What does a brand leader do when the founder and leader unexpectedly dies?
That was the issue facing Stephane Colleu — president, chief executive officer and, later, owner of Dr. Brandt Skincare — when the celebrated yet controversial doctor was found dead, an apparent suicide, in his Coconut Grove, Fla., home on April 5, 2015, generating endless tabloid stories about the reasons and Brandt’s lifestyle.
Four months before his death in January 2015, Brandt had launched a blockbuster skin-care product, Needles No More Instant Wrinkle Smoothing Cream, laying the groundwork for a franchise.
In response to the tragedy, Colleu stepped in, picked up the baton and spearheaded a stream of hero products. The first Needles No More was followed a year later in January 2016 with Needles No More 3-D Filler Mask, then Magnetight Age-Defier Skin Recharging Magnet Mask, which is debuting this fall. Along the way, there was Pores No More Pore Refiner, designed to diminish the appearance of pores and reduce shine. There also was the launch of Vitamin C and Vitamin D Power Doses meant to rejuvenate and protect skin. These introductions form a genre of skin-care products designed to basically mimic the results of dermatological treatments and injectables, principally Botox.
Colleu noted, “We try — like Dr. Brandt used to do — to break the boundaries from a concept and a formulation standpoint because these products give instant and cumulative treatments.”
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The original Needles No More was designed to minimize facial lines, like crow’s-feet, in the upper face. It is a topical cream meant to parallel the benefits of Botox. The ad jingle is, “Look Fabulous, Not Frozen.”
The next launch, the 3-D Filler Mask, was designed to work on the lower portion of the face, using hyaluronic acid and peptides to plump the skin, give a smoother look and add volume to the face. “Filler is not about wrinkles,” Colleu said.“It’s about revolumizing, retexturing, reshaping the volume of the face.”
The response has been strong at Sephora, one of the company’s main U.S. retail accounts. “We have carried the Dr. Brandt brand at Sephora for a long time, and although 2014 was a tough year for them, they came back in January 2015 with amazing product innovation [Needles No More] and best-in-class 360 activations,” said Catherine Lepetit, director of merchandising for skin care at the perfumery chain.
She said the Dr. Brandt brand “continues to be a strong performer in skin care, they continue to introduce compelling product innovations, like 3-D Filler earlier this year. Their brand DNA is very unique and they leverage it to innovate in product development. Their ability to anticipate customer desires and combine it with clear positioning is very appealing to our clients,” Lepetit added, noting that Pores No More has become a hit with Millennials.
While Colleu declined to break out sales results in dollar terms, he said the business had grown by 52.7 percent in three years. Industry sources estimate the size of the global business at $75 million in retail sales.
And he is just getting started. Asked about his growth target, Colleu quickly replied, “Double — the size and the revenue, everything by two in the next four years.”
That would mean turnover would grow to $150 million at retail.
Another major retail account, Ulta Beauty, echoed Sephora by simply noting, “We are pleased to carry the Dr. Brandt brand.” It has been described during Ulta investor calls as a strong performer.
Out of the doctor’s medical experience came what has been dubbed The Brandt Method, referring to his ability to glean innovations and breakthrough ideas from spending time with patients. But it also touches on a main platform of the company, the loose synergistic sharing of knowledge from the three legs of the Brandt operation — the medical office with hundreds of patients: tinkering with the skin-care brand, and also gleaning observations while conducting clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies in his research and development operation.
“It means we are working for what is going to happen in a dermatological field within the next three, five, eight years,” Colleu noted.
“It’s a platform that gives us a point of difference versus anyone else,” Colleu said of the synergistic setup.
Cognizant of the loss of his mentor, Colleu moved to bolster the skin-care company’s scientific expertise. He created a Dr. Brandt Skincare Advisory Board to help keep the R&D effort running on the cutting edge and staying ahead of the trends, while burnishing the doctor’s pioneering legacy.
