Innovation pipeline service provider finds ways to pivot during pandemic

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - Suwaree Tangbovornpichet
©Getty Images - Suwaree Tangbovornpichet

Related tags: New product development, Dietary supplement industry

Innovation during the pandemic has taken a hit, forcing companies in that pipeline to pivot rapidly in order to survive.

One of the those companies is Bulu (formerly Bulubox), a firm based in Lincoln, NE that helps companies in their product launch process by providing spaces in the product sampler boxes that it distributes.  CEO Paul Jarrett (who co founded the company with is wife Stephanie Jarrett) calls the idea a better, more targeted way to distribute samples and get feedback from consumers.

Curated box concept found traction within industry

Bulu sells curated subscription boxes to consumers, who receive six or so products in each monthly box.  The company has developed a robust social media architecture to capture the responses to the products on the part of consumers.

Jarrett said over the years the company has helped clients avoid costly launch failures.  In one such case a product development team was excited by their new sports nutrition product, but Jarrett’s company discovered during the sampling process that customers hated the delivery mode, finding it too hard to open and use.

Bulu’s approach has garnered significant attention in the supplements and foods industries.  Jarrett said the company had signed up a number of major CPG companies as clients.

New product pipeline drying up

But the pandemic has thrown a wrench into that works, as it has for so many other aspects of the supplements and foods businesses. Jarrett built the Bulu business model based on a steady stream of new products of all sorts coming to market.  His experience corroborates information gleaned from other sources that shows that while companies might be racing to launch immune health supplements, other forms of innovation are on hold.

“Being on the sidelines and working with new product development I’ve seen some really big brains fire their innovation teams, even during good times.  Innovation is scary because sometimes you are going to be wrong,” ​Jarrett said. “Now you lay in a pandemic, budget constraints and distribution issues.”

Jarrett said startups are inherently better at innovation than are bigger firms.  It’s partly a matter of organization philosophy.

“The reason that startups and new innovation groups work is the mindset is that we are going to build something and continue to fix it as we go along.  For big companies the risk tolerance is minimal.  The mindset these days is, ‘don’t get fired during COVID,’ ” ​he said.

Finding a new niche

Paul Jarrett
Paul Jarrett

With the new product pipeline drying up, Jarrett said Bulu has found opportunity helping companies connect with their distributors, their consumers and even with their own employees during this time when face time, either at work or at trade shows, is minimal or non existent.

The company has begun offering boxes which are sent out via a direct mail system that could in some way substitute for what the client might have done out of a booth at a trade show. 

“We’re calling them ‘events boxes.’ It’s another way to get the samples and information into prospective customers’ hands,” ​Jarret said.  

Another way the company has pivoted to meet new market realities is to dovetail its physical offering with the new ways companies are using technology.

“Some companies we work with are offering ‘Zoom boxes,’ where they’ll have you open the box during a Zoom call,” ​Jarrett said. “It’s hard to measure the effectiveness yet because the concept is so brand new.”

Smaller projects fill in the gaps

Jarrett said launching these smaller programs has changed the way his company does business. With the stream of big product launches from big companies are on hold, smaller projects, like the Zoom boxes, are taking their place.

“In things like employee engagement, podcast and fundraiser boxes, in the previous four years we did 19 programs.  This year, between March and October, we did 24,”​ Jarrett said.

One of the major resets that has happened during the disease crisis is employees being asked to take on entirely new roles.  Companies that had relied on trade show engagement with their client bases are now trying to fill that gap with direct mail, but at the same time using the same personnel.  That’s something that Bulu is primed to help with, Jarrett said.

“You might have somebody who might have been an event coordinator and might not have any idea of how to do the direct mail piece.  They’re not thinking about what color the box should be, or the fact that the deadline for getting custom coffee mugs made up was four weeks ago,” ​Jarrett said.

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