Cosmolab poised for more growth

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

One of the newest companies in Lewisburg is also one of the oldest, and is poised ready to grow over the next few years.

The company is Cosmolab, only seven months old in its current form, but firmly rooted in its 101-year-old heritage that began with the Red Cedar Pencil Company.

In the 1930s, a customer asked Red Cedar to make an eyebrow pencil, and a cosmetic pencil industry was born in Lewisburg. By the late 1960s, the company was entirely a manufacturer of cosmetic pencils. In the Seventies, the name became Cosmolab and the factory moved from downtown Lewisburg into the building on Garrett Parkway in the new industrial zone.

A year ago, Cosmolab came under the protection of a bankruptcy court and rumors that it would close down completely were flying around Marshall County. However, the company was acquired by Schwan-Stabilo, a leading private-label manufacturer of cosmetic pencils worldwide, headquartered in Germany.

Since March when the business was sold, things have moved rapidly. Holli Montgomery moved into the corner office as managing director, overseeing most of the same management team that she knew from when she worked there before. Montgomery was president of Cosmolab from 1999 to 2006, brought in from Chicago by the then-parent company Newell-Rubbermaid. When the Cosmolab changed hands in '06, Montgomery and her new bosses "agreed to disagree" and she left. Now she's excited to be back.

"It's really, really nice," she said. "It's wonderful. It's a good industry; a fun industry."

Montgomery calls her employees "the greatest asset of this company. The people are knowledgeable and good at what they do." Currently, about 250 people are working five days a week in two shifts, with a third shift for one of the lines.

Cosmolab is unique in that it's a full-service "color cosmetics" company. In other words, Cosmolab employees sell, market, research, develop, and manufacture makeup for eyes and lips. It is the largest contract manufacturer of cosmetic pencils in the United States. Right now, Montgomery says cosmetics for eyes are the strongest, while lip products are declining somewhat, but the cosmetics industry in general is pretty healthy, and more recession-proof than most. That's why she thinks Cosmolab will grow in the next few years.

The connection with new owner Schwan-Stabilo should give Cosmolab access to a more global view of the color cosmetics business.

Cosmolab's research and development personnel are constantly working with new raw materials to create "on-trend" products that are then offered to customers. If a customer comes to them with an idea, the R & D people can work with the customer to develop the product. The customer's input determines everything about the final product, from color and texture to presentation and packaging.

"It's fun to be part of the momentum of fashion," Montgomery says, and this is another area where Cosmolab excels. Employees here can do short runs of a product that a customer wants to test on the market, or needs for a quick response to a new color trend.

Visitors to the factory sign a confidentiality agreement, and no photographs are permitted because, as Montgomery says, "All of our products belong to our customers." Walking through the plant, everything seems peaceful and well ordered, with employees expertly going through the painstaking steps that lie between weighing and mixing the basic ingredients to packaging and boxing the finished products. In one area, they are filling tubes and bottles with hair-care products. Acknowledging Cosmolab makes cosmetics for eyes and lips, Montgomery explained this is "not our strategy," just something the business is doing for a good customer.