Q&A

The CEO of Helen of Troy is charging ahead with the second phase of his plan to transform the global consumer products behemoth, which will soon be the only publicly-traded company headquartered in El Paso.

Julien Mininberg said Phase II of his transformation plan is designed to work like a set of gears – together, in sync, each part depending on the another.

Mininberg has headed the company since 2014. In that time, he’s overseen the completion of the Phase I transformation plan and has led the brand toward more online growth. 

“We’re consumer-driven,” Mininberg said. “If the consumer wants to be online, then we’ll be online. If they want a different channel, we’ll be there.”

One of the most important components of the Phase II plan is creating a unified culture across the company’s divisions, he said.

Mininberg is from Manhattan, and now splits his time between El Paso and Boston. He received his bachelor’s degree and MBA from Yale University.

“The passion I have for this is without limit, and I would not spend my career doing something I don’t believe in. Not only am I firmly committed but I passionately believe in what we’ve chosen,” Mininberg said.

While in El Paso, Mininberg likes to enjoy the non-humid weather, eat at his favorite spots, including Sunny’s Sushi and Cafe Central, and travel through New Mexico with his wife.

Helen of Troy is one of two publicly traded companies in El Paso. The other is El Paso Electric, which is being sold to a private equity fund in a deal that will take the utility private.

Mininberg spent an hour catching up with El Paso Inc. at the Helen of Troy headquarters on the Westside. Here’s what he had to say about the pain of tariffs, what consumers want and giving back to the community.

Q: Has Helen of Troy been impacted by changes in tariffs? 

Big time is the short answer. We manufacture between two-thirds and three-quarters of what we sell in the Asian manufacturing base, plenty of that in China. We manufacture a ton in Mexico and a bit in the United States as well. Anything that’s China-sourced is subjected to those tariffs, and it definitely affects us. 

The current ones being enforced, unmitigated, would have about a $25 million to $35 million impact on us. The ones that President Trump threatened if there wasn’t a deal, that could probably be another $50 million or so – major chunks of our profit. 

At that time, we announced our mitigation efforts. First was that we’d raise our prices to absorb or pass along a portion of the tariffs. Second was new efficiencies. You can also change your suppliers, within China or to a non-China solution. 

So it’s a combination of pricing, working with our suppliers and making changes in the supplier chain over the longer-term. The result has been full mitigation. We announced in January that we had offset all of the $25 million. If the tariffs Trump has threatened were implemented, we’d have to go through the same playbook again.

Q: What changes in consumer habits have you had to respond to?

On the product side, there are some pretty big trends. Most consumers these days don’t want a single-use piece of plastic or a single-use glass. Before, people would not have thought twice about it, maybe 10 years ago. That’s no longer the case. In Europe, a single-use plastic water bottle is the equivalent of, like, going into a restaurant and smoking a cigarette. 

All-natural is another one. And people really want to know where things come from and what they’re made of. It makes us answer those questions and makes our employees very proud to give good answers. They’re coming up with better and better solutions. Hydroflask taps into that solution nicely.

Q: Helen of Troy will become the only publicly traded company in El Paso when El Paso Electric’s sale goes through. What does that mean to you?

It doesn’t change our view of El Paso, which is very positive. It always has been. El Paso is strategic for us. We love the talent here, the loyalty, the caliber of the workforce, the multilingual nature, the stability, the warmth. 

There are good people here and we respect that. The diversity of the talent is significant, and we’ve also been able to import meaningful capabilities here.

Q: Earlier this year, you announced Helen of Troy was putting its struggling personal care business up for sale. That’s changed now, right?

The process didn’t fully play out. We made the decision to discontinue the process. We didn’t discontinue the brands, but we stopped the divestiture process. Therefore we didn’t sell. 

We’re keeping them, and those businesses are now on a strategy of maximizing their productivity but we’re not putting massive investments into them. We’re not expecting them to be growth drivers. They’re nicely profitable, they are a good part of our mix and I think we’re better off with them than without.

Q: The company’s online net sales increased 28% in its first quarter from March to May. What is contributing to the online growth?

The online channel has become a big deal, with Amazon being the big dog in the fight. That consumer-centric nature means you’re everywhere the consumer wants you to be. 

When we started, we were about 5% to 6% penetrated into the online channels. At the end of Phase I, that number was more like 18%, and now in Phase II we have our sights on higher numbers. That 28% was enough to grow our online penetration to 23% of the total company, and Amazon is now our No. 2 customer globally. 

Q: Do you think online is where consumers are headed or will there be a return to brick-and-mortar stores?

It’s a balance. If you ask whether online will replace brick-and-mortar, I think the answer is no. Shopping, in the end, is local. People are local. 

Shopping is increasingly a global experience but it still satisfies a local need. In the end, you need things, and you want to see them. Some things lend themselves well to online and some things less so.

Q: What does the Phase II transformation plan include?

We’ve made a set of goals for Phase II that we’ve given Wall Street that would grow the company a little bit faster. We want to grow the earnings per share at least 8% ongoing. Our investment in our leadership brands will be at least 10% more every single year. We want to grow cash flow at least 10% and keep the whole capital investment very low. 

If we do this for five years, the mathematical projections are very attractive. Phase II should be, what I often say, the best yet to come. The math of this is superior to the math of Phase I.

Q: How is Helen of Troy investing in the El Paso community?

Locally, we’ve made a lot of changes. We interact with large parts of the community through volunteering. For example, we give eight hours of paid leave to every employee to work on a charitable outcome of their choosing. 

We’re philanthropic as well. We’ve made significant donations not just in this community. We’re also very interested in the health of the employee base here.

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