Twenty years ago, South African-born brothers David and Anthony Leib cofounded San Diego-based Robanda International, a diversified beauty products manufacturer serving both consumers and professionals
spanning several market segments. Prorituals, Bodyography, Mr. Pumice and Crack, Hair & Fix are among the best known of the company’s 15 brands, which are distributed in 58 countries around the globe. David heads the company as CEO while Anthony serves as vice president of sales–and a host of other family members (spanning three generations!) hold key management positions. A company with solid values, they have many longtime employees and their products are paraben- and cruelty-free, made with fully recyclable and biodegrable materials. In 2018, Robanda International was recognized as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S., landing well into the top third of the Inc. 5000 list. With 36 employees and 50 sales reps, they are poised for further growth. Here, David Leib gives us a look into the company's success.
Beauty Store Business: Please tell us about the beauty distribution business your parents owned in Cape Town, South Africa.
David Leib: It was an import/distribution model... It had a strong skincare focus with a French brand that became the No. 1 salon brand in the country. Other brands were targeted at prestige or mass distribution. As a kid, I spent time in their office and warehouse, often just packing orders. Beauty was in my veins from a young age.
How did your previous experience prepare you for cofounding Robanda International?
The beauty industry is fairly similar worldwide, based on different distribution channels (prestige, mass, professional, etc). Prior to coming to the U.S., I did a two-year stint in the UK launching a French skincare brand owned by Revlon. This was followed by a three-year stint in New York City working for a beauty company (eventually as president).
What brand did Robanda start with?
We started with a small skincare range and soon after, we made our first brand acquisition called Jingles, a professional haircare brand. This gave us entry to around 30 professional distributors across the U.S. After that, we made roughly one brand acquisition every two years. We started about half the brands we own; the others were acquired.
What were the biggest challenges in the early days?
The same thing all startups go through: cash flow, financing, staffing, and being hands-on in so many different areas of the business.
What marked your first big success?
Most brands we have acquired have grown over 200 percent, but I would say Mr. Pumice has been one of our biggest successes, with around 800 percent growth. Bodyography Cosmetics has been our biggest success internationally. When we acquired it, they only sold to Canada. Now the brand is sold in over 55 countries worldwide, and should exceed 60 by year end.
How do you run the business with Anthony and your family?
My brother Anthony [Leib] is vice president of sales; he has a national sales manager under him, who handles our domestic sales rep force of around 45. He also is responsible for some key account management; Sally Beauty is an example. Shawn Russell, our cousin, handles all export sales. He has played an integral role in our growth. I try to focus on the larger picture for the company: brand direction, acquisitions, budgets, finance, etc. It’s super being in a family business, as there is always someone present at the office from the greater family. Our parents, Helen and Gerry Leib, still come into the office three days a week. We are truly blessed to have parents in such wonderful health and so much a part of the company. Having two of my daughters work with me daily is very fulfilling. Lori Leib, my eldest, has been with us almost 10 years. For many years, Bodyography Cosmetics was her baby. She was creative director. Last year, we promoted her to marketing director for all brands. Matti Leib is in sales and assists Shawn in the export department, facilitating all export orders, travel, shows, etc. Everyone in the family has their specific roles to perform.
What do you think makes a winning brand?
A brand that has a strong following and repeat purchases. Anyone can get that first sale to a customer through a variety of marketing methods, but it's having them love the brand and retaining them that’s the trick. However, we need to be able to execute on all levels for any of our brands to be successful.
Where is your brand focus currently?
Within every brand, we have new product launches and promos. This year we are relaunching a skincare line with newly updated formulas and great new packaging. We are also launching a CBD skincare brand. We are repositioning some brands to enter into the mass market, but core professional brands will remain professional. This year, we took over the exclusive U.S. distribution for Jaguar, Europe’s No. 1 shears brand. This is exciting for us as they truly make the most exceptional quality shears, yet are not overpriced. Our ProRituals hair color and haircare brand is going through a complete packaging change.
What do you want beauty retailers to know about Robanda?
We have a brand (or brands) for everyone. Whether the retailer is in prestige, mass or professional. Also, we are putting a major emphasis on social media activities, tagging the major retailers who work with us in any core brands. We work with some dynamic influencers who are leaders in their fields.
What kind of leader are you and what type of company culture do you aim to create?
I trust people, especially those who work for us. So I don’t micro manage, everyone knows what they contribute to the company...We promote a company culture of family. Everyone here can grow with the company. They understand how they are a critical cog in the engine that is Robanda International.
How have your priorities changed?
For myself I’m doing a better job of balancing my life; its not all about work and putting in 50 hours a week. I’d like to get my golf handicap down (not disclosed). You have to play more to achieve this!
What has been the company’s greatest achievement? Greatest lesson?
Our amazing team here at Robanda, loyal hard working folks, who have been an integral part of our growth (and life) this past 20 years. [We've learned] to treat everyone with respect; the success comes after that.
How do you plan to mark Robanda International's 20th anniverary?
We will be hosting a big cocktail party at the House of Blues during Cosmoprof North America in Las Vegas for all of our customers and sales represenatives. In spring of 2020, we will celebrate with a big party for our employees and their families.
Whats next for the company?
Perhaps we'll have another brand acquisition. Perhaps we'll bring in an investor to acquire a minority stake. We are always open to ideas.