Johnson Products back in black hands

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Chief Executive Officer Eric V. Brown and wife Renee Cottrell-Brown, the executive vice president

Johnson Products, the company behind such brands as Ultra Sheen and Gentle Treatment, is back in the hands of African American leadership. Industry veterans Eric Brown and Renee Cotrell-Brown, a husband and wife team, purchased Johnson products from Proctor & Gamble, an agreement finalized earlier this year.

The team heads up RCJP Acquisition Inc, a new private equity company formed in collaboration with private equity firms Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners and St. Cloud Capitol. In a recent interview with Mr. Brown, we were able to understand why RCJP purchased Johnson Products and what they plan to do with the company that has been a name in Black households for decades.

Johnson Products was first established in 1954 by George Johnson with an initial investment of $500 and a single product, Ultra Wave, a relaxer for men. Three years later Ultra Sheen was introduced for women and from there the company went on to produce well known products like Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen Hair Dressings. In 1971 Johnson Products became the first minority run business listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Proctor & Gamble acquired the company in 2003 which helped Johnson Products sales reach $23 million dollars annually.

However, Eric Brown still saw an opportunity for growth, “It was not a strategic brand for P&G,” stated Mr. Brown, “It was an area that was not getting any attention…and when acquired with the Wella brand, they got rid of the lines that would interfere with their other brands like Pantene.”

With so many brands flooding the market, it seems a daunting task to bring Johnson Products back to life with its select offerings of hair relaxers and pomades in an environment where consumer needs go beyond “perms and grease”. Eric Brown believes that the name Johnson Products carries with it tradition, value and innovation. “Right now it really dominates, if not owns, the value side and tradition,” Mr. Brown said. “The innovation is what we have to add.”

With declining sales in the hair market over the last two years, one would question purchasing an outdated brand in an already slacking market. Mr. Brown prefers to see the glass as half full and believes that the down market may be more a factor of product offerings more than anything else. “There are consumers with a lot of unmet needs,” he continues. “The industry has slacked down. It’s not because [people] stopped using products.” The new Johnson Products will be a springboard for RCJP to introduce new product innovations to the Black consumer and take the opportunity to reintroduce the brands to a new generation.

In addition to bringing quality hair products to the market, Johnson Products also plan to give back to the Black community in areas of education and women’s causes. As Mr. Brown puts it, “community empowers our business,” so for the new Johnson Products team, it’s a win-win situation. It also stays true to the essence of the original Johnson Products company which served as a platform for Blacks to establish careers in the 1960’s.