Stefani Thionnet has 23 years of experience in establishing profitable, high-performance organizations and new ventures within the private label nutraceutical, skincare, cosmetic, and health and wellness industries by delivering strategic business plans with online branding and sales solutions. Currently, owner and CEO of Private Label Supplement, Stefani believes that a company can only thrive through its clients’ success.
INSIDER talked to her about the important aspects of starting a successful supplement business and the trends in the dietary supplement industry.
INSIDER: Based on your experience as an entrepreneur, what are the five most important aspects of starting a successful business?
Thionnet: First, don’t lose sight of your core values as a business person. Your business ethics and daily decision making skills will make or break you in the eyes of your clients and your vendors. Business morals are essential; no matter what storm you endure, you will come out a winner if you stand tall with strong morals. It’s not always about making a dollar; it’s also about caring and how you treat your clients.
Develop your brand story, and stay true to it. Marketing will evolve along the way, but you must not get off course and go off into multiple directions or your brand will lose its identity. This is a common mistake.
Planning, planning and more planning. All great businesses, perhaps with the exception of Twitter, started with a well-thought-out business plan. You have to know what you are going to sell, who you are going to sell to, how you are going to sell it and how much you are going to sell it for. Clearly, these are just the basics, but they will get you going. You should also start with an immediate financial plan, two-year, five-year and 10-year plans, as well as an exit strategy.
After you have put all your own resources into planning, seek advice from as many outlets as possible. There are so many great resources today. LinkedIn is great to seek out former colleagues that have advanced in their careers as you have. New connections are also willing to share their knowledge, if you are willing to give back in return. Join groups online, specifically the SupplySide Group on LinkedIn, and if that doesn’t fill in all the gaps, then seek out top-notch consultants to help you set yourself up for success. Listening and having an open mind are as critical to success as a solid business plan, and in some ways are even more crucial.
Allow yourself time to breathe. It takes two hard, solid years to get a small business off the ground and that means a lot of hard days and endless hours, but at some point, you have to step away from the keyboard and refresh. When you hit a wall, you are no good to anyone. Most importantly, you’re no good to your clients. For me, that equates to loving on my two puppies, hanging out with my nieces and nephews (thank you Apple for FaceTime), pinning a few of my favorite things and enjoying the flowers in my garden. And maybe some online shopping in between! (OK, I will share a secret, I often wonder where I rank among Amazon’s buyers!)
INSIDER: Is there a marketing strategy that you have found to work best for this industry?
Thionnet: Marketing and customer outreach have come a long way thanks to social media. Because of its real time and interactive nature, it is an ideal way to share information with potential customers and get immediate feedback about what matters most to them. Comparatively, social media is a relatively inexpensive way to get your brand out there, and try new marketing ideas without being “locked in" if a strategy isn’t working out the way you hoped. It allows your company to react quickly and be flexible, which is vital to the growth of any business.
INSIDER: Can you spotlight the three most successful supplements, or groups of supplements that have become bestsellers? Why are they so popular?
Thionnet: Weight management, sports nutrition and skincare.
Weight Management is a given, as people are always on an endless mission to find the one magic pill that will aid them in weight loss. With that said, the number of credible tests and reports are increasing daily on new and existing ingredients to substantiate the effectiveness of this category, this is so important as consumers are smarter than their smart phones these days. We always make sure to educate our clients to explain to their customers that a healthy diet, regular exercise and drinking lots of water alongside weight management supplements is always the best strategy.
Sports nutrition is an interesting category. We have watched this category evolve over the last few years, and it continues to do so. Sports nutrition was once just for professional athletes and heavy-duty body builders. Now pre-workout drinks and protein meal replacement powders are commonly used by everyday consumers, as are many of the key supplements in this category such as testosterone boosters and creatine boosters. This expansion has led to major growth in the category. In the same vein, the sports enthusiasts count on super green foods and antioxidant-rich super foods found in red powders to enhance their workouts. It’s great to see the crossover.
