Commentary

Looking To Expand Its Multicultural Business, P&G Buys Walker & Co.

Procter & Gamble yesterday acquired five-year-old Walker & Company, which develops products and services tailored to people of color. It is best known for Bevel, a shaving system designed specifically for men with coarse or curly hair, and the more-recent FORM Beauty, which is targeted to women who wear their “coily and curly hair … in natural, protective and straight styles.” 

“There will be no changes to the product themselves, and Walker & Co. Brands will operate as a separate and wholly-owned subsidiary of P&G, continuing to be led by [Tristan] Walker,” writes Sequoia Blodgett for Black Enterprise. Walker, the company’s founder and CEO, was featured in the September 2016 issue of the magazine.

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“Nothing is changing at Walker & Co. Brands. We remain devoted to serving people of color by delivering products tailored to their needs and that quite simply, just work,” he tells Blodgett. “That’s the beautiful thing about merging with the P&G family of brands; they aren’t tinkering with our formula. On the contrary, they are just giving us the resources and fuel needed to continue delivering on our promises, but on an even larger, global scale.”

Another beautiful thing is the huge payoff for identifying and meeting the needs of an underserved market.

“Though the amount of the acquisition is undisclosed, Recode estimates it’s between $20 million and $40 million. Walker also said the company headquarters will move from Silicon Valley to Atlanta as a cost-saving measure, and to be closer to its largest customer base,” writes Kaitlyn Tiffany for Vox.

“The interesting tension at the heart of the acquisition is the fact that Bevel’s raison d’être has always been contextualized in opposition to Procter & Gamble’s Gillette, which owns 54% of the global razor market; as Recode put it, Walker & Co. was ‘aiming to build the Procter & Gamble for people of color,’” Tiffany adds. That was in an interview conducted several weeks ago for a piece she wrote about the broader disruption in the razor market that was published just yesterday.

“Earlier this year, Walker told CNN Business that large, mass-market companies have neglected people of color as an important demographic,” Nathaniel Meyersohn recalls.

“'That second-class citizen experience of having to shop in an ‘ethnic’ beauty aisle, which is really the small shelf that's right next to the official beauty aisle, was just an incredibly frustrating experience,’ he said at the time,” Meyersohn writes.

Not that Procter & Gamble hasn’t been taking notice of its shortcomings.

“P&G has set a goal to better serve African-Americans with curly or natural hair. For instance, the Cincinnati-based company last year launched its Pantene’s Gold Series. P&G’s Head & Shoulders also launched its Royal Oils line earlier this year,” Aisha Al-Muslim reports for the Wall Street Journal.

“[When it comes to] direct-to-consumer, we have the capabilities here, but nowhere near the extent [Walker]’s mastered and leveraged,” Lela Coffey, brand director for multicultural marketing at P&G, tells Fast Company’s J.J. McCorvey. “His agility is super-fast. The amount of products he’s been able to bring to market, we need to learn something about that speed.”

Walker grew up poor in the projects in Queens, N.Y., David Gelles reports for the New York Times

“His mother focused on his education, and he was accepted into an elite boarding school. [Hotchkiss, according to a 2014 profile by Jessica Guynn for USA Today.] From there he went to Stony Brook University, on Long Island, and then the Graduate School of Business at Stanford. After working at Foursquare, he became an entrepreneur in residence with the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and from there he started Walker & Company. Mr. Walker also co-founded Code2040, an organization working to improve diversity in the technology industry,” Gelles writes.

In an interview conducted earlier this year, Walker told Gelles: “I’m dedicating my life to the demographic shift happening in this country. Not only for Silicon Valley. Not only for business. But for this country’s competitiveness. It’s changing. And folks need to respect that and they need to celebrate it.”

Tweets Jessica Verrilli, general partner at GV, Alphabet’s venture capital arm, and a former Twitter vice president: “The most savvy and ambitious big cos acquire innovation and leadership that knows how to build for the future. Salesforce bought Quip / Bret Taylor, Walmart bought Jet / Marc Lore, and P&G is acquiring Walker & Co / @tristanwalker. Tristan is a visionary. Watch this space!”

We shall.

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