a letter John had written to a supplier. In it he referred to me as our “Production Manager.” That was new to me but I liked it, and that became my title from then on.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part 5, as the plot thickens. 

1 comment:

  1. If it was the best money maker they should have kept it. Nothing since has ever compared to it! They need to bring it back!