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Start up couples sampling, social media to help manufacturers reach consumers

By Hank Schultz , 10-Sep-2012
Last updated on 10-Sep-2012 at 16:05 GMT2012-09-10T16:05:50Z

A start up in Lincoln, Neb. has cooked up an innovative way to put samples of supplements into the hands of qualified consumers in the coveted 19-34 age group.

Called Bulu Box, the company’s model marries direct mail marketing to social media to help companies reach a targeted audience with samples of their products.  And here’s the beauty of it: The consumers pay for the privilege.

 “We are providing brands with qualified customers, qualified leads.  These are folks who are already taking supplements most likely. They are paying money and they want to receive samples,” Paul Jarrett, co-founder and CEO of Bulu Box, told NutraIngredients-USA.

 He contrasted this model with what he called the ‘spray-and-pray’ model of sampling that he’d experienced at his previous job as vice president of marketing for Complete Nutrition, a chain of upscale supplement retail stores.

 Here’s how the company’s model works: Consumers sign up for a subscription for $10/month. For that price, the company mails out a ‘Bulu Box’ that contains several samples of high-quality supplements, something akin to a wine-of-the-month club. Consumers can then share their experiences with the supplements with each other on the company’s social media platform.  And there’s an element of discovery; you don’t know what’s in the box until you open it.

 The excitement generated by that discovery helps drive the social media engagement, Jarrett said.  Social media was one of the headaches he had in his former job.

 "It’s one of the things I struggled with at Complete Nutrition: keeping up with social media,” he said.

Authoritative voice?

NutraIngredients-USA contacted marketing expert Diane Ray who was unsure whether Bulu Box could provide the authoritative voice that customers are seeking when trying to decide about a new supplement.  Ray is vice president of strategic innovation with Natural Marketing Institute, a Pennsylvania-based consultancy.  But she thought the company’s model of encouraging customers to share their experiences via social media held promise.

 “I thing that is intriguing.  We know that people who like things are happy to talk about them.  Are people going to talk about heart health, or about digestive health? Maybe, maybe not.  Sports nutrition people are happy to talk,” she said.

She said energy beverages and nutrition bars and the like would be natural fits for the Bulu Box model.

“It may snowball.  It may provide that recommendation level people are looking for,” she said.

Coveted demographic

The company’s customers fall squarely into the 19-34 age bracket, Jarrett said, and skew slightly more toward women than men.  And they generally are already somewhat educated on the value of supplements, he said, and are seeking a way to expand their experience in an economical fashion.

 “It’s a lot of folks who are taking a multivitamin. A lot of folks who are doing the basics, but there is a big element of discovery,” Jarrett said.

 And there is the concept of try-before-you-buy.  The small staff of Bulu Box tries the products personally before shipping them out, Jarrett said.

 “We’re curating samples for these folks.  We take everything in office before we send it out,” he said.

 Jarrett and his co-founder (and spouse)  Stephanie Jarrett chose to locate their company in Nebraska for a number of reasons.  The company’s model relies on predictable shipping times, and a central location helped with that.  There were other advantages, too:

 “We’re from Nebraska.  Our investment money came from Nebraska, and there’s a great start up community in Omaha and Lincoln,” he said.