What started out as a tiny outfit supplying hand moisturizing creams for farmers and laborers in rural California has now turned into a multi-million dollar business, thanks to packaging that looks like traditional shoe polish and a product that works.
O'Keeffes' Working Hands may not be a household name, but with sales now topping the half million mark a year, it has gained significant recognition in certain circles. But those circles have not tended to be traditional personal care outlets. You are more likely to pick up a tub of Working Hands in the aisles of a local DIY store or farm shop.
"Currently we sell to Rite-Aid nationwide, Osco Drug, Albertson's Drug, Save-On Drug, Meijers Drug, Longs Drug, Fred Meyer, and numerous other small chains and Independents," Tara O'Keeffe, company founder, told CosmeticsDesign. "We will be in Walgreens nationwide in the spring, and are under review with the remaining large chains in the Food and Drug industry.
O'Keefe also pointed out that, as well as hardware and DIY stores, farm stores have also turned out to be a good source of business.
"Some of our best accounts have been Farm-type stores across the nation. Their customers appreciate a functional product that really works and the stores appreciate the repeat sales and traffic it generates," she added.
The product has been intelligently crafted to look at home in such a retail landscape. Because of this it has proved to be a surprise hit, tapping into a small but distinct niche that caters to the tougher conditions that manual workers often put their hands through, resulting in ultra-dry skin that can lead to painful chapping and cracking.
But the product goes one step further. With its appearance, it addresses the problem many males still have when purchasing cosmetic and toiletry products that, for them, are often associated with feminine values.
Although the much heralded metrosexual revolution has had a significant impact on the cosmetic and toiletry purchasing habits of many males, experts also point out that there remains a hard core of mainly older males that hold traditionally masculine attitudes to such purchases.
Labeled as 'Absolutely Odorless', 'Hypo-Allergenic' and 'Oil-Free', the product contains Glycerin, Stearic Acid, Hydroxpropyl Methylcellulose and Paraffin. In short, nothing fancy, just effective ingredients that have been used in countless similar products.
The company was set up in 1993 by O'Keeffe. She personally formulated a cream for her father, a farmer who was suffering from dry, chapped hands. It worked and soon she was supplying the cream to other local farmers and laborers.
The first year of production she sold 300 tubs, but with a similar product called Working Feet added to the product line 18 months ago, combined with the incredible success of Working Hands, talk of the company is now worldwide and production capacity is touching 400,000 jars and tubes a month.
The company name was given a further boost last year when it won the Dupont Gold Award and Innovation for its multifunctional polypropylene tubs, including vibrant colors, palm-sized ergomic grip and quarter turn lid with a translucent holographic three dimensional effect.
The claim that the 'grip pak' can be marketed exclusively from the lid for merchandising versatility also won favor with the judges, alongside the fact that the structure uses less plastic and is 100 per cent recyclable.
With increasing interest in male cosmetic and toiletry products, it is not surprising that products such as Working Hands are reaching consumers that have traditionally resisted such purchases.
A recent Datamonitor survey shows that 73 per cent of European and US men said that spending time in front of the mirror was 'important' or 'very important', compared to 72 per cent of women with the same response.
Given this level of vanity in men Datamonitor is predicting that the European and US male personal care market is set to rise from $31.5 billion in 2003, to reach $37.6 billion in 2008.
On the basis of this kind of data and the excellent reception from the domestic market, O'Keeffe is mulling the next logical steps for the business.
"New items I have been considering include a product containing a 'physical barrier sunscreen'," she added. "The 0ther product I would love to make is 'an effective lip product'. There are so many on the market, so many ineffective, that it would be very rewarding to make one that works."
Taking the brands beyond the US market is also a serious consideration.
"We are certainly open to international growth, which will be made more possible as the Brand grows domestically," she added.