Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
We are Beach Gladiator, and our names are George and Mike. We developed a solution for chafing (you know, chub rub?) that is targeted for the beachgoers and the beach market. What we started a few years ago as a small regional business has now grown into a national brand.
Beach Gladiator is a roll-on “rash guard” that helps protect common rubbing areas from becoming irritated. Chafing often causes a painful rash. When applied, Beach Gladiator creates a slick protective barrier that shields the skin from rubbing and friction. It’s great for those who surf or swim, but it’s also for walking, running, biking and playing in the beach elements. No more Spandex under your clothing to keep from chafing and rashing – this is a rash guard in a bottle!
The coolest thing about beach Gladiator is that it was started by just the 2 of us and we still have control over what we want the brand to be. The greatest influence on the product was and continues to be our kids, who were our first customers. We knew that if it worked for them, we would be proud to offer this product to the rest of the world.
We continue to keep our kids as our main focus and bring them with us to events and even on sales calls. Thankfully, most of our “business” trips are to a beach somewhere. We often are asked, “does this stuff really work?” Well, you are talking to the creators, and we made it for our own kids. It better work!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When we were kids, we both would vacation with our families at the beach. And we both suffered from the same issue: chafing.
When we would run around the beach all day in wet shorts, we would develop a rash between the legs. It would be bad enough to cause the “cowboy walk”. This is a walk that looks silly because you are trying to hold your legs apart. The chafing (I used to call it the rub-raw) would be severe enough to last for days and put a stop to most activity for those days. There wasn’t a cure for it. We tried Vaseline and other things, but it only provided temporary relief.
The coolest thing about beach Gladiator is that it was started by just the 2 of us and we still have control over what we want the brand to be. The greatest influence on the product was and continues to be our kids, who were our first customers.
Fast forward: We’re still going to the beach, but now our kids have the same issues! Dang! We needed a solution. So, George tried something. He was using a little-known product designed to reduce chafing for runners, hikers, and triathletes. He applied it to his kids, and voila! It seemed to work. Well, at least better than anything else. We decided that we could create something like it, but better. It needed to be more effective and geared for the beach. After a year of research and experimentation, we had it – the best solution that prevented chafing and also healed the skin by utilizing natural healing elements.
We kicked around the idea of how we could introduce a product to the beach and surf market. We approached a few local surf shops in Ocean City, New Jersey. The feedback from customers was excellent, and the sales grew quickly. We knew at that point that we had a scalable product.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
Design & logo
The process for the logo and design was fun. Taking a vision you have in your head and seeing it come to life was a gratifying journey. We wanted the brand to have a fun, carefree feel to it. We decided to use a gladiator because they have shields that protect. Our gladiator protects the skin! We thought that a cartoon gladiator would be recognizable, relatable, and fun. So with the help of an artist, we had him drawn up as a modern-day surf gladiator with board shorts, flip-flops, and sunglasses.
Finding a supplier
Finding the right supplier was a process. We did need to pivot along the way. We were starting from scratch, so we approached several different companies that we thought could produce our formula. Not only did we need someone willing to work with us, they also had to be able to help design the product, produce it, and bottle it all within the cost parameters we required. We eventually ended up with a sunscreen manufacturer that was willing to do private label manufacturing for us.
We also needed to engineer a specific formula that we could call our own, and neither of us are chemists. So we spent some time researching ingredients that have been known to aid in skin protection and skin healing.
With the help of our supplier, we were able to source and test these ingredients in different quantities until we found the best formula. Additionally, viscosity (thickness) of our main ingredient was crucial. Too thick or too thin, and it’s not as effective. This required some experimentation as well.
Finally, the packaging was critical. It is very difficult to convey the facts about the product on such a small area (the 1.5 oz roll-on bottle).
You have just a second of time to grab the customer’s attention, so it is very important that the product stands out and can “speak” to the customer. Our point of purchase display was just as critical.
We think we have created a great design, but it’s all about continuous improvement. We are always listening to our customers and our retailers to see how we can improve.
Describe the process of launching the online store/business.
A website is something that is usually very important for the business, so we took it seriously. It’s basically your calling card – the place where anyone can go to quickly find out what you are all about.
It needs to simply and quickly explain your product as best as possible. Luckily, Mike had already started a couple of other businesses, so he had the right web designer lined up.
You can build a great website, but it’s still just “a billboard in the desert” if nobody finds it. So we didn’t initially see any activity on it, as expected. We needed to get some visibility for the product so that people would begin searching for it online.
