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Business Rx: He wants to reach more customers for his athletic equipment deodorizer

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Monday, January 24, 2011

The entrepreneur

Stephen Steinberg, a lifelong hockey player, knew all too well the unpleasant odors that often accompany sports equipment. In 2007, the Arlington resident decided to create his own product to neutralize the odor on his hockey pads after realizing that no environmentally friendly sports spray existed. Since then, he's made it his mission to fill the void in the market.

The pitch

Steinberg

"Raw Athletics is the maker of Vapor Fresh, a sports equipment cleaning and deodorizing spray made from all-natural active ingredients. The product is used by professional and collegiate football, hockey and lacrosse teams and is sold online and in retail stores nationwide. We are in a unique position because we are the first manufacturer of all-natural sports equipment cleaners, positioning us in two fast-growing markets: sports products and all-natural products.

"Sales have picked up in the past three months and I've tried a few marketing campaigns in my spare time -- I do my Raw Athletics work after I get home from a full-time job -- including a postcard mailer that yielded a great response.

"We are about to launch a second product, a laundry detergent specifically for jerseys, athletic undergarments and workout apparel.

"I'm struggling with setting goals for the growth of Raw Athletics. Do you have any advice about a good goal-setting method for my company? I was also wondering about how to reach more customers. In the long run, I'd like to sell Vapor Fresh in retail stores to individual consumers, in addition to selling in bulk to teams around the nation. For example, I recently have been concentrating my efforts on hockey teams in college, minor leagues and the NHL and that's been going well. How would you recommend I reach consumers, like the soccer and hockey moms who are tired of their kids' smelly equipment?"

The advice

Asher Epstein, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

"It would be helpful for you to make a goal based on your current market opportunities. So, take a look at how many schools you're selling to and the specific characteristics of these schools. Then find other schools that share the same characteristics and develop a plan to market Vapor Fresh to teams at those institutions.

"Focus your time, making sure every incremental hour is well-used. From a goals perspective, figure out how many hours it takes to sell to a potential customer, because your time is your best asset and is extremely limited. If you have a good product and good testimonials, you should be able to improve your 'close' rate on sales, something that will improve with each sale. Your specific sales goals should be based on the time you put in and the efficiency of your time.

"As far as your consumer model goes, don't spend your limited time going after the hockey pro shops at this point because you'll never reach the volume you need. A national retailer could work really well for Vapor Fresh, but with a national deal you'd also need to figure out how to market your product to multiple consumers versus a single buyer for an entire team. One bottle of Vapor Fresh will last a team a short period of time, but could last an individual consumer for months. You're getting a much better bang for the buck on your sales efforts when you spend time going after national deals or entire teams."

The reaction

Steinberg

"You've given me a lot to think about. I think a national retailer would be great for the product and I've been pursuing that. And as far as selling to individual consumers, we make a 16-ounce bottle of Vapor Fresh that would only last about two months -- a smaller size than we offer to teams. I'll have to figure out if it is worth my time right now to market to consumers.

"I agree with you that my time is my most valuable asset and that I need to use it well. Last summer I was able to attend a trade show geared toward equipment managers and I made a lot of good contacts there. It was an efficient use of my time and a great way to network. I need to look for more opportunities like this in the future where I can spread the word to many people quickly. That will help grow my company."

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help 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 at capbiznews@washpost.com.


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