Tom Murray's faith in his values and commitment to employees has led to the rebirth of a local company and a legacy brand.
Tom Murray leads with his values: faith, family, work.
"There are so many things way more important than money," says Murray, president and CEO of Perio, the Dublin-based parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk shave brands. Murray's values are Perio's values, reflected in the mission statement of the company he's led-and transformed-through the last 30 years.
Perio "expects to receive a healthy profit" as long as the company puts product quality, employee fulfillment and philanthropy first.
For Murray, these aren't corporate platitudes. He believes that the resources of the company belong to God, that he is merely a steward of Perio's assets. That's why he'll never put short-term opportunities before long-term success. That's why he pays plant employees highly competitive salaries. That's why Perio donates roughly $400,000 to charitable organizations, with a focus on children's charity, every year.
Those values are also why Perio will never go public.
"I feel Wall Street's an okay place," says Murray. As a graduate student at Ohio State, he watched a "disproportionate" number of his classmates pursue careers in finance solely to earn the most money possible right out of business school. But Murray, whose father was a Johnson & Johnson VP and a former co-owner of Perio, takes a contrary view of the stock market's effect on businesses.
"I look at these big corporations and they don't value their assets of people, because if they don't maximize stockholder value the CEOs and all are fired," says Murray, who pays entry-level employees 33 percent above market rate. "I think it's a real problem in our country."
"I also personally don't want to spend my time explaining what I and my executives and my mentors choose to do versus doing it. The fun's in doing it, achieving it," he adds.
Murray had plenty of fun acquiring Barbasol, one of the iconic consumer products that defined masculinity in 20th century America, in 2001. The deal took more than a year to complete. Murray depended on the counsel of his long-time advisors to get the deal done: SBC advertising founder Shel Berman, Ed Gleason, then-president of Perio's sales broker Elias Shaker & Co., and Frost Brown Todd Attorney John Cadwallader chief among them.
"Buying something six or seven times our size was quite humbling and overwhelming. You think, 'Boy, if I don't get this right," says Murray.
The Barbasol purchase, which included the discontinued Pure Silk brand, transformed Perio from a dental products company to a shaving cream manufacturing operation. Murray describes it as the "Holy Grail" of brand acquisitions.
By the late 1990s, 80-year-old Barbasol was languishing on retail shelves as one of Pfizer's non-pharmaceutical holdings. It was exactly the sort of brand Murray had been seeking to rejuvenate Perio's portfolio of personal-care products.
When Murray went after the Barbasol deal, Perio was a $1.5 million sales and marketing company with 12 employees. Its primary products were Ghostbusters Slimer toothpaste, Morgan & Berry breath freshener and a number of private label dental hygiene items. The company's clients were drug stores, and drug chain consolidations in the 1990s put Perio on shaky ground as a vendor.
"When you realize that your business is at risk-with two items at Walgreens being a third of your business-you need to diversify," says Murray. On the counsel of his closest advisors, Murray began his search for an "orphan brand," a consumer product that a corporate parent wasn't tending to.
Perio sold off all of its products just before the acquisition to "get as much funds available and clear the deck" to focus on Barbasol, says Murray.
Murray's vision was to reclaim Barbasol's rightful place as the Kleenex of men's shaving creams. Colgate shaving cream, once Barbasol's chief competitor, had pushed the older brand from store shelves. When Perio brokers tried to get Barbasol into Target in 2001, Murray says the retail giant wished them luck "reinventing that old man's brand."
"Target corporate wouldn't even let us come in the first year to talk to them," says Murray. By not advertising Barbasol for over a decade, Pfizer had lost at least a generation of users, he says.
"I wasn't upset with Target (in 2001). They were telling us reality," says Murray. Rather than arguing the point with Target, Murray set about proving Barbasol's value in the marketplace.
Perio's turnaround strategy has centered on sponsorships that guarantee Barbasol mentions during play in televised sporting events. The company bought spots on sports shows with an eye toward young male audiences. In 2015, Perio launched its four-year Barbasol Championship on the PGA tour. Perio is in year four of a five-year Barbasol jersey sponsorship with the Columbus Crew.
Perio also leverages the brand's pop-culture legacy. The company's 2014 partnership with Universal Pictures for Jurassic World harkened back to the Barbasol can's 1993 cameo in the original blockbuster.
