How has the Private Brand business changed since the 1950’s?

In this edition of the online video magazine PLMALive! PLMA president Brian Sharoff talks Don Spellman, who remembers a time when a handshake between buyer and seller meant something. Watch the interview.

In 2009 Mr. Spellman was induct into the Private Label Hall of Fame. This article from the trade publication Private Label Magazine tells his story.

Don Spellman is one of the founding members of the Private Label Manufacturers Association. He participated in the special meeting of industry representatives held at the Chemist Club in New York City on October 23, 1979, to form PLMA.

He served as the 2nd vice chairman of PLMA’s first board of directors that held its first annual meeting in St. Louis at the Marriott Hotel, March 27-28, 1980.

Career Path
Spellman began his career in private label manufacturing in 1952 when he joined the Eppens, Smith Co. one of the largest private label coffee and tea packers on the East Coast and based in Secaucus, NJ. ( Eppens, Smith at the time also owned the Holland House brand.) The company was founded in 1855.
He served as the company’s sales manager, and then served as the firm’s advertising and marketing director. Eventually, he worked his way up to become vice president of sales and marketing for Eppens, Smith. Through his position, Spellman dealt with coffee buyers for all the leading East Coast supermarket chains at the time—from Maine to Florida.

In 1966, Spellman joined the J.L. Prescott Co., a private label manufacturer of household and laundry cleaning products. The firm was based in Passaic, NJ.

Spellman served the company as its vice president of sales and marketing until 1986. By the time he left the company, Spellman had helped to build the private label manufacturer into a $150 million business. When he joined Prescott in 1966, it was a $10 million enterprise. During Spellman’s service, Prescott became the largest family-owned, private label laundry chemical producer in the U.S.

Spellman helped the company to expand to the West Coast and become a national private label supplier in 1977 when the company obtained a licensing agreement from Procter & Gamble to produce private label fabric softener sheets for dryers.

After leaving Prescott, Spellman served as an industry consultant and also worked for a variety of private label and national brand manufacturing companies including a stint as director of private label for the Melita Coffee Co. where he helped to market the company’s line of private label coffee filters.

In 1999, Spellman joined the staff of PLMA as director of industry relations until his retirement in early 2009.

From the outset of his career in private label, Spellman embraced the philosophy that the quality of private label products that he helped to sell had to be as good as or better than the national brands.
“In the coffee business, we were a top-to-bottom, turn-key operation from the importation of raw coffee from South America, to roasting of the coffee, grinding and packing of the product,” recalls Spellman. “This total control over the supply chain helped us build trust and confidence in our product among retail buyers because they knew that only one organization was involved in the entire production process, without any middlemen involved.”

PLMA Start-Up
It was during his service at Prescott that Spellman helped to form the Private Label Manufacturers Association in 1979 in New York City.

After serving as the second vice chairman of PLMA in 1980, Spellman became chairman of PLMA in 1983.

Spellman points out that the biggest change that has occurred during his career has been the increase in consumer confidence in private label products due to the increase in product quality over the years.

He credits Brian Sharoff and his leadership role at PLMA for the growth of private label since he became president in 1981. Spellman helped to recruit Sharoff to take over the helm of PLMA. From only 56 table-top exhibits at the first PLMA Show held in 1980 at the Ramada O’Hare Inn, in Chicago, the annual trade show — which moved to the Rosemont Convention Center in 1983 – has grown to include almost 2,000 exhibits that annually attracts more than 5,000 visitors.

As Spellman sees its, the creation of the annual PLMA Trade Show heralded in new growth opportunities for private label manufacturers.

“It has given the opportunity for private label manufacturers from different parts of the country to meet with retailers that are not located in their immediate trading areas,” points out Spellman. “Thus, a West Coast supplier could meet with a East Coast retailer and offer him private label products not available in his region.

This opened up new retail markets for PL manufacturers outside of their traditional trading areas.”

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.