Soap seller moves its headquarters
WESTPORT — The Connecticut seller of Zest soap, Sure deodorant and a number of other brands found in bathroom cabinets has relocated its headquarters to Westport from Stamford, a year after it was acquired out of bankruptcy by a private equity investor.
High Ridge Brands sells several well-known personal care products including Zest and Coast soaps, Alberto VO5 and Pert shampoos, and Brut and Sure deodorants. The company acquired the latter three products only this past June from Helen of Troy, along with other products in a $45 million transaction.
On its website, HRB Brands reports having more than 60 employees based out of Westport’s historic Eno Foundation Building on Saugatuck Avenue, as reported Monday by blogger Dan Woog, including CEO Jim Daniels who lives in Westport.
In February 2020, HRB Brands was acquired by Tengram Capital Partners, which has offices in Westport and New York City. Court documents list the transaction value just north of $7.5 million. Separately, HRB Brands sold off its Reach, Dr. Fresh and Firefly toothbrush brands to Perrigo for $113 million.
The new company is infusing a fresh association
for its historic HRB initials with the words “healthy,” “responsible” and “beauty.” And it is getting a fresh start in a Westport building with a colorful history all its own — in the office for traffic guru William Phelps Eno, who proposed a number of improvements in the early days of mass automobile production to include stop signs, crosswalks, one-way streets and traffic circles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a burst of demand for HRB Brands, according to Bill Sweedler, general partner of Tengram, due to consumers stocking up with extra supplies. But the pandemic has also produced gridlock in getting products to stores, he added, as factories have struggled to keep production lines staffed.
“The business has been
affected recently by commodities (pricing) pressure, especially in tallow,” Sweedler said Tuesday. “That has started to affect the overall (profit) margins of the business in the second quarter. We expect that to normalize though as suppliers get caught up with production.”
Edgewell Personal Products reported similar problems two weeks ago with investment analysts, with the company the largest in the personal-care products industry with a Connecticut headquarters as tracked by Happi. The trade magazine reported High Ridge Brands revenue peaking at $347 million in 2018, making it the second largest such company in the state until being leapfrogged by Stamford-based PDC, seller of Dr. Teal’s and other bath products.
HRB Brands previously had its main office at 333 Ludlow St.on the Stamford waterfront. The company’s name is in reference to Stamford’s High Ridge Park where it was based initially and where PDC was located as well before moving its office downtown.
HRB Brands filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019, just three years after it had been acquired for $415 million by the New York City buyout firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, which installed former Estee Lauder and Procter & Gamble executive Patricia Lopez as CEO.
In bankruptcy documents, the company blamed its financial collapse on a price hike by an unidentified manufacturer which made its bar soaps on an outsourced basis, with deliveries lagging and no alternative arrangement for another company to pick up the slack. The resulting cash crunch put HRB Brands behind on its debt payments, forcing it into bankruptcy after it could not ink all loan extensions it needed.
The Connecticut’s treasurer’s office appeared on an initial list of unsecured creditors owed a combined $263 million, including nearly $3 million owed by HRB Brands to its home state.