Interview with Laurie Mellott - Reflect Sports

ReflectSports.com

1. Laurie what is Reflect Sports?

Reflect Sports is a woman owned company that manufactures and distributes products for women with an active lifestyle.

We offer a sulfate free swim hair care line to protect your hair from chlorine damage along with our Hoo Ha Ride Glide which protects your girly parts from chafing while cycling and can be used on other skin areas where chafing occurs.

2. Why did you decide to go into business making hair care and chaffing cream for women?

umm well we were out on a Valentine's Day bike ride with our husbands and my co-owner, Jena, and I figured we probably shouldn't be using men's anti-chafing products and realized that men's chamois cream was likely not safe for women.

After researching more about the ingredients in the men's products we found out that we were right. While we knew that we needed to protect ourselves we also knew that risking exposure to ingredients that were not healthy for a woman's body was not the answer. We could no longer use the men's products.

We hired a chemist and started from scratch designing a new anti-chafing cream that met our requirements. We did not want to replicate the men's formula, but make a totally new formula designed specifically for the unique needs of lady riders protecting us from infection.

Being triathletes, also in need of a good swim hair care system, we checked the marketplace and there wasn't another sulfate free swim hair care product available. We created a product that was sulfate free, more sophisticated for a higher discerning clientele, and similar to our favorite beauty brand products. Each step of the way we were designing the kind of product that would work great for women but that we would also feel good about using.

So that is how we came up with the 3-part swim hair care line for swimmers.

We knew there were other products in the marketplace that would help remove chlorine from the hair, but we knew that there weren't any pre swim hair care protectors that would treat the hair before swimming. Again we checked the marketplace and saw the opportunity to provide for a need that wasn't being met both for ourselves and our growing customer base. I guess the bottom line is that we made them because we needed them and wanted to put them out on the mass market because other women needed them too.

3. How is running a woman owned company different.

Well one of the first things that you realize as you get into business is that most everyone that we work with are men. Mostly men own the bike and tri shops, and therefore they make the final buying decisions. We were at a disadvantage at the beginning trying to get our products into the stores, but we had a great following from females because it was designed for them and different than anything else they had in the marketplace. And since we are a completely woman owned business we wanted to make sure that there was an audience for us. Of course, the woman owned bike shops loved and supported us from the start!

Early on some companies were running seminars while we were at trade shows; and they were telling bike shops that they should have an area just for women in the bike shop. Women are the purchaser for 80% of the household goods and they are loyal customers. So it was this great opportunity that we were there already showing our product where they were being told that they needed to carry products just like ours. A lot of them came to our booth as if the lights had just been turned on and what we had was what they needed.

You know…...It's not like we had the extra time to develop these products, but we had a need for them. Both of us owners have other full-time jobs along with running Reflect Sports.

And we realized quickly that even though we were the originals and the first to market, that we would have to secure a solid market penetration fast. We knew that we would be copied very quickly from the large brands and they did and they were very fast. We had competition for our product within 2 years. Remember that there was no product until we came up with ours, but that's how fast the big companies can work to push a new product out.

Luckily because of all of our hard work in the beginning we already had a large following at that point and our customers have proven incredibly loyal to our product.

We were already athletes and so we went into the match with eyes wide open and with confidence and a willingness to compete with the big boys.

4. There are other products in the marketplace that you can buy for chlorine hair and for chafing cream, why buy from RS Sports?

It's really a personal preference, some of the best brands out there may not work for you. In our case we designed around being all-natural, higher quality ingredients with more benefits, competitive price point and being specific around not just the quality but the ingredients themselves. Our ingredients had to be specially formulated for women.

It's always a preference when you're buying a beauty product and every woman will prefer one to the other over time, but the feedback we continue to receive is very positive.

Numerous blog posts, reviews, etc and a lot of our customers that have taken the time to contact us back personally has helped us stay committed to our original goal. And we have a lot of fans that appreciate what we do and why we do it.

We have also made it a point to give back. So we support a lot of teams - triathlon, cycling, mountain biking, etc. We think a large part of staying true to your brand is giving back to the women who work hard day in and day out often without any additional pay just to compete.

