As you peruse a store’s aisles, you’ve probably come face to face with products from Aggie-led companies. If you’re familiar with Dr. Teal’s®, Cantu or bodycology products, for example, then you’ve encountered AB Brands, a health and beauty company established by Cindy ’90 and Chris McClain ’90.
The entrepreneurial couple established Dallas-based AB Brands (formerly Advanced Beauty Systems) in 2003 as a company dedicated to creating value by developing and marketing innovative products for better living.
Since its inception, AB Brands has been one of the fastest-growing health and beauty companies in the United States, developing and marketing a wide portfolio of products, including recognizable national brands such as Dr. Teal’s®, America’s #1 Epsom Salt Brand; bodycology, a fragrance bath and body product line; and Cantu, one of the top-selling African-American hair care brands.
A Match Made in Blocker
The McClains, who are both marketing majors, first met in a marketing class in the Blocker Building on Texas A&M’s campus. They became friends, eventually started dating, and married in 1992.
The two discovered a shared interest for consumer products through their courses at Texas A&M. “I had one class taught by a consumer packaging expert, and they had just done a package redesign for Minute Maid orange juice,” Chris said. “That class really sparked my interest and led me to go into consumer products as a career.”
Another huge influence for the couple was Texas A&M’s Center for Retailing Studies, which offers coursework, career management, internship and leadership activities for students interested in the retail industry.
“The center helped me get a job as a buyer at Walmart upon graduation,” Chris said. “The business skills that I picked up at Texas A&M and then Walmart really prepared us to create AB Brands. The center also introduced us to companies, executives, guest speakers and influential networks. This kind of outside and beyond the classroom education is critical, so we’re a big fan.”
Under the McClains’ leadership, AB Brands has developed and marketed a wide portfolio of leading national personal care brands. The McClains work largely with national chains, selling their products with Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Kroger, Amazon, Costco, Dollar General, Family Dollar and more with the goal of creating quality products at affordable price points.
A Platform to Create Value
With over 25 years of consumer product marketing and retail buying experience, Chris holds a deep understanding of consumers and the market. Cindy is instrumental in staffing integral roles at AB Brands and developing the company’s infrastructure. She previously worked with Johnson & Johnson and has 15 years of consumer product, category management and sales experience. With their combined education and experience, the couple propelled AB Brands to explosive growth.
“It’s about creating value. We’re in the ‘mass’ business,” Chris said. “If you can find a niche or unmet need that the consumer is looking for, and there’s not currently a solution that the consumer’s found, then you can create value and fill that need.”
The McClains challenge today’s business students to focus on creating value. “There’s two things you can do coming out of Texas A&M: One, you can learn how to work hard. You can graduate with an education and say, ‘Ok, I’m going to be the best worker at my company—the best attorney, the best doctor, the best farmer, etc. and become exceptional at the work,’” Chris said. “And when you leave Texas A&M, you should ask yourself, ‘How can I create value? How can I assemble a team and lead the charge to create real value in the marketplace?’ That’s different than being the best worker, and it requires an entrepreneurial mindset.”
Now, AB Brands is a platform for new brands and entrepreneurial efforts. Their focus remains on consumer research, finding the niche and knowing market trends. Today, AB Brands plans to diversify outside the personal care and beauty lines and venture into the pet care industry, along with other mass market consumer-based businesses.
Funding for the Future
In 2016, the McClains decided to thank the university and programs that led them to success in the form of an endowed gift to Mays Business School. Distributions from their endowment will be used at the dean’s discretion to support various programs in the school.
“We wanted to give back to enhance the business school and make it as great as it can be for future business students,” Cindy said. “We also wanted to give the dean, Dr. Jones, some leeway on what he wants to invest in.”
The McClains remain personally invested in Mays Business School, as two of their three sons, Andrew ’19 and Christian ’21, currently study finance and marketing, respectively, in the business honors program.