Ben Van de Bunt, a 16-year veteran of Guthy-Renker who was recently named its co-chief executive officer with Kevin Knee, is charged with navigating the modern realities of a diminished economy, increasing consumer reliance on the Web and unceasing globalization to keep the U.S.’s largest infomercial company in its top spot.
This story first appeared in the September 3, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In an interview Tuesday, Van de Bunt, a 47-year-old former lawyer and part owner of Guthy-Renker, acknowledged the Palm Desert, Calif.-based company was surprised by the economic collapse and will register a rare top line dip this year. But it has positioned itself for 12 percent bottom line growth this year — and to resume both bottom and top line growth starting next year. He estimated Guthy-Renker’s revenues to be $1.5 billion in 2009, down around 8 percent from the year before.
“We, like every other company, have tightened everything,” said Van de Bunt. “We cut costs and became more efficient. We are really trying to focus on staying efficient and trying to grow at the same time.”
A major growth engine will be infomercials overseas. In November, Guthy-Renker launched in India, and Van de Bunt said the company is weeks away from launching in Russia. Guthy-Renker already has a presence across Europe, Asia and Australia, among other places. International business makes up about 30 percent of the company’s total sales, according to Van de Bunt.
“I am hoping that our domestic business makes it extremely difficult for that 30 percent to grow on a percentage basis, but I think it will continue to grow,” he said. “Our systems and our approach are unusual and extremely effective in a lot of countries, where alternatives are few.”
Van de Bunt said Proactiv, Guthy-Renker’s largest brand, is stable in the U.S., where as a leader in the acne segment it has become a punching bag for numerous competitors, but is expanding globally. Meaningful Beauty by Cindy Crawford is Guthy-Renker’s second-largest beauty brand, having surpassed third-place mineral makeup brand Sheer Cover by Leeza Gibbons in the past year or so. Chaz Dean’s Wen hair care line and skin care line Principal Secret by Victoria Principal are the next largest beauty brands in the Guthy-Renker stable.
Van de Bunt described himself as “cautiously optimistic” about the Heidi Klum-fronted skin care line In an Instant, which was introduced this year, and Guthy-Renker has renewed Klum’s contract for another two years. Van de Bunt said infomercials for hair care line Chris McMillan Hair and skin care brand Ice Elements are “still in the works.” Guthy-Renker is planning to launch infomercials for a new hair and scalp brand called Salon Silky with “Dancing with the Stars” co-host Samantha Harris this fall, and will test three new brands next year within the eyebrow, skin care and acne categories.
Historically, Guthy-Renker’s strength has been handling consumers via the telephone, but Van de Bunt said the amount of inbound calls or inquiries now on the phone is “pretty similar” to the amount on the Internet. Guthy-Renker is adjusting in response and upgrading the consumer experience on its Web sites by including, for instance, customer reviews.
“People will always want to have human interaction, but the sheer simplicity and efficiency of the Web is going to become more and more attractive,” he said.