Conair’s Diamond Focuses On Keeping Up With Today’s Consumer

When Ron Diamond reflects on how the housewares market has changed during his 24 years with Conair Corporation— or even just the past 10 years— he points to the consumer. While Conair with its salon roots has always had a close relationship with consumers and their tendencies, Diamond said the consumer of this Internet age may be as savvy and knowledgeable as any he’s encountered. What’s more, Diamond said the challenge of understanding today’s consumer is made that much more complex by the widening of decision-influencing roles in the average household— where 13-year-olds are as likely to sway the purchase of a hair dryer as a 60-year-old is to sway the purchase of a bath scale. “It’s really more consumer-driven,” Diamond, president of Conair, told HOMEWORLD BUSINESS®. “I think the single most important issue that faces our company today is the changing environment of the consumer. At the end the day, it’s that empty chair, as I call it, that makes all of our decisions. “Let’s look at the consumer,” he continued. “When I started, nobody used the word ‘Internet.’ The communication process was completely different. The ability to get information is so much greater than it was 10 years ago. The concept of a household is completely different. “Young people in the family are far more influential in buying decisions. And look who’s working out today. It’s not just the weekend warrior. The entire household is trying to live healthier; trying to get a better quality of life. So the biggest challenge for us is to keep up with that consumer.” For Conair, that challenge has been compounded the past 15 years by a strategy that has seen the company evolve — often through acquisition— from primarily a personal care appliance specialist to a diverse hair care and small appliance resource with sales of more than $1 billion. In addition to its core Conair-branded personal care appliance and hair-care accessories (it also owns France’s BaByliss), the company’s stable of brands includes Cuisinart and Waring in kitchen electrics; Interplak in oral care, and Pollenex in showerheads. Conair also has moved decisively into the bath scale segment during the past year, first with its development of the licensed Weight Watchers line, and most recently with its acquisition from MSI of the Thinner brand. With every move to expand its scope, Diamond said, Conair has looked first at how a product or brand fits with the company’s core development, manufacturing, distribution and marketing competencies. And despite the immediate gains to sales, profit and market share posed by its acquisitions, growth potential has often been more instrumental in sealing a deal. “The common thread across all of our acquisitions is the ability to grow,” Diamond said. The model example of this strategy could be Cuisinart. Acquired by Conair out of bankruptcy as a virtual one-product company in 1989, Cuisinart— under the direction of Barry Haber— has advanced into a formidable, full-line kitchen appliance, cookware and kitchenware brand for upscale retailers. “Cuisinart is the quintessential scenario of how we can take a brand name and grow it,” Diamond said. Conair’s brand and product expansion has progressed through the eyes of its retailer and consumers, Diamond stressed. “You always have to understand what the retailer and consumer give you credit for,” he said. “Conair is now in so many subcategories,” he added. “Each has its own nuances— it’s own Gestalt— of what the retailer is looking for and what the consumer wants. They make up the one rope that guides and pulls us through every thing we do.” Given Diamond’s respect for the retailer and consumer as it relates to the direction of Conair’s strategy, it’s not surprising to hear how important people in general are to him as he prepares to accept a Humanitarian of the Year honor from the Housewares Charity Foundation (for which he has served as a committee member since its formation seven years ago) Diamond doesn’t deny his reputation as a fierce competitor. However, he said he owes the opportunity to succeed for a quarter of a century at Conair to three things� the vision of Conair founder Lee Rizzuto, the thousands of people with which he has worked at Conair, and two other people that actually have little to do with Conair. Those two are his mother Ethel and father Paul. Still vivid and fresh to Diamond are images of his youth, when for the better part of a decade he was the sidekick as his father drove a station wagon to delivers eggs in New York City. “My mother and father taught me about life, how to sell and how to work hard to succeed,“ Ron said. “I’m the consummate competitor,“ he continued. “When I cross the line to play the major league appliance game, I try to come with the respect of being fully prepared— with the single purpose of how to win for the consumer. “But at the end of the day, it’s my family and my Conair family that are the biggest influence as a I receive this humbling honor. Every now and then, we have to put down our hair dryer or mixer for the opportunity to raise money for charity and to recognize the people in our industry and our lives. Those are important issues to me.”