How to compete against a corporate giant - and win
By Anne Fisher @CNNMoneySeptember 25, 2013: 3:17 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
What do you want first: The good news or the bad news?
On the plus side, you've signed with a national distributor and have your product on shelves in Wal-Mart(WMT), RiteAid, CVS, Sears(SHLD) and Walgreens(WAG). Yay! Now, the bad news: A huge, well-known rival has been there for years. How do you compete?
That's the challenge Strutz has faced as it's rolled out into national chains. Started by Steve Llorens and Paul Mazzanobile in 2008, Struz makes orthotic supports, designed to relieve the pain of fallen arches, flat feet, sports injuries and other foot problems. Their main competitor is (you guessed it) Dr. Scholl's, which has been around since 1906 and spends millions annually on marketing and advertising.
"We're the new kid on the block," said Llorens. "We use different technology, so our goal has to be educating shoppers on how we're different." Instead of an insole that slips into a shoe and comes off when the shoe does, Strutz uses arch support wraps that go around the foot and stay put when the wearer changes shoes or goes barefoot.
Llorens and Mazzanobile started by going door to door selling their product to podiatrists, orthopedists and sports trainers, who were accustomed to taping patients' feet for a similar effect. It was easy to sell them on Strutz because it doesn't come off in the shower and has a shock absorber built in.
To get the word out, Strutz largely relies on word of mouth, with social media playing a big role. Among Strutz's biggest boosters are servers, bartenders and nurses who spend long hours on their feet. "Our website and Facebook page are full of endorsements from people who are already fans," Llorens noted. "Sometimes customers post pictures of themselves wearing Strutz while they're hiking or training for an Iron Man competition."
They also joined forces with Team Red White & Blue, a veterans' organization that sponsors athletic events and other activities for returning military personnel. Strutz is now a corporate sponsor, which "helps build a sense of community," said Llorens. "It gets your name out there in a very positive way."
The start-up has just four full-time employees -- including the founders. But that can be an advantage, said Llorens.
"When you call the 800 number on a Dr. Scholl's product, you don't get the CEO or the president of the company on the phone," he says. "But when you call us, you do." Llorens and Mazzanobile also read, and respond to every email and Facebook post.
"People are impressed with that," said Llorens. "It's a level of customer service you don't get from a big national brand.
"We're still small enough that that level of personal attention is manageable," he adds. "As we get bigger, we want to hire customer-service people and train them to maintain that."
The company may be staffing up soon: Llorens says sales have taken off this year, from $388,000 in 2012 to a projected $1.4 million by the end of 2013.