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.

NZ Business - - CON­TENTS - BY GLENN BAKER

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.

FLY­ING START

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.

RHYS CLARE­BURT

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