To be the premier online vendor of quality, reputable, non-prescription dietary health supplements.
In a world economy deluged by extravagant claims and little consideration for truth or accuracy, SSC aspires to serve as a beacon for those wishing to acquire health supplements and/or to educate themselves about them.
It is not disputed that the supplements industry and their associated lobbying infrastructure carries considerable sway with the legislative elite in this country. Witness the fact that health-care supplements are not mandated for oversight by the FDA—which is in stark contrast to many food items of a somewhat more reputable nature, such as tomatoes or lima beans. This has resulted in a flood to the market of tremendous numbers of supplement items of dubious nature and potential. Only recently has there begun an attempt to bring some order to what amounts to a chaotic and unregulated industry.
Recently, the National Institutes of Health has begun the supplement industry’s equivalent to the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR). Under congressional mandate by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (hereafter: DSHEA), the NIH is attempting to provide standardization to the industry.
At SSC, it is our belief that it is only a matter of time before the supplements industry is forced to undergo significant restructuring. The information age, among its many attributes and drawbacks, has brought with it considerably more consumer awareness and the enablement of self-education than was ever possible before. From the perspective of a web presence, if one can attain the confidence of the consumer through provision of carefully selected and monitored information, one can succeed in establishing a lasting trust. This is the point at which SSC enters the business picture.
Technological innovations aside for the moment, the emergence of the World Wide Web’s popularity has primarily resulted from two factors:
- the ability to obtain information quickly and easily
- the ability to purchase or provide merchandise (e-commerce)
Naturally, e-commerce may assume many forms, but for purposes of this discussion, we limit ourselves to the business-to-consumer merchandising model.
Most successful web sites base their mission (and revenue) on either one or the other of the above factors. (For example, the most profitable ventures on the web today are search engines). Clearly e-commerce too has shown considerable value (Amazon.Com notwithstanding). Recent trends show commercial web sites attempting to lure and maintain customers through an attempt at being a hybrid of both commercial and informational services. While we at SSC agree with this model, we feel that it is often put to inefficient if not detrimental use. Web sites that try to be all things to all people often fail. Standard business practices [appear to -YM] dictate that one must target a specific demographic and market almost exclusively in that direction. Yet Amazon.Com is now selling toys even as they continue to lose money.
At SSC, we intend to focus on the sales and marketing of established and reputable (one hardly implies the other) health supplements to a target audience of middle and upper-middle income households in the United States, and eventually, worldwide. Bringing customers to our site would be accomplished via a reasonably sized marketing blitz, opening period specials, and on-site conveniences such as an ‘Ask the Doctor’ feature.
It is clear that our greatest challenge lies in attaining and maintaining consumer trust. If SSC is to be seen as a trusted and reliable source for information, we must provide this information in the most definitive, substantiated, and topical manner possible. All the while, we must remain vigilant against being viewed as simply another marketing tool for any supplements producer that cares to throw incentives our way. This is, of course, a tradeoff. However, we believe that if consumer loyalty can indeed be achieved on the web, it cannot be accomplished by cost-cutting measures alone. (Such measures have already driven innumerable good business ideas from the web medium). Recent trends indicate that for a business to have lasting potential when another site is merely one URL away, it must provide something beyond a low-cost product; it must provide a reason for its customers to return. By developing a reputation for solid and timely information absent of special-interest obligations (catering to advertisers, etc), we will earn the consumer’s standing trust.
There are a number of sites catering to supplements users. The two largest (in terms of market share) appear to be General Nutrition Centers’ www.gnc.com and the www.mothernature.com . The GNC site caters more to the hard-core trainer demographic. While they have a large range of products, you will find more brands of creatine, arginine, and other related items commonly in use by hard-trainers and athletes. Yet while GNC is able to build on its vast brick-and-mortar network’s name, it also suffers from its clear emphasis on selling all things to all people with no concerns for discrepancies in quality of performance of their products. Mothernature.com’s site has a more natural, perhaps even tranquil feel to it; it clearly aspires to a more aged/mature(!) group.
Yet while both of these sites provide a wide variety of products to the consumer, they provide very little in the way of guidance. HomeDepot.com has made significant inroads for their web presence by providing real-time assistance. Yet people are considerably less likely to experiment with a new amino-acid supplement than they are subtly different gauge of lug-wrench. SSC’s emphasis will be not only on providing guidance and support for the consumer’s individual situation and preferences, but it will also provide quick and easy links to further informational resources, thus enabling that consumer to self-educate. As long as we are careful in our decisions over which supplements to provide and market, we should have no trouble maintaining and even increasing our customers’ confidences.
While the ultimate objective is to acquire significant market share of the online supplements industry, initial successes must necessarily be initially evaluated on web hits. During this initial phase, attempts would be made to populate a customer database. Incentives might be via provision of an ‘Ask the Doc’ account which would first require completion of a “Sign-In” form. Finally, however, success would be evaluated based exclusively on the quantity of supplements products ordered.
An advertising blitz of moderate size should be considered. Locales would include all the major health magazines and web sites, athletic and performance magazines and journals, TV spots (Ally McBeal?), and fitness centers.
Anecdotal and some research evidence suggests that opening period specials are a very useful method of enticing consumers to a web site. Once the customers are present, they can be invited to join a mailing list. This list would keep them appraised of current research related to the supplements industry along with coupons that could be redeemed for online purchases.
Another consideration is to enter into partnerships with all major fitness centers nationwide such as Bally’s, Powerhouse Gym, etc. Other places targeting a young, health-conscious demographic could easily be included such as university fitness centers and co-ops. Perhaps initial purchases from SSC would be shipped with two free introductory passes to the various partnering facilities (along with those facilities’ literature). This service could further be targeted to specific locales, so that a zip-code serviced by a specific fitness center could be linked to all orders from that area. As fitness centers are already continually trying to entice first-timers with no-cost introductory visits, the mutual benefits of such a partnership are evident. [END]
For use later…..
- let’s have more than just a gift basket. Anybody can have a basket, it just takes a few minutes to fill one out and nobody has yet figured out a way of getting user information without the user having to enter it first! So at least on this aspect, the playing field remains level.
The international segment of our business would not be implemented until such time that the primary phase of our business plan has been brought to fruition. However, following are some of our thoughts on increasing our demographic to the international community.
The barriers to entry into the international market are both numerous and challenging. However, SSC is fortunate in that the size and weight of our products make for ease of shipping and lower costs. While glass containers for supplements (relative to plastic ones) provides for some a greater feeling of ‘legitimacy’ for the product, use of dark, molded plastic for international shipments is probably justified. Further, as supplements are usually intended to be purely organic, many of the complexities in the cross-border transporting of foodstuffs can be avoided.
- site on customer accolades—particularly related to the information sharing
- Online discussion FORUM - moderated by accredited personnel (e.g. physicians, certified(?) nutritionists)
- easy to ship (size)
- too many questionable products out there
- MNC has hit a target demographic very well