J.R. Rigley | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

J.R. Rigley


J.R. Watkins has been operating continuously since 1868. The company makes spices, ointments, cleaners and many other products, including the company's very first product: a pain-relieving liniment for sore muscles. The company is based in Winona, Minn., and has been owned by the Jacobs family since 1978.

The Mistake:

I tried to market an emerging/challenger brand like a dominant consumer packaged goods (CPG) company.

I started at J.R. Watkins a little over 11 years ago after years at Proctor & Gamble and McCormick, you know, multibillion-dollar CPG companies. And I really came at [the job at J.R. Watkins] from that mindset. For a long time, we advertised in mass-market glossy magazines such as Kiwi, InStyle and US Weekly because that felt like a natural choice. And for distribution, we focused on winning huge contracts, first Wal-Mart and then Target 

Here's the thing, though: J.R. Watkins isn't Proctor & Gamble or McCormick. Right from the very beginning, I should have been thinking about J.R. Watkins as an emerging/challenger brand that needed repositioning.

You have to be incredibly nimble in your thinking and roll with the changes in consumer taste.

The Lesson:

Even among very similar kinds of companies, each business has its own unique set of circumstances. You have to be careful not to assume that a strategy that works for one will work for another.

Thankfully, social media came into being, and we were smart enough to recognize it as a force in its own right and a much more economical way to reach our audience. We also began really digging into the data on consumer behaviors and came to the realization that we couldn't just put 20 products in Target and say we're done. We needed to live in mass market, but we also needed to live in grocery and drug and all the unmeasured channels like Menards, Shopko, Amazon and Ace. 

Consumers know they can buy a Coke anywhere. They can buy a lip balm anywhere. Shopping is an omni-channel experience and I think anyone not working that way might be making a mistake.

You have to be incredibly nimble in your thinking and roll with the changes in consumer taste.

Follow J.R. Watkins on Twitter @JRWatkins.

Photo courtesy of J.R. Watkins. 

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