A little over two years since Henkel moved its North American headquarters from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Stamford, the consumer goods company has positioned itself as a corporate citizen in good standing as it continues wooing consumers and retail partners alike.
“Taking an active role in the community is a really integral part of the DNA at Henkel across the globe,” said Stephan Fuesti-Molnar, president of Henkel Consumer Goods North America. “It is very important for us to be engaged in all the communities we serve across America and the globe.”
Based in Düsseldorf, the conglomerate’s product portfolio in the U.S. includes Dial soaps, Persil, Purex and All laundry detergents, Snuggle fabric softeners and Right Guard antiperspirants.
An effort to connect with the community took place on July 26 when it opened the Henkel Experience Center at its Consumer Products headquarters at 200 Elm St. in Stamford. The 3,200-square-foot center, comprised of 10 interactive “experience stations,” is designed to allow the company’s retail partners “to experience our products with all of their senses,” Fuesti-Molnar said. “We have a large assortment of products and this is meant to offer customizable solutions to our seller stores to drive category growth.”
The interactive stations include multimedia and experiential elements. Whether visited by a behemoth like Walmart or a smaller concern, “we want to show them how to optimize their shelves so that our retail partners feel very much focused on,” he added.
The Experience Center is the only such operation outside of Düsseldorf, Fuesti-Molnar said, and serves to “demonstrate how our customers and consumers are at the heart of everything we do.”
“By meeting with Henkel at the Experience Center,” added Henkel Beauty Care, North America Senior Vice President Heather Wallace, “our customers will have a firsthand look at our latest innovations and experience our proprietary consumer insights, digital capabilities, marketing expertise and sustainability commitments in a stimulating, out-of-the-office environment.”
The Stamford headquarters is also home to a formulation lab as well as Research@Elm, a clinical testing lab used to develop beauty care products. Opened in August 2017, the labs allow the public to come in and test various products with some 1,110 visitors to date.
“The spots fill up fast,” Fuesti-Molnar said, noting that sessions usually involve five or six consumers who after testing the products fill out questionnaires and provide feedback.
“It is very much part of our research and development efforts,” he declared. “We can learn a lot from our consumers, and from time to time we get great insights as to how they use a certain product, or unmet needs the consumer has. That feedback can help us create better products and meet our consumers’ needs better.”
Fuesti-Molnar said such efforts are helping Stamford grow its reputation as an innovation hub, something that is also happening on a smaller scale in Trumbull. In January 2018 it opened an expanded 27,000-square-foot R&D facility at 4 Trefoil Drive, complementing the laundry and home care R&D center at 30 Trefoil Drive that it inherited when it acquired Sun Products in 2016.
The operation in Trumbull includes formulation laboratories, a consumer product and fragrance evaluation center, packaging design, and two pilot plants that support production scale-up capabilities for Henkel’s Beauty Care and Laundry & Home Care divisions.
The firm invested $20 million to expand its Trumbull presence.
Fuesti-Molnar said Henkel is establishing a 10-year partnership with the Trumbull Nature and Arts Center, to which it donated a sustainably sourced playground made from 50,000 plastic containers and built by employee volunteers and their families. The 4 Trefoil facility won the first-place award from The Connecticut Building Congress for renovating the property, and the company won the Trumbull Economic & Community Development Commission’s 2019 Corporate Success Award.
The company has a target of making 100% of its Laundry & Home Care and Beauty Care packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, Fuesti-Molnar said, “and we have already achieved 80% of that.”
Green efforts also include a partnership with Plastic Bank, which aims to reduce the disposal of plastic in the ocean, and is a founding member of the global Alliance to End Plastic Waste, an organization formed to develop and bring to scale solutions that will minimize and manage plastic waste. The Alliance has committed more than $1 billion of a $1.5 billion target over the next five years to help end plastic waste in the environment.
In September the company’s employees in Stamford and at its offices in Darien gathered at Stamford’s Mill River Park to pick up trash and debris from the park’s meadows and riverbanks.
From a corporate perspective Henkel has its work cut out for it.
On Dec. 12, outgoing CEO Hans Van Bylen said the firm expects “to continue to face a challenging market environment in fiscal 2020 that is difficult to predict.” Its adjusted earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margin is anticipated to be around 15%, compared to 16.2% in 2019, and organic sales growth of zero to 2% is predicted for 2020.
Henkel announced in October that Van Bylen was being replaced as CEO by Chief Financial Officer Carsten Knobel after a series of poor financial results.