TRÈS BON, MR CLAREBURT
WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD GIVE UP A HIGH-PAYING SALES JOB TO DEVELOP AND LAUNCH A BRAND OF WOMEN’S ORGANIC TAMPONS? THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT RHYS CLAREBURT DID, AND HE’S TURNING THE FEMININE HYGIENE INDUSTRY UPSIDE DOWN.
Rhys Clareburt gave up a high-paying sales job to launch his brand of women’s organic tampons.
R hys Clareburt’s been through a lot to get his certified organic tampons on the market. He’s been ridiculed by his mates, nicknamed ‘Mr Tampon Man’, hung-up on, and laughed out of offices. Even his parents thought he was crazy giving up a secure, well-paid job to pursue his dream in the feminine hygiene market. And he had to take his accountant along to various meetings, including the bank, for the sake of credibility, and to prove that the [financial] numbers were there.
Getting BON (its French for ‘good’) into the market has been quite a ride for the born and bred Wellingtonian, and even Rhys admits to having his doubts in the past; but today BON certified organic tampons are sold throughout New Zealand, as well as in the US and China.
So where did the inspiration come from to launch the product? And why Rhys?
It’s a remarkable story, and it begins with a fairly ordinary career in sales.
Straight out of school Rhys first worked in his dad’s Telecom dealership “essentially taking orders from corporate clients”. That was followed by eight years slugging it out in the fiercely competitive world of copier sales.
“It was a school of hard knocks,” he recalls. “But it was a great place to learn those service skills; making sure the customer was looked after and adding value to the business
through document workflow technology. I enjoyed that aspect of the business.” Rhys’s career then took an unexpected turn. One day in late 2014 at the local supermarket he observed his partner selecting tampons. When asked why she chose a specific brand, her reply was “no specific reason”. To change brands there would have to be a unique point of difference, or a health benefit, she said.
Later, while studying the packaging, Rhys was shocked to discover a warning about toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Further research revealed that many tampons have less than one percent cotton, are filled with chemicals, binders, bleaches, toxins and even wood pulp. He read stories of women switching to organic products and finding relief from period aches, pains and other irritations. And he discovered that many women don’t understand the benefits of ‘going organic’.
One of the advantages of all those years in a high-powered sales job, was a salary that allowed Rhys to get on the Wellington property ladder. With four houses he was able leverage his assets to fund a business. And so, while still working for his corporate employer, he embarked on a journey to create his own brand of premium certified organic cotton tampons with recyclable packaging “unlike anything on the market”.
Being a male set him up for teasing, but Rhys saw that as an advantage. He had no personal experience of the product category, and therefore relied totally on feedback from female friends and family to develop the product and packaging. He did this through hosting a large BYO dinner party, and organising various focus groups.
One insight was the need for packaging robust enough to withstand the “harsh handbag environment”! Another was the preference for discreet, minimalist packaging, rather than bright colours.
Rhys took it all on board. A designer friend designed the packaging. He secured trade mark protection, found a factory in Spain and a packaging manufacturer in China through Fielding-based Idea Developments (which deals with factories worldwide). Rhys uses ExportX, a software development company, to distribute product through Amazon in the US.
Despite concerns from family and friends, including his father who asked if he really wanted to be known as ‘ Tampon Man’, BON was underway.
“When the first samples arrived, my partner at the time told me she had never seen a man so excited by tampons!” laughs Rhys.
He had every reason to be – feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The health benefits were immediately obvious, he says.
In November 2015, three months after going to market with BON and a year after that ‘supermarket moment’, Rhys finally let go of his day job, describing the feeling as “both emotional and liberating”, and admitting that the change of mindset required to go from nine-tofive' sales rep to full-time business owner was quite a challenge. “The business is constantly on your mind”, he says. “It consumes you.”
That decision couldn’t come soon enough, because he admits to feeling somewhat “ground down” the weeks prior, while still organising logistics and his website.
He was in a café talking to the owner of Antipodes one day, asking for advice on how to keep ‘all the balls in the air’. Her response was to get a distributor on board – and that advice proved invaluable for taking the pressure off. “Having that sounding board meant I was less bogged down by it all,” says Rhys.
Originally tempted to sell online and through subscription, Rhys was convinced retail was the way to go, and that was backed up by the “amazing response”. He had pre-orders from 20 stores before the first container-load of stock had even arrived.
BON certified organic tampons are already in 350 pharmacies and health stores around New Zealand. Six New World supermarkets are also on board, with the rest joining in 2017. Certified organic pads are set to be launched around May.
The big news on the export front is a China deal which will grow into seven figures in seven years. BON products will be marketed via a feminine hygiene ‘cycle alert’ app accessed by 100 million users!
Rhys says the words ‘designed in New Zealand and 100 percent Kiwi owned’ on the packaging hold a lot of weight with Chinese consumers.
As things stand he believes he can continue to boot-strap growth, thanks to a lean business model (he has moved to Auckland but still works out of his bedroom) and the assistance of a “fantastic” GM in Brenna McGuinness – the sister of a friend, who happens to be “a whizz at social media” and whose skill-sets complement Rhys’s.
Rhys also has a social conscience, and for every BON pack sold online, another is donated to Women’s Refuge.
Looking back over his business launch, Rhys believes he is now more honest with himself in terms of his abilities.
“I had trouble in the beginning admitting that I couldn’t do something as well as someone else. Luckily I spotted that weakness early, and got Brenna on board.”
Looking forward, Rhys has bold ambitions for a multi-product company. But he’ll obviously have to shift office from his bedroom sometime soon.
It’s probably not a good look for a large international business.