The board includes two top-ranked dermatologists, Dr. Whitney Bowe and Dr. Amy Brodsky. Colleau earlier had said he wanted a larger panel of experts in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami and perhaps two others. New York and Chicago are now covered. Colleu said he wants experts in different disciplines, such as a genetic expert. “I want [a degree] of specialty that will drive this platform in a multitude of different directions,” he said.
Colleu also has mused about eventually expanding into “key international markets, like the U.K., France, South Korea and Japan.
In a recent interview, Bowe observed, “[Brandt] was an innovator and a genius; he always thought outside the box. He was one step ahead. That kind of legacy needs to be carried on.”
Referring to the man who the media dubbed the “king of Botox,” Bowe explained. “He was one of the first users of the botulinum toxins. He was a lead investigator in a number of different studies that had to do with fillers and toxins. I was on a number of advisory boards with him. We would fly to Canada and learn about products that were approved abroad but hadn’t yet been approved by the FDA. He was always on the cutting edge of the latest and greatest and actually what [product] has the science behind it.”
Bowe seemed excited about the prospect of brainstorming new product concepts and capitalizing on today’s breath-taking pace of innovation in contemporary dermatological thought. “That’s one of the things that I think separates this brand completely is that you’re taking the in-office procedures and all of that cutting-edge technology and you’re immediately translating it into skin care,” she said.
But Bowe has a loftier goal in mind. Ticking off the strides being made in the dermatological field, she said, “It is taking skin care to the next level and we are at a place where we have to start really delivering. The FDA is not very heavily regulating what these creams do and what’s really in them, and it’s about time that a brand really did set that standard — and set that bar high.”
Bowe sees that as part of the mission of the advisory panel. “We are going to continue to set the bar higher and have consumer expectations rise with the new ability to deliver not just a pretty bottle, not just something that smells good or feels good, but something that actually delivers.”
Looking at the skin-care field, “the vast majority of cosmetics products,” don’t live up to the hype. “I think that they hydrate, they moisturize,” Bowe noted. “But they don’t go beyond that. The average consumer will believe the claims and these claims are very lofty for most of these products.” She noted,”They don’t have the science to back up the claims,” but scientific proof isn’t required. “So why go the extra mile,” Bowe asked. “There are those key individuals that when they find a product that really does deliver, that’s when that sets that brand apart.”
In a higher profile move, Colleu created the Dr. Brandt Foundation to play a role in supporting charitable activities that were important to the doctor, ranging from helping young artists to providing medical treatment for young people suffering from depression to caring for animals through the Humane Society.
He also formed a partnership with the University of Miami, where Brandt did his residency in 1978. The foundation donated $1 million toward a professorship to the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery.
As part of the foundation’s activities, Colleu said he wants to raise awareness of the causes of depression and hopefully inspire preventative measures. He also wants to erase the stigma of suicide.
This outreach involves plenty of social media and a revamping of the web site.
Colleu, who joined the skin-care company about 14 years ago, moved to France in 2005 to establish the brand there. The organization takes pride in noting that Dr. Brandt Skincare became the number-one U.S. doctor treatment brand in Sephora Europe, according to Colleu, and to this day remains the only such brand still doing business in the eight European countries where the chain operates. In a succession of international jobs, he drove distribution into more than 30 countries stretching from Europe to South Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
In 2012, he was named ceo and president, then turned his attention to putting the domestic operation back on its feet, while assisting Brandt. Europe may have been a bright spot, but the U.S. exhibited “a lack of vision, lack of strategy and lack of continuity,” Colleu stated, noting that the U.S. had churned through six or seven ceo’s. Among his improvements, Colleu established a print and digital advertising program to support product launches and increased the amount of sampling.
After Colleu returned to Miami and took the helm of the company, a turning point came in 2015 with the launch of Needles No More, the biggest launch in the company’s history, almost doubling the business that year.
Speaking of the future, Colleu remarked: “We have the faculty today to be bold, irreverent, visionary and warm.”