Slatkin & Co.’s Harry Slatkin on staying entrepreneurial while building billion-dollar brands

When Harry Slatkin and his wife, Laura, built Slatkin & Co., they disrupted the fragrance industry by making home fragrances accessible to a wider demographic.

Slatkin sold Slatkin & Co. to Limited Brands, which owns Bath & Body Works, in 2005. But he kept his role as executive chairman and president of the company, and eventually took over the entire home fragrance division. After growing the business to $1.3 billion, Slatkin stepped down from his role in 2012. Today, the company does $2.3 billion in home fragrance sales, according to Slatkin.

“When I started, I was entrepreneurial at Limited Brands. [Lex Wexner] let me set up offices in New York, and I had my own team,” Slatkin said on the latest episode of the Glossy Beauty Podcast. “As soon as we started hitting $400 million and $500 million [in sales], I was becoming a part of these big teams, and the entrepreneur and the excitement of it starts to leave. … It was no longer what I could call hands-on, for me. I decided, after getting to a billion dollars [in revenue], that it was time for me to step down.”

Slatkin consulted for Bath & Body Works for three years after selling his company, but at the same time, he pivoted into fashion through a partnership with Tommy Hilfiger. The duo went on to acquire apparel brand Belstaff in 2011.

Slatkin is now focused on growing the company’s distribution for its current offerings, with plans to expand to more categories in the near future.

Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Finding your footing as a founder
“I’ve never listened to what people say, negative or positive, because I have to feel it for myself. Listen to yourself. … I always look at the world happy, not negatively. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you better start there, because there are a lot of negatives that will come along as an entrepreneur. Failure is my second best friend that I’ve had in my career. Luckily, I had failure earlier on: My first company failed. Any great person I’ve ever met, like my best friend Tommy Hilfiger — guess what? His first company went bankrupt. You learn from those failures. You look at it, and you say to yourself, ‘What did I do wrong?’ Even now, I sit there and I say to myself, ‘Why did that candle not sell? Why did that collection not sell well?’ But I snap out of it quickly and go on forward. Have a cup half full, not a cup half empty.”

Making luxury accessible 
“What I was able to learn when I went into masstige, after I sold my company, was economies of scale and the way it allows you to do a lot more. … For example, when you’re dealing with a fragrance house and you’re doing small business, [manufacturers] have to charge you a lot. It takes a lot of time to get those oils and put them together. When I’m doing it on an economy size, the same effort and paperwork and production get done in a bigger way, so I get better prices. The same goes for lids, glass and boxes. Instead of having to set up [production of] 300 candles, I can now set it up for 3,000 candles or 30,000. The labor allows you to get to economies of scale on pricing … and the quality is still there.”