The brand's legacy of celebrity endorsements, paired with the familiar barber's pole logo and can design, have made Barbasol the go-to shaving cream in film and television for decades. Barbasol is even mentioned in the perennial Broadway hit Guys and Dolls.
"When we acquired the brand from Pfizer in 2001, they told us they had never once paid for a placement. We have never once paid to be placed in a movie or television show," says Murray.
Today, Barbasol is riding high on the image of retro manliness that's driving sales of men's personal care products among millennials. But the brand's resurgence is a result of Murray's dedication to do right by the product and the customer. "Advertise it, grow it, don't prematurely harvest. I put so much right back in to advertising."
Five years after the acquisition, Perio had doubled Barbasol's market share. Colgate discontinued its shaving cream and Barbasol went up another third. By 2007, Barbasol sales returned to the high points the product enjoyed in the 1970s and '80s. Now in a decade when men shave less frequently and beards are the style du jour, Barbasol sales keep growing.
Yet Barbasol isn't Perio's biggest success story. Pure Silk, the women's shaving brand that Pfizer threw in as a bonus during the sale, is a truer reflection of Murray's successful vision and leadership.
Murray's innovations on the long-dormant Pure Silk women's shaving cream have made it the top seller right behind Skintimate gels. Perio's initial market research indicated that women preferred creams to gels. Murray's decision to reintroduce the cream in a slim, rust-proof gel can drove demand among retailers when the revived Pure Silk hit the market in 2003.
"Walmart, the first time they saw it, said they had to have it in the store. Now it's a third of our business-bigger than Barbasol was when we bought it," says Murray. Perio produces a quarter-million cans a day between the two brands, with Pure Silk making up a third of production.
For years after the acquisition, Murray was firm in his resolve to outsource production. But Murray is a leader who is open to change.
As issues with Barbasol's third-party aerosol manufacturers disrupted production, Murray changed course. Perio constructed its two-line production facility in 2009, the latest aerosol plant in the US.
The plant brought 70 manufacturing jobs to Ashland. It runs two shifts a day, five days a week. The plant has never had an accident. Generous salaries and benefit packages are provided to employees. Turnover is near zero.
"Their productivity is amazing. It's this counterintuitive of the more you give, the more you keep getting back," says Murray. The company gives back to its communities as well, primarily through the grants and donations made to child-focused nonprofits in Ashland and Greater Columbus via the Barbasol Foundation.
"If you look back at what we bought 15 years ago, (there was) no Pure Silk, Barbasol's market share (was) in the single digits," says Murray. "(This) looks like an overnight success, but has been hundreds of decisions each year on values."
WebExtra Q&A: Tom Murray
How did it feel to take over such a historic brand?
Finally since we've grown it so much, I feel ownership in us leading it. The first four or five years you didn't, you just felt like a gatekeeper, and placeholder.
It goes back to 1919 and you just think of all the people who have come and worked on it. Barbasol was the brand of the military in almost all the wars in the ration kits. It's just a real American legacy.
I feel a lot more ownership in Pure Silk because we launched that from basically nothing and have grown it to quite a large size.
Talk about your decision to manufacture in Ohio:
We looked at the counties and Ashland just stood out on so many levels. It was economically challenged, had good incentives. But it has a great base of workforce and people and the location off 71 was perfect.
I always like to under promise and over deliver. For the abatements and kindnesses they gave us, we promised 25 full-time equivalents in five years. We have 70 employees now.
What's on the horizon for Perio?
Both brands can keep growing organically. Both brands, especially Pure Silk, we look to go horizontal within personal care. We're open and looking for opportunities for either a small acquisition or what we can do for some product ideas ourselves.
What's the secret to your longevity at Perio?
I make sure every two years, at least, to sit down with everybody in the company. Having been a place with 12 people, I want to know everybody or at least have them be able to talk to me.
People see our mission statement being lived out, then when they talk to me they get the same answers, it cross-validates.
How would you describe your management style?
Delegate, mentor, monitor.
I have, like, four pages of my values. When something resonates with me, I write it and keep it and I rotate it through my journal.
I believe in complete information and then decision-making's easy. When you overlay that with your values, very rarely are decisions hard. You look at those things and the decisions make themselves.
Kitty McConnell is associate editor.