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Industry Mourns Robert R. Taylor of Minnetonka Corp.

September 27, 2013

Entrepreneur Robert R. Taylor, creator of consumer products and founder of several companies including Minnetonka Corporation, died Aug. 29, 2013, in Newport Beach, CA, after a long battle with cancer. He was 77.

Throughout his long business career, Taylor started and successfully sold 14 different consumer product businesses. Taylor started his first company, Village Bath Products, when he was 28 with a $3,000 investment. His first product was old-fashioned hand-rolled soap wrapped in cloth. Trained as a salesman for Johnson & Johnson, he called on 25 soap manufacturers, all of whom turned him down. Undeterred, he matched the soap colors to a leading towel manufacturer and received his first orders from department store bath departments and gift shops. Eventually renamed Minnetonka Corporation, the company became a $200 million, publicly held manufacturer of gift soaps, bath oils, shampoos and candles through continued product innovation and savvy marketing.

Taylor has been credited with numerous marketing concepts, including the first liquid hand soap with a pump, SoftSoap, after pondering how messy a bar of soap became sitting in a soap dish in his home. Because he knew the product would likely be copied in the highly competitive hand soap market dominated by large players, he bought out a full year of pump manufacturers’ inventory to stave off competition—a huge gamble that paid off. As recently as May 2013, Inc. termed it as one of the “top three shrewdest business moves.”

In addition to SoftSoap, Taylor is credited with introducing the first anti-plaque toothpaste delivered with a pump, Check-Up; the first fruit-fragranced shampoos; and the development of the home fragrance phenomenon under the name of Claire Burke, a small maker of potpourri he acquired and developed.

In 1980, Minnetonka Corp. acquired Calvin Klein Cosmetics. He and his team developed the Obsession fragrance with the industry’s largest and most provocative ad campaign at the time.

In 1987, Minnetonka Corp.’s Village Bath and SoftSoap brands were acquired by Colgate-Palmolive. In 1989 Unilever acquired the rest of Minnetonka Corp. for $376 million, keeping the Calvin Klein fragrance lines and selling the rest of the Minnetonka line to the Japanese company Tsumura. His next venture was to team up with Graham Webb, one of London’s leading hair stylists and educators, to launch Graham Webb International, a line of professional beauty care products for high-end salons. The company was sold in 2001 to Wella AG.

A celebration of Taylor’s life will be held Nov. 24, 2013 in Indian Wells, CA.