We relied on our events, trade shows, our retailers, and social media to help build awareness.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have tried almost everything in the marketing world to increase product awareness, but not everything has been cost-effective. We’ve tried geo-targeting but probably didn’t have enough retail locations at the time. Also, we hired a 3rd party to launch and maintain our social media (Facebook/Instagram), but we probably could have started this in-house to save money.
What we have discovered around the beach/surf industry is that it is a very relationship-based business. Continual communication is necessary to make sure the product remains in stock and to make sure the retail employees are aware of your product and educated on it. If the store employees are big fans of it, they will make sure that their customers know about it.
What continues to work is “grass root” types of effort. Word of mouth is still the best! We like to say that we gain each customer (and retail store) one at a time. Most of our retailers are surf shops that we have personally walked into with our product and asked them to try it out.
Going to surf, skim, and beach events to raise awareness has been successful. We hand out a lot of samples at events. We are sponsors for some events like the ESA (Eastern Surf Association) Championships in North Carolina as well as the World Skimboarding Championships in Delaware.
We attend the East Coast Surf Championships in Virginia as a vendor for one of our larger retailers, Coastal Edge. The Surf Expo in Orlando, Florida has been a good event to find new retailers and learn more about the industry.
We have a pretty cool ex-military truck and trailer (the trailer was converted to a “chariot”) that we move around to our events and stores. They are great promo tools and attract a lot of interest. Mike drives! He is a US Army Veteran so he had already acquired the skills.
Amazon can’t be ignored. We decided early on that we needed a presence there. Currently, we sell much more product on Amazon than our website or any one of our brick and mortar retailers.
There is a bit of competition on Amazon, but we differentiate ourselves well. Our products use a different formula than most of the competition, and we target an underserved market (the beach). We have a brand registry with Amazon, so we have more control over our listing and prices.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are doing great, but we have still barely scratched the surface! We have a ton of room to grow with potential retail (brick and mortar) accounts. We are working on better distribution and representation. We are considering some new “low hanging fruit” markets.
The product is very versatile and can be used in many different markets (running, cycling, golf, etc), but we need to stay focused on our assets, time, and resources. At this point, we remain very east coast centric and need to expand south, where the product can continue to sell year-round. Some of our best retailers are in the northeast, but they really only move product from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
As far as the product goes, we are continually working to preserve our margins. A rule of thumb is to make sure your product’s retail price is at least 5x its cost. This is crucial because margins erode quite quickly when you factor in markups for retailers, distributors, and other costs like packaging and shipping. One of our ingredient prices just recently skyrocketed, so we must deal with that. And to top it all off, you have to expect that your retail price will go down over time.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Your customers are the best salespeople you have.
Let them do some of the work for you! Collect reviews, use Amazon, engage in social media.
Social media is not today’s end-all marketing tool.
This may be contrary to what you are being told. We are still navigating this realm, but just like any else in marketing, you can spend unlimited amounts of money on it, and your return is never guaranteed.
It is tough to create a product, but it’s even tougher get it on store shelves.
Like really tough (assuming you don’t already have established channels like Proctor and Gamble). But, it is more possible now than ever, because the world is smaller and more accessible due to the internet and associated technology.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
QuickBooks helps us track all customer accounts, billing, and company performance. (You should still have a good local CPA or bookkeeper).
WooCommerce as a shopping cart is great because it is very capable and customizable. Not the best for beginners though.
We use The Webmaster Company as technical support that is capable and responsive.
For shipping, we like the ease and simplicity of Stamps.com. Generally, USPS for small stuff, UPS for the bigger stuff.
Our merchant services provider is PayPal.
We use Google G Suite for all things email.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Who Moved my Cheese – Change is fearsome but good.
- Rich Dad Poor Dad – more about real estate, but moves you out of the 9-5 mindset.
- Emotional Intelligence – encouraging for those who may not do well in school or on tests.
- The 4 Hour Work Week – far-fetched for most, but a ton of great ideas and alternative thought.
- The Magic of Thinking Big – old book, but it is timeless and will never become irrelevant.
- The Lean Startup – I’m still working on this one. Very significant tools for today’s entrepreneurs.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
In the long run, you have to enjoy what you are doing. You will spend most of your waking hours working on this, so choose wisely. Try to have fun whenever you can.
Plan your cash flow and watch it carefully. New entrepreneurs sometimes focus too much on raising capital and lose sight of actually generating profits. Use debt sparingly and with caution. You don’t have to be profitable on day one, but you must have a plan to become profitable.
You only get one shot at life. Take some risks.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website – beachgladiator.com
- Facebook - facebook.com/beachgladiator
- Instagram - instagram.com/beach_gladiator
- Michael Vahey, Founder of Beach Gladiator
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