5. The list of retail shops that you've been able to gain shelf space in over just 4.5 years is very impressive. Most of our merchants would love to have the number of distributors and retailers that you have across the country. Do you have any tips for getting a foot in the door with retailers?

Call, Call, Call

It really didn't happen without the cold calling, specifically confident cold calling .We knew in our minds that the shops should want to know about us, that they should be expecting our calls. We compiled lists of the top rated stores online. We then looked at the top 100 retail stores in the industry and went after them first.

I got a team to help me call and back then we also had a team on foot. So then we added a retail store locator so we could show each store that we care about driving customers into their doors as well as just selling our products.

Within two months of starting the company we were at Interbike which is a huge international tradeshow. We got to meet our customers face-to-face. Within a few years of calling and meeting up at tradeshows people started to remember our faces and our name. Nowadays we call a lot of them our friends. And it helps to work with friends.

The first three years in business were hard, we grew slowly for a while, but when we doubled our shops between year 3-4 we knew that we had a good market penetration. It has helped us weather the industry's ups and downs.

First year - 18 shops
Second year - 100+ shops
Third year - 500+ shops
4.5 years we're well over 1000 + stores

Now we are running into the bigger company issues of how do we help the shops get the information to the staff so the staff can adequately educate the customer of the key benefits of our unique products. We also heavily rely on social media to reach potential customers because significant paid advertising is still not in the budget for us. But, one day it will be and we can't wait!

6. You had been using UltraCart for the first few years, then left for a time to try out another shopping cart and then came back within just a few months…..what can you tell us about UltraCart that made you come back?

Well we really never wanted to leave UltraCart in the first place. We loved using ultracart and it had every bell and whistle we could imagine. The support teams are important because they are so good at relating on a non-technical level. After we were up and running things just went along great for about 4 years until we decided to update our website.

The website design firm that we chose had done work for a few of the celebrities that we knew so we figured we would try them. After we got deep into the project they told us that UltraCart wouldn't be able to work with the site the way they were making it and we would have to switch to Magento. We eventually gave in as we needed to get the new website up and going. Unfortunately things went south and the firm was never able to come through on even the basic things we had in UltraCart and trying to navigate around Magento's backend was very hard.

We tucked our tails and ran back to UltraCart where the Pro Services Team didn't skip a beat figuring out how to help us get back up and running. It turned out that the other company wasn't entirely upfront with us. Its not that UltraCart didn't work with their system, its that they wanted to use the platform they were familiar with and it would have been much harder on us. They cared more about themselves than they did about our company. UltraCart quickly got our store up and working and we were able to get back online and get our sales up to where they were before we left ultracart. We are also able to get into our website and shopping cart and make changes that we weren't able to make before. We wish we would never have let that design firm talk us into moving to Magento.

7. What is your wish for UltraCart?

We need a great store locator for the website. That is one of the plugins that was actually working on Magento, but UltraCart doesn't have one now. It's really important to us because customers can use it to see where our products are available near them and that drives customers to our retailers and cuts down on customer service calls.

Its also important to the continued growth of our business. When a retailer decides to check us out online to see if they should add us to their product mix they see how many of the shops in the industry already carry our products and that has helped us get our foot in the door. There were a lot of places where cold calling and foot traffic had no effect but seeing that their competitors across town used our products sealed the deal.

8. What is your favorite thing about UltraCart?

Now that we're back we realize how much we took for granted before we left. Not all shopping carts are created equal...

Lets see, we love the Back End Order Entry, it gives us the ability to take a phone order from a retailer or a customer and then immediately sends that over to our warehouse to fulfill the order.

That's a big one, but there are a ton of parts that we truly love and really make our life easier.

I love the coupon management area and I'm in there all the time. If I'm running promotion for a team or even an individual athlete, I use them all the time. (In fact we're running a promotion with UltraCart right now, so check out the coupon they have in the newsletter.)

Oh and your reporting area is great too. If I want to look at any reports we can pull them out in real time and then because they are in excel format its easy to manipulate. And the widgets in the home area are so cool. Its fun to login to my account and immediately see the sales widget that shows our daily, weekly, and monthly sales and we can graph it right there on the page.

We're just really glad to be back and hope for many more years of great business with Ultracart.