Like many entrepreneurs, Kirsten Taylor served as the guinea pig during the testing phase for her product. And after being impressed by the results, she decided to make it available to consumers.
What is the back story behind the SleepDrops brand?
One night while tossing and turning awake after a massive business setback of my own during the global financial crisis, I took my own remedy and had the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time. It dawned on me that I mustn’t be alone in this struggle for sleep during this tough financial time so I decided to make SleepDrops available to the public.
What were some of the early challenges that you faced in the Kiwi market?
Not having enough money to get the business off the ground. Like most start-ups I had no money so I had to print labels and hand pour bottles at home. Every cent made went back into building brand awareness. Lack of money also hindered product development. It took two years to finally have all five products launched, even though all of the formulations were ready and waiting right from the beginning. After two years our internet sales were steady but we were being asked to consider making the products available for retail. We had to create demand for the products before the stores would agree to stock them. It was risky, but using our entire marketing budget, we drove customers in-store instead of to our website, without actually having product in-store, in an effort to create demand. It was tough going in the beginning but paid off quickly as SleepDrops had one of the fastest retail “take ups” by pharmacies for a previously unknown brand in New Zealand.
Of all the problems you could have focused on, why sleeplessness?
It’s such a widespread issue. Around 50 percent of the world’s population struggle with sleep issues, so I wanted to help people and sleep was the obvious choice to make the biggest difference in people’s lives.
What is your marketing strategy?
We have a strong presence across all media platforms to maximise brand exposure. Our main marketing channel is radio with regular print [she put her first ad in The Aucklander in 2009] and periodic TV ads to back this up. We create new radio ads every month or two so that we can keep our messages relevant and timely. We constantly invest in our website experience, we keep in touch on Twitter and Facebook, and we use Adwords. Basically, we want be anywhere our customers are. We want to be first to mind when people think of sleep products.
You won the Best Emerging Business award at the 2014 Westpac Auckland Business Awards. What do you attribute this success to?
I believe it’s about having a multi-pronged approach. We understand our market and we make a product range that actually meets our consumer’s needs. We have a committed and strong advertising campaign that doesn’t just try to sell product, we raise awareness, and I have the very best team of amazing and dedicated people who care about the difference we make in people’s lives.
You were also a finalist in the Excellence in Innovation category. So how important is innovation to your company?
Innovation is incredibly important to us. We feel that creating a range of products that can help all ages sleep better without creating toxic side effects or dependency is both awesome and incredibly innovative. Research and development is important, so we spend a significant percentage of our budget on it. Currently we are working on growing sales for the existing product range but we have a few new products that might be in the works soon.
How are your plans to shift into the international market going?
We recently exhibited at the Natural Product Expo West in California and since then have had an incredible amount of interest in taking the SleepDrops range global. We are currently in discussion with distribution partners in both China and the US, and already have distributors in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Proponents of natural therapies are often considered snake oil salesmen. Is the criticism fair?
The simple answer is no, it’s not fair. Doctors are trained in drug therapy disease management and there’s definitely a time and a place for that. But there’s also an opportunity for naturopathic treatment, which is very scientific. Most modern naturopaths are trained in research, analysis and nutraceutical therapy. There is a wide body of research with numerous clinical trials showcasing the efficacy and benefits of all types of natural medicines in humans and this information is easily accessible to the public. Natural remedies have been used for many centuries, long before conventional synthetic medicine was in use. The way media report on natural remedies needs to be addressed as well.
Do you use the media to challenge other scientists’ perspectives on natural remedies? How important is PR to your business strategy?
We do not see any benefit in challenging other scientists’ perspectives on natural remedies. We are a company interested in getting the best results for our customers. PR is a key part of our business strategy. We work closely with our PR company to obtain exposure through the media and take up opportunities to promote the SleepDrops brand through a wide variety of different media channels. In May last year, we had an event at Auckland Zoo to launch our new children’s book, SleepDrops’ Sleeptime at the Zoo, a bedtime story where we take kids on a journey through their bedtime wind-down routine. This was a highly successful event that generated a huge amount of positive feedback from the public and resulted in great media coverage.
ASA regulations also tend to be quite restrictive in terms of what can be said when advertising natural therapies. Has this made it difficult to promote your products?
ASA regulations can be decidedly restrictive around natural remedies. It is frustrating having to tiptoe around the benefits of our products. We literally cannot tell people how our remedies work and what benefits they can expect from the range. We can’t even use the word insomnia on our website or in any of our marketing material. If I ever see the word ‘support’ again … We’ve adapted though and it just means we have to be a bit more creative with our marketing and PR.
Is the natural remedy market becoming more cluttered? How do you cut through all the noise?
There are an enormous number of competing sleep remedies in the New Zealand market, over 100 in pharmacies alone. However, as our product range offers a clear point of difference we have not found it too hard to set ourselves apart. We can offer the consumer an individualised programme tailor-made to their needs. As well as this, we specialise in sleep and stress remedies and can offer each customer one-on-one professional support to ensure that they get the best results that they can from the SleepDrops range. The results speak for themselves. We wouldn’t have got to number one brand and number one product in three of the sleep categories if our products didn’t work. Happy customers help us to cut through.
What tips would you give to business owners who are trying to run a successful company in this space?
Make great products, have integrity and create a point of difference. For someone to want to buy your product, there has to be a notable benefit in choosing your product over somebody else’s. On top of this make sure that you are doing something that you are passionate about and that you truly believe in. If you are doing something you love and strongly believe in, the rest will follow.
What does the future hold for SleepDrops?
We want to change as many lives as possible for the better. We hope to one day end up as a household name on every bedside table in the world. The sky is the limit.
- This article originally appeared in the July/August edition of NZ Marketing.