Michael Hughes has had a long, interesting journey to Idaho Falls.
For the past two decades Hughes has worked his way up the ladder in the business world, holding executive positions for international companies such as Proctor and Gamble and CoverGirl. It’s a journey that began in his native home Dublin, Ireland, and has since taken him to key positions in Boston, Cincinnati, and Iowa, since moving to the United States 14 years ago.
But Idaho Falls is a vastly different environment for Hughes, and it’s one he is embracing.
“I had never been to Idaho before, and I thought of it as an opportunity to see other parts of the U.S.,” he said. “I got to come out, take a look, meet some of the people here, and was very intrigued.”
In August, Hughes was named CEO of Northwest Cosmetic Labs, one of the city’s largest employers boasting nearly 400 full-time employees with an 250 additional supplemental employees (temps who work during peak production).
Northwest Cosmetic Labs develops and manufactures cosmetic and beauty products for major brands.
Doug Rooney, described on the Northwest Cosmetic Labs website as “a talented cosmetic chemist,” and Gary Voigt, a local real estate developer, founded the company in 1995 in a 5,000-square-foot building in Idaho Falls. Today, the company operates out of a 178,000-square-foot, 9.87-acre complex at 200 Technology Drive, where it develops and manufactures thousands of products per year, including 2,000 new products in 2017.
The company has seen exponential growth, Hughes said, with its most recent expansion occurring in 2016.
Northwest Cosmetic Labs began with four employees. In 1997, it boasted 14 employees, which grew to 45 in 2002, and then to 150 in 2013.
The company added 30 employees in the past year, and Hughes believes this trend will continue.
“We had 374 full-time employees at a peak last year,” Hughes said. “This year, we’re looking at 425 to 430.”
Salaries at Northwest Cosmetic Labs range from $50,000 to $100,000 for 50 to 55 non-executive, or technical, positions. Wages for most hourly employees range from $10 to $20 per hour.
“We try to change the concept that you’re not just coming here for a job, you’re coming here for a career,” Hughes said. “That’s shifted the mindset of some employees, having them think ‘here’s how I can get on different shifts,’ or ‘here’s how I can get in different roles.’”
Wendy Lees, vice president of research and technology at Northwest Cosmetic Labs, has been with the company for nearly 16 years.
Starting out as a quality manager in 2002, Lees has earned three promotions during her time with the company.
“The first opportunity to visit the facility was an extremely pleasant and optimistic experience,” Lees said. “It was a great opportunity, and a newer company at the time. So there was a lot of opportunity for growth.”
Lees describes the culture in the Northwest Cosmetic Labs’ office as “dynamic,” with an open-door policy for employees to access all executives and supervisors.
“We get along well with one another, and there’s not the hierarchy and politics you might see in other companies,” she said. “It’s a breath of fresh air, and we’ve tried to continue to instill that type of environment as we’ve grown as a company as well.”
Northwest Cosmetic Labs officials plan to continue expanding without abandoning the company’s roots.
“Within the next year, we’re looking at a growth of 20 to 25 percent in Idaho,” Hughes said. “Over the next five years, we’re looking to be two to three times bigger than we are now. Two to three times more employees, and we want to keep growing.”
Battling in a competitive market
Northwest Cosmetic Labs has a unique niche in the cosmetics industry. It develops and produces beauty products that are distributed through various brands nationwide.
“We manufacture for the big brands,” Hughes said. “So if you go into a Sephora or higher-end site online, or with a multi-level marketing company, we’re there.”
Innovation has been key to maintaining the company’s success and growth, and keeping ahead of its competition.
“It’s one the things we’re pretty famous for in the industry,” Hughes said. “If companies want to create a new skin care product, sunscreen, body lotion, or whatever else, they will come here. They’ll come with an idea, what market they’re targeting, and our formulators will go and invent this.”
But Northwest Cosmetic Labs is not the only company fighting for marketshare. Hundreds of other cosmetics manufacturers are spread throughout the country, so it is a continuous fight for Hughes to continue promoting his company’s brand.
“It has been crazy competitive,” he said. “If you look at the cosmetic magazines and online, the rate and pace of new products and customers getting into this business is exponential.”
Hughes compares this growth to the recent rise in the craft beer industry.
“A few years ago you could walk into a bar and there would only be Bud, Coors,” he said. “Today, there is a myriad of options from the craft breweries. All of these specialized, niche, local products, and all that kind of stuff. And they’ve kind of chipped away from the big companies.
“The same thing is happening in beauty, and that’s the kind of companies we serve. These new, creative, companies. And that’s been the fuel for our growth.”
Impact on eastern Idaho
Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), is in awe of Northwest Cosmetic Labs’ success, and believes its growth could draw more unique businesses to eastern Idaho.
“At the end of the day, it provides a really good mix when you look at the manufacturing in our region,” she said. “Having a high-end cosmetic company here adds some diversity to our manufacturing base. It’s critically important they’re here.”
REDI worked with Northwest Cosmetic Labs to help promote its most recent expansion, which Rogers said has provided a boost to the local job market.
“We need jobs of all levels in this region,” Rogers said. “And the one thing about Northwest Cosmetic Labs is that it allows a lot of entry level positions so people can get started, and a lot of opportunities for people to advance.”
Hughes said 70 percent of products produced by the company were formulated in its Idaho Falls lab, and 90 to 95 percent of employees working for the company come from eastern Idaho.
This continues to be a point of pride for the company, and it’s what keeps it grounded in the region.
“We’ve built up 20 years of experience here,” Hughes said. “Several of our employees are in the high teens in the number of years they’ve been here. Also, the chemists we have in the research lab have built up a very good reputation. So relocating and potentially walking away from all that talent would be detrimental.
“Our people are our greatest asset.”
And its employees continue to believe in the company’s mission.
“Unless they decide to get rid of me, I hope to end my career here,” Lees said.
Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.