Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Let's get acquainted

The Co-op and our far-flung members have been a major part of my world for five years. Here's a little history on Our Health Co-op for the newbie and a refresher for the old-timers from the Co-op.
2002: Year one was all about transition after my brother, Stephen, and I purchased the company from the original founder, who happened to be our father (a rascal of an entrepreneur who swore he was retiring and would be staying out of mischief for good). While we maintained family relations, we kept our business strictly separate.

We transitioned to a new identity, with more respectable writing (banishing hyperbole and, let's just say, "provocative" language). Scaling the business was next (we rolled out eight new products, including now-popular staples like Alpha Lipoic Acid and Eye Protection, in fall 2002).

Oh yeah, as someone who made a living in marketing for years, I did a survey about the quirky branding (an irreverent "kat" who writes a health newsletter). Within 24 hours, thousands had responded to the questions about the Co-op's mascot, and overwhelmingly they said, "Keep the kat!" So I was wrong about the corny brand being the founder's ridiculous fancy.
2003: Year two was all about quality, narrowing down our suppliers to the trusted few and wrestling with the sorry state of independent testing labs around the country (let's save that rant for another post though).

At the end of the year, Stephen and I assessed our market, after repeatedly hearing (over and over and over again) that our prices were too low to signify quality. We were investing heavily in testing as well as raw materials and quality manufacturing. Was it time to change our pricing to improve trust in our brand? In books on influence and persuasion, experts say that in the jam-packed war of competing messages, price is still short-hand for quality.

We looked at each other and agreed we had to keep our prices low and work to build our reputation for quality in other ways. We committed to serving our sometimes fussy fixed-income seniors, who haggled on every dollar of shipping and carefully placed one modest order a month (after Social Security checks arrived in the middle of the month).

2004: Year three was about increasing the transparency into the company. With an Internet company, you worry about millions of folks having your personal email address and contact info, but with a community like ours, we had to be visible and accessible, pretty much 24/7.
I remember many long phone calls at odd hours with members who wanted to know what we were really made of, why they should do business with us with so many choices on the Internet, etc. I made some good friends that way (and fielded the darnedest questions, like, no kidding, "what's your astrological sign?" and "why on earth do you live in Utah?"). After giving my birth date and birth time to one member, I received more than 30 pages of fascinating astrological charting a week later. I swear, it's never dull with our community and I wouldn't have it any other way.

2005: Year four was about a major web site upgrade (new identity, new features, you know, the normal stuff), a big customer survey, a member contest to create Co-op magnets (I know, the corny ones won two of three spots and the cute dog picture was nixed handily). Long live the kat, I suppose!

2006: Year five has been all about getting into our new warehouse and preparing for more space for new inventory. Construction was delayed more often than traffic in Boston and we wondered if the permits would ever come through. And, then there was this little problem with the air conditioning contractor (don't ask).

But, finally, we made it into the new warehouse (we bought it -- no getting priced out of the hot South Florida real estate market).

Teri's husband, Harley (a bona fide This Old House star and veteran contractor himself), contributed tons of recycled materials (shelving from an art gallery, cabinets from a Palm Beach home, etc.). We did it on the cheap and couldn't be happier now that the wait is over. So, yes, new products are finally back on track.

I've been working on another project, introducing a special product line called Cell Nutritionals for integrative healthcare practitioners (physicians, nutritionists, etc.).

Lots of things still in the planning phase, so if you have marketing savvy, are an integrative practitioner, or are a member who wants to act as a serious referral agent and want to get in on the action, let's talk!


Firedaisy said...

Cindy nice run down of the history of the company. I already refer you kats all the time to everyone I know! I am a producer of festivals and a professor of theatre in CA. I have been with you since your father first created it, I don't even remember how I found it but I have loved every product. I feel (and see!) the difference when I don't take them. Thank you for your low prices and high quality. I am telling the world how great you are.

Renee said...

Dear Cindy, thank you for telling us about your father sudden absence. After not hearing for quite a while I could feel he had left this planet. I know he will have just as much fun on the "other" side of life as he had here! I do miss his daily input on so many things. He sure knew how to wear his heart on his sleeve.
I am an old customer of the Co-op but cannot order anymore without sending in a check because I only have American Express and Paypal. Is there a chance that you can incorporate at least Paypal again? They work flawlessly. I would so much like to order a slew of products but sending a check is a headache and takes too long. Thank you for staying in touch with us about your much appreciated Father.
Renee van Asten.

ButrflyWolf said...

My computer took the same path as your dear ol' father did at about the same time and I am just now beginning to 'catch up' on some of my emails. I am so sorry to hear about your father. He was a wonderful man and Great to talk to when I had the occasion to phone him the few times that I did. As sorry as I am to see him go, knowing I will genuinely miss his lively sense of humor in everything he did; I know that you will miss him even more, espec-ially as time goes on.

Thanks for the quick rundown on the history of the company, although it seems like just yesterday that most of these changes took place. I was another one of those 'original' customers and have followed your development with interest. In fact, I often would write and request a new product or formulation and partici-pated in the 'fatkats' trial. I loved that he (or you'all) were continually updating products and product info while keeping prices so very competitive, to say the least. You've got a good thing and I hope you are able to keep it going for a long while.

Anyway, once again let me express my sincerest sympathies at the loss of your father. It's true what they all say, "You don't really and truly appreciate your parents until they are gone." But when it comes to 'Dr. Jon', he'll no doubt be that angel on your shoulder, guiding you through the rough spots all along the way. What a Blessing! Thank you too for keeping us in the loop of things, keeping product available, and prices sooooo low. How proud Your father must be of you!

ButrflyWolf aka Sandy
"The Wolf chasing butterfly, singing her very own tune."