How a Little-Known Condom Brand Broke into the U.S. Market
Much is said about expanding into new markets. But what if you’re trying to enter one that’s not only new to you but also competition rich?
That’s the predicament recent University of Denver graduate Matt Shifrin found himself when the Jarden Corporation, a consumer-products maker in Rye, N.Y., asked him to oversea the company’s brand expansion into the U.S. three years ago. The newly minted general manager of North America was given the tall task of introducing the company’s successful condom brand, BILLY BOY, to U.S. college kids.
Though the brand performed well in Europe -- it’s the number-one condom in Germany, according to the company -- it hadn’t yet ventured into the U.S. market, which is largely controlled by Church & Dwight Co., Inc., the Princeton, N.J.-based company that owns the Trojan Condoms brand. But when BILLY BOY’s parent company, Total, sold the brand to Jarden in 2010, its new owners set their sights on America and formed BILLY BOY USA, which is now based in Hackensack, N.J.
While this is hardly a David and Goliath tale, as Jarden owns more than 100 brands, BILLY BOY’s U.S. entrée is manned by just three people including (full disclosure) myself and we have been given little more than a shoe-string budget. Sound familiar?
Here, Shifrin, now 26, explains how in just two years, he has managed to get BILLY BOY on the shelves of 15,000 retail locations including giants such as Walmart, CVS, Walgreens and Duane Reade in all 50 states:
1. Focus, focus, focus. “There are so many different flash-in-the-pan ideas that you want to latch onto and chase after like a dog,” he says. But “you really have to stay focused on your message, your exact goals and what is right in front of you.” Matt often uses the term ‘an inch wide and a mile deep’ to describe the BILLY BOY strategy.
2. Define your unique-sales proposition. You hear this advice all the time in entrepreneurship, but when you’re trying to topple the big guys, differentiating yourself from competitors is vital. So what’s BILLY BOY's unique-sales proposition? Quality. And it's one of the only condom brands that manufactures 100 percent of its condoms in-house. Big name U.S. labels outsource a large portion of their manufacturing to third parties. “There has to be something unique about it that you can really sell,” says Shifrin.
3. Recruit plenty of help. BILLY BOY built a network of collegiate-marketing specialists (a.k.a., college students) to be the face and voice of the brand. Comprised of social leaders on campuses around the country, these specialists are all internally recruited, trained and supported. The goal, Shifrin says, is "putting people on the ground and creating an authentic message."
4. Be where your customers are. In addition to recruiting college students as representatives, Shifrin notes that social media is pivotal for reaching that crucial 18 to 24-year-old demographic. BILLY BOY has invested in its Facebook fan page as its primary-marketing channel, embracing the products and tools available to exert a hyper amount of focus on this narrow demographic.
5. Give customers an experience. If you have a physical product, make sure potential customers get the opportunity to test it out. “If you want people to get to know your brand, they have to experience it. They have to be able to touch it, hold it, feel it, smell it, taste it,” he says.
What else would you recommend fellow entrepreneurs do when breaking into a competition-rich market? Let us know with a comment.