When a company makes a new kind of pimple cream, someone needs to put it on their pimples to see if it actually works. When they make a new kind of wrinkle cream, someone needs to put it on their face to see if it really makes them look 10 years younger. And when they create a new kind of deodorant, someone needs to put it on their armpits, sit in a hot room, and see if it makes them stink less.
Princeton Consumer Research, which opened a clinical testing site on College Road East in September, tests products on behalf of companies all over the world that need to be able to back up the bold print on their packaging with real-world clinical testing data. Most often, the products are already on the market, and the companies want to make a new marketing claim or validate an existing one.
The company, which has its European headquarters in Maldon, United Kingdom, recruited former IVF New Jersey Fertility Center marketing director Jane Tervooren to oversee the Princeton site as executive director and to lead business development in the U.S., Canada, and Brazil. About 20 people work at the site, which is equipped with a “hot room,” a hair salon, a dental study room, a facial imaging machine, and everything else needed to test out consumer products. The facility is currently 8,000 square feet, with another 2,800 planned that will include a second hot room.
“You would be surprised how many companies come to us to test what they claim on their packages,” Tervooren says. “In order for companies to make those claims, they need to test it out. I feel like the job that we’re doing here at Princeton Consumer Research is protecting the consumer. We are keeping the client honest; helping them make sure their claim is actually ethical and the product actually works as advertised.”
For example, a company might make a cosmetic product intended to reduce crow’s feet. The client would hire Princeton Consumer Research, which would in turn recruit test subjects from around the Princeton area to put the product on their faces for a period of weeks. Then they would examine their faces in an imaging machine, which can measure wrinkle depth and other features, to see if the product reduced the wrinkles by a significant amount. They would also use silfo — the same putty used for dental molds — to take casts of subjects’ faces and measure wrinkle depth that way. The exact testing protocol could be specified by the company, or it could be created by Princeton Consumer Research. “We pride ourselves on writing novel protocols,” Tervooren says.
PCR tests for safety as well as effectiveness. Volunteers are hired to have shampoo tested on their eyes, or wear patches infused with skin products on their backs for days on end. In the middle and at the end of the trial period, trained clinicians look at the spots where the patches were to grade the level of skin irritation, which can be anything from nothing to redness. Panelists are dropped from the study if too much irritation is observed.
In each case, 50 percent of the trial participants are in the “control” group, which uses an inert substance. This allows the researchers to compare the tested product against a baseline. The studies are “double blinded,” meaning neither the test subjects nor the evaluators know if the real or fake substance is being used.
A unique feature of the lab is its heat and humidity-controlled “hot room,” where subjects can be tested while wearing deodorant or antiperspirants. Deodorants are tested by smell test (see sidebar) and antiperspirants are tested by putting pads in the armpits of subjects and weighing how much sweat there is. Tervooren compared the hot room to a hot yoga studio, and it is normally heated to 100 degrees plus or minus two degrees during a test.
For their trouble, the test subjects are paid depending on the type of study, time required for the study — and can go from $50 to $1,500. The size of the studies varies depending on what the client wants, and can range from a few dozen to more than 100 volunteers. Tervooren says Princeton Consumer Research picked the Princeton area as a location because of the wide availability of a diverse array of potential test subjects.
“I know from having lived here for 26 years, it is a wonderfully diverse area, rich in ethnic diversity — exactly what a company like ours needs,” she says, noting that the site of the site is also close to many major players in the cosmetics industry and a wide array of physician consultants.
Barrie Drewitt, COO and senior research scientist for the company, splits his time between Princeton and Great Britain. He says there are some advantages to American test subjects over their British counterparts. “As a rule, the student population likes to go out and drink and stay out late, and they’re not really the kind of people we can trust to turn up for appointments,” he says. “But we do have a number of them, and they have turned out to be quite reliable. In America, there is a 21-year rule on drinking, whereas in Europe, drinking can start from age 16, though normally 18.”
Drewitt says Americans generally have better oral hygiene than British test subjects, which helps when studying toothpaste and breath freshening products. However, he noted that the ingredients of Italian-American food cause some test subjects to come in “reeking” of garlic and onion.
Drewitt says Princeton Consumer Research distinguishes itself from other companies in the field by its expertise. “Our company is big on quality. We’re not the cheapest company of our kind at all in the slightest — we’re actually quite expensive to work with. But we give good added value and a good quality of service,” he says. “We really work with our clients in partnership. We brainstorm with their scientists and their marketing people about what their goal is and how we can help them achieve that goal.”
Tervooren grew up in a suburb of Detroit called Huntington Woods, where her father was an executive for Robert Hall Clothes, and her mother was an artist. She majored in marketing and business at the University of Michigan, where she met Rudolf Tervooren, her future husband. The couple moved to Lawrenceville and established themselves in the business community.
