Steve Heroux ’91 Builds a Product Empire
While other consumer product companies duke it out with Droids and iPhones, Hampton Direct, the company responsible for the “As Seen on TV” products, is sticking with the basics.
“We sell a lot of problem-solvers, time-savers and money-savers,” says Steve Heroux ’91, Hampton Direct CEO and founder.
Under Heroux’s guidance, Hampton Direct (www.hamptondirect.com) concentrates on designing and selling simple household products, such as the Wonder Hanger, which reduces closet clutter by vertically staggering garments, and the Twin Draft Guard, a fitted under-door tube that reduces draft and cuts energy costs. These are two of more than 500 items that Hampton Direct markets, and they’re selling extremely well: Hampton Direct tripled its 2009 sales from 2008.
Products deemed to have the greatest selling potential will appear on TV advertisements and end up with an “As Seen on TV” label in stores, while some products appear solely in catalogs or retail outlets without TV ads. The Wonder Hanger and the Twin Draft Guard are both “As Seen on TV” products.
“I spend a good chunk of my time looking at new products and ideas,” Heroux says of his day-to-day schedule. “I spend a lot of time with the design team and I spend a lot of time with sales, making decisions on what we want to bring to market.” Heroux’s main focus is making the call on the next product to appear on TV.
Hampton Direct invents many products in-house but also buys products from enterprising inventors. “There are a lot of people out there with good ideas,” he says. “We’re trying to close that gap, so someone has an idea, they bring it to us and we have the capabilities to develop the item.”
A native of Montréal, Heroux majored in political science at the College. “I think the school in many ways got me involved with international business,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of people who are from Columbia who are living all over the world.”
This focus has served Heroux well. Hampton Direct does more business internationally than it does domestically, a significant shift from when he founded the company in 1995. “Because we can sell more products outside of the United States, you’re looking at a product like a Wonder Hanger. Almost everywhere has closets, so that product applies to a lot of different places. We’re thinking more globally than we were 14 years ago.”
Heroux is accomplishing all of this from cozy Williston, Vt., where Hampton Direct is headquartered. He and his family live a few miles up the road in South Burlington. Living in Vermont is not a hindrance to getting business done, Heroux notes. “Burlington is not exactly New York City, but with the Internet, FedEx and cell phones, we can pretty much accomplish anything we want.”
Heroux met his wife, Jennifer, while he was at the College and she was attending the Manhat- tan School of Music. They have two children, Helena, 7, and Steve Jr., 5. Despite his demanding business life, Heroux makes time for family. “I try to get home to see the kids at night, and I catch up on weekends,” he says. “Burlington has a lot to offer for family. There’s a ton of sports, and in the winter there’s skiing and sledding.”
Perhaps Heroux learned the art of such balance early. Not only did he graduate from the College a semester ahead of schedule but he also was an active member of Sigma Nu and played on the tennis team. “He ranked fifth in Canada juniors,” Prem Parameswaran ’90 GS, ’95 Business, a fellow Sigma Nu brother, says of Heroux’s high school tennis days. “He decided at some point to focus more on business, although I’d probably say he had more raw talent than many players who went on [to play professionally].
“He was always a go-getter,” Parameswaran adds. “He always wanted the best.”
After graduation, Heroux spent formative time working in sales at Sheffield Labs (now Sheffield Pharmaceuticals) a company that invented, among other things, modern toothpaste. “Obviously something’s wrong with their marketing because no one’s heard of them,” he notes dryly. “They did a lot of private label and contract packaging. I worked there and from there I started Hampton Direct.”
While Heroux talks with an easy calm, he’s intensely passionate about his work. “It’s very satisfying when you come up with an idea … [and] consumers start buying it in the millions and telling you that you’ve had a really good idea,” he says. “Knowing that whatever I’m working on could be the next big thing really gets me pumping.”
So what’s a product on the horizon that he’s excited about? “We have a new pillow,” he says without missing a beat. “It’s very versatile — it turns into many shapes. You can put it around your neck, your back, your legs.
“There are always things in the works. To make a big item, the odds of success are one out of 10, one out of 15 … we have to kind of weed through,” Heroux muses. “But you never know what’s going to hit.”
Jesse Thiessen ’11 Arts