In private label and especially on Amazon, skincare is hot right now. Hyaluronic acid (HA) serum is leading the pack. Clients are fighting for raw material supplies. Right behind is vitamin C serum. The skin care industry is huge and consumers gravitate to indie brands with a great brand story and products that provide results. Clients are also finding that their customers are getting into the synergy of pairing their skincare with their supplements.
INSIDER: What advice would you give to supplement brands that are trying to sell their products amid contradictory reports about how effective particular supplements are?
Thionnet: Educate, educate, educate—keep open lines of communication with your customers and potential customers so they can ask questions and look to your expertise for guidance; share information only from reliable sources; and, always make sure you are not over-promising results. Like in any business, every customer and every situation is unique, therefore every piece of advice and each recommendation should be customized by someone in the know—you. With honesty and reliability, you can position yourself as your customers’ trusted ally in the industry.
INSIDER: What are the factors defining the dietary supplement industry today?
Thionnet: The key factors defining the dietary supplement industry today are quality, consistency, results and price. All of these factors are essential to deliver to our customers for the industry to continue to grow at the accelerated rate that we are growing and are poised to continue to grow over the next several years.
INSIDER: What do you see as a major challenge for this industry, and what would be the best way to overcome it?
Thionnet: One of the major challenges for the smaller and virtual brands of the industry is to stay current with the increasing enforcement of GMP (good manufacturing practice) regulations. It’s incredibly important to do so as it directly impacts their business—no company is too small to get on the FDA’s radar (nor the FTC’s for that matter). Many smaller companies haven’t had to deal with regulatory action and have been led to believe that their vendors handle everything required to maintain compliance on their behalf. This is not the case, and FDA allows no wiggle room for ignorance about such things.
INSIDER: What’s the potential of the supplement market in the United States? Internationally? How does the Internet marketplace change the dynamic?
Thionnet: Consumers are becoming more educated and interested in their health by the day. With that interest also comes a specific desire to improve their well-being in natural ways. Supplements are big and are only going to become more widespread. The Internet is playing a huge role in today’s marketplace, which means the potential for a smaller brand to find its niche with the right customers is better than ever. With the Internet as your advocate, there are no boundaries, which goes back to one of my favorite sayings, “You will get out of it what you put into it." Selling supplements and skincare products does not just happen; it takes a close eye and strategic marketing plan. The last search I did for “vitamins and supplements" on Amazon came back with over 123,000 products, and that number increases every day.
INSIDER: What are your own predictions for the future development of the industry?
Thionnet: The future development of the industry relies heavily on the impact of social media. Marketing has become a world of real time reality. You are on your smart phone or tablet while you are at the dinner table, check it when your alarm goes off in the morning and make your updates while you enjoy your cup of coffee. That’s what your buyers are doing, and that dictates the successful seller’s habits, as well.
At the same time, supplement brands need to be ready for this to be the year of the laboratory when it comes to GMP standards set by FDA. I believe we are going to see an even stronger emphasis put on testing and holding contract manufacturers accountable for the products they are putting into the market. This is an angle my company is hugely supportive of and one we address from a totally unique perspective. After all, at the end of the day, above anything else, my goal is to help increase the longevity of life, and without quality product on the market, that goal will not be achieved.
INSIDER: If a new entrepreneur wishes to start a business in the supplement industry, how would you advise them, especially considering the current economic climate?
Thionnet: Create a focus for your brand and a specific distribution channel. Don’t try to be all things to all customers. Start with a specific product or a story of three products, and grow your business from there. Building your brand carefully and intentionally positions you as a reliable, trustworthy distributor to your customers and you will earn repeat business that will impact the growth of your company.
You also must recognize where your personal strengths lie to achieve your long term goals—it’s essential to build a team of people who meet or exceed your level of dedication, enthusiasm, and knowledge. You should never be afraid to hire anyone that is more confident or capable than you are. That’s the sign of a true leader. In my opinion, small companies need to hire the most experienced talent available in the industry. Building a team of experts to support your business will be key to ensure your company doesn’t just succeed, but thrives.
For more on market data, demographics, best-selling delivery forms and hot natural ingredients within the industry, visit INSIDER’s Marketing Content Library.