“We came to live in Lawrenceville as a conscious decision,” Jane says. “We were married and we had young kids. We thought the area was perfect to raise a family, and we like the lifestyle. It felt lower key than Westchester County or Long Island.” The Tervoorens had three sons, and later divorced and remained close friends. The two younger sons, Matthew and Andrew, started a consumer loyalty platform called RePunch that launched in 2013 but later closed shop.(See U.S. 1, September 18, 2013.) Their oldest son Alex lives in New York Jane’s sister, Fay Sciarra, took after her artist mother and is co-owner of Umbrella Decor in Hopewell. Sciarra’s paintings and decorative items brighten up Tervooren’s office and the conference room at Princeton Consumer Research.
In the 1990s, Rudolf founded PrinVest, an asset-based lending company, (also now defunct) and went on to become the co-owner of the home health aide company Visiting Angels that covers Mercer and Burlington counties.
After staying home for several years to raise children, Jane started a company called Princeton Sports Marketing that raised money for causes using sporting events as a vehicle. Jane’s company raised money for ovarian cancer and breast cancer research as well as several other diseases.
Tervooren has had a close personal interest in cancer. Her mother, a breast cancer survivor, died of ovarian cancer at age 64.
Because her grandmother had also died of ovarian cancer, at age 53, Tervooren was at high risk of developing cancer herself and became one of the first people enrolled in the family risk assessment program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia in 1991. The program kept a close eye on Tervooren’s health.
Meanwhile, Tervooren got a job at the IVF New Jersey Fertility Center in Somerset. As marketing director, she traveled the world attending various health conferences.
In 2008, a suspicious mammogram showed signs of breast cancer. Jane decided to undergo a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy. She believes the procedure saved her life. “Because of the early detection, I’m super healthy, and I beat breast cancer at absolutely the earliest stage,” she says. Today Tervooren runs, power walks, bikes, skis, and enjoys almost any kind of outdoor activity.
Tervooren says surviving cancer is what led her to put a capstone on an 18-year career with IVF. “When you’re facing a challenge like cancer, it really puts things in perspective,” she says. “Stuff that used to be important to me in my 30s and 40s no longer seemed important. It changed my outlook on life in a good way. I felt like I needed a change.”
Tervooren says she was traveling in London when she met the founders of U.K.-based Aspen Consumer Research, which was looking to open an American location. Aspen had been in the consumer testing business for 10 years and had been steadily building business.
“In the last five years we’d seen an increase in our sales, and we had the potential to get more work in America if we had a testing site there,” Drewitt says.
The cosmetics industry has been turning more and more to clinical trials to prove its advertising claims, according to the trade publication, In Cosmetics. Companies like Lancome, Estee Lauder, and Olay are eager to print “clinically proven” on their packaging in order to give scientific credibility to their beautifying effects.
At the same time, the U.S. government has fired warning shots at cosmetics companies whose “clinical” claims were less than watertight or based on shoddy studies. In June L’Oreal settled a lawsuit by the FTC over its claim that its skin care products provided anti-aging benefits by targeting users’ genes.
With demand for better clinical testing by American cosmetics companies increasing, Aspen decided to open its North American facility. But the company had yet to decide on an American location, and asked Tervooren where she thought they should locate. At Tervooren’s recommendation, they decided on Princeton, and the company globally changed its name to Princeton Consumer Research.
The differing work cultures between the USA and Britain play out at PCR, where a British upper management supervises an American staff. “I have noticed a few differences in culture,” Tervooren says. “But it’s nice, because they complement each other. We here in America are always tied to our cell phones and our laptops. Typical of our American work ethic, we are on the job all the time, which may not be a good thing. The British staff are very hard working, but it’s a little bit different in terms of intensity. My English colleagues have a really healthy family-work balance, and I think it’s really nice to work for people who respect that. We have an outstanding friendship.”
Tervooren says running lab testing operations is “an exciting learning curve” but that she has the chance to use her management, marketing, and business development skills, especially to recruit product testing panelists to test skincare and beauty products, sunscreens, hair care items, diapers, and facial cleansers.
Tervooren says she is not allowed to reveal the names of companies Princeton Consumer Research is working with. One of its current projects is to study whether a type of metal being used by a large jewelry company causes any skin irritation.
Tervooren says she is looking for recruits for that, and many other studies. “We are looking for panelists from every walk of life,” she says. “It’s fun to be exposed to the newest and greatest things that are out there in the marketplace.”
Almost any healthy person is eligible to become a panelist. The tests come in two varieties: clinical trials, which require a visit to the testing facility, and home use trial, which asks participants to use the product and provide feedback on an online survey. In each case, participants get paid and receive free product samples.
For more information on becoming a panelists, visit www.princetonconsumer.com.
Tervooren says her late career job switch has worked out great so far. “It’s never too late to re-invent yourself,” she says. “And I think it goes back to the breast cancer experience I had. Don’t settle if you’re unhappy in a relationship or a job. Have the guts to make a change. If you are stuck, it’s because you feel stuck. People have options.”
Princeton Consumer Research, 307 College Road East, Princeton; 609-455-1112; www.princetonconsumer.com.