Business Rx: Should she try to broaden market, or focus on the market that's already there?

Monday, May 10, 2010; 36

The business world can be a battlefield. How can you get combat ready to win?

The Entrepreneur:

Sara Damelio became intrigued with natural beauty products about 10 years ago. At the time, she worked part time at a luxury beauty boutique, but found that the synthetic ingredients in skin care products she brought home irritated her skin. She decided to go into the beauty business full time and went to school to become an esthetician. She also started experimenting with her own products, eventually mixing up a batch of natural, organic skin cream that proved a cure-all for combating everything from dry skin and bug bites to eczema. She called her cream Skincando Combat-Ready Balm and began selling it to rave reviews from customers. In 2005, her skin cream made its way to a soldier serving in Iraq, who found it incredibly effective for treating sunburn, dry skin and sand-flea bites in the harsh desert environment. Damelio started donating care packages of her products (which also include lip balm and soap) to troops, who couldn't get enough of it. In 2008, she launched a nonprofit for customers to purchase and donate her products, which she sends to deployed military personnel free of charge. Her small company has achieved success so far and attracted publicity for the work with the troops, but Damelio wants to catapult her brand to the next level.

The Pitch:

Damelio

"Combat-Ready Balm is an organic/green product with a great story and eye-catching packaging. It has been used by soldiers in war, and now it is here to help you with life's everyday skin battles. I hope to continue expanding Skincando to continue the initial mission -- creating quality, organic and locally-produced products that I believe in."

Right now, Damelio is making small batches of her products by hand in her Silver Spring office. Skincando products are available on the company's Web site and at about 50 boutiques nationwide. Damelio is ready to scale up. She's moving out of the kitchen and turning over the production of her skin care line to focus on selling it and expanding her market.

Damelio

"How do you shift from being a successful small, women-owned business to a national/international success? How do you get more exposure and distribution on a large scale?"

The Feedback:

Asher Epstein, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

"My advice: Embrace 'Combat-Ready' in a much stronger and more focused way. Brand authenticity in today's marketplace is irreplaceable, and the fact that this is tested in combat and you're supplying and helping people donate to the troops really resonates. Market Combat-Ready Balm as the one product that a soldier can't do without. And play to consumers with emotional appeal. Tell your story on your packaging and highlight that your product is all-natural and organic. Personalize it to the military.

"To scale up, don't think about the Targets of the world -- everybody thinks about those retailers. You've got a core following in the military market, and what's nice about that is there's not really anyone else focused on beauty care products for the military.

"For growth, set a specific and aggressive sales target and break that down into the number of units you need to sell. Then figure out what channels you need to pursue. Focus on getting your product to distribution to military personnel. Try to get your products distributed through the PX system at military bases. Or perhaps this can be something that is included in very small sizes in MREs for soldiers. Figure out if there is a way you can leverage existing distribution channels to get your product in front of more soldiers. You're really not trying to get 5 percent of the total skin care market; you're trying to get 95 percent of the military market."

Reaction:

Damelio

"It is the military messaging that is resonating -- I keep getting pulled back to that, so it does make sense to hone in and focus on that market. I'm actually up for a rebrand right now. These are excellent suggestions, as this is a crucial time for me as I move out of the production and face a rebranding and a market refocusing."

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need held fixing an existing one? Capital Business and the experts at the University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us as capbiznews@washpost.com.

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