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Posted on January 17, 2006
Section: News 
Page: D4


After 50 years, product gets a new look


For more than 50 years, Pretty Feet & Hands - in its square bottle with blue lettering - had looked pretty much the same.

But B.F. Ascher and Co. Inc., which bought the exfoliant from another company in 1994, knew a change was needed to make the product's packaging more attractive and functional.

"In this business, you either evolve or die," said Chris B. Ascher, executive vice president of marketing and sales for the Lenexa company.

B.F. Ascher itself is no stranger to change. The company was founded as a manufacturer of prescription drugs by Bordner Frederick Ascher in 1949. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the focus was redirected to over-the-counter products.

Since then, the company has purchased several products to bring its over-the-counter line to 22, accounting for 90 percent of sales. These products - including the company's top-selling AYR Saline line - are sold across the country and in Puerto Rico.

What hasn't changed is the name behind the products. The company is owned by the founder's son, James Ascher Sr., who runs the business with his two sons, James Ascher Jr. and Chris Ascher.

With the new products has come sales growth, but the Aschers would only say company sales are between $15 million and $25 million.

B.F. Ascher employs approximately 50 people at its 30,000-square-foot warehouse, office and testing facility in Lenexa. Products are manufactured elsewhere.

As for Pretty Feet & Hands, the product was the latest of several Ascher products to get the redesign treatment. Recent repackagings included Benzedrex, Hold cough drops, Ornex antihistamine, Congestec, and Allergy Relief Medicine, known as ARM.

The process is extensive - and expensive.

With Pretty Feet & Hands - which was known simply as Pretty Hands when it was created more than 50 years ago - the company conducted four consumer focus groups and considered 16 bottle designs.

After deciding on a sleek design with an easier grip, B.F. Ascher launched a marketing campaign by engaging customers in Texas, one of the product's strongest sales areas, in an essay contest. Women submitted pictures of their feet with an essay for a chance to win a week at a spa and to have their feet featured in upcoming advertisements. The company also offered coupons and free samples on its Web site.

The company estimated that the new package mold alone cost $100,000 to produce. And Ascher had to temporarily double its inventory while selling the old packages and ordering the new.

"We hope to re-create brand loyalty and tap into new generations," said James J. Ascher Sr., chairman, who describes Pretty Feet & Hands as an excellent product "your grandmother may have used."

Pretty Feet & Hands accounts for about 8 percent of sales, and Ascher said the company hopes to see sales double with the repackaging.

Almost immediately after the new packages started shipping in October, sales were up a little over 10 percent, the company said.

Bill Richmond, owner of Bruce Smith Drugs in Prairie Village, has done business with B.F. Ascher since 1949.

"Packaging is very important. It has to continue to look different than any other product on the shelf," said Richmond. "I think Ascher is very good at doing that."

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