Energizing Qunol!1 Apr, 2013 By: Thomas Haire Response
With a pure DR-to-retail play, Peter Boutros and Quten Research see their supplement brand hit great heights in Wal-Mart and other key outlets
“Initially, we didn’t do almost any direct response,” says Peter Boutros, founder and CEO of Quten Research Institute in Fairfield, N.J., maker and marketer of Qunol, a CoQ10 supplement product available in Wal-Mart, Costco, BJ’s Wholesale and Walgreens stores nationwide. “But once we went into DR media — as a branding play to drive retail — it’s told our message over and over.”
That message has resonated as Qunol is one of the top five sellers in the vitamin and supplements category at Wal-Mart. It’s not a massive surprise when you consider Boutros’ background in retail and with supplements, along with the company’s strict drive-to-retail DR-style advertising efforts. Boutros will share even more of the Qunol story during a special panel discussion on retail-driving direct response during Response Expo 2013 on April 3 in San Diego.
And though Boutros talks extensively about the challenge of building a brand that succeeds on retailers’ shelves, he is even clearer about the challenge of getting consumers to understand the need for CoQ10 supplements, let alone proving that Qunol is the best of breed.
What Is CoQ10?
CoQ10 — short for Coenzyme Q10 — was discovered by scientists in the 1950s and is a substance similar to a vitamin, found in every cell of the body. Your body produces it, and your cells use it to create the energy needed for cell growth and maintenance. CoQ10 also serves as an antioxidant and helps enzymes in your body work together in various ways.
However, in most people, the production of CoQ10 begins to slide as they reach their mid-40s. Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs also slow its production. Hence, the creation of CoQ10 supplements, almost all of which were only fat-soluble until the arrival of Qunol on the market in 2007. When it hit the market, Qunol was the only 100-percent water and fat soluble CoQ10 supplement, allowing it to absorb into the human body at rates much higher than other CoQ10 supplements on the market.
How’s that for a quick, two-paragraph science lesson in a marketing magazine? Now, try taking that message and communicating it to consumers. Boutros did.
“Without CoQ10 in your body, it’s much harder to produce energy,” he says. “You eat and breathe, and that produces energy. But if you have low levels of CoQ10, it’s much harder to maintain your energy levels. The products we saw on the market when we launched Qunol had very poor absorption. That’s why we brought Qunol to market.”
Boutros and a silent partner founded Quten Research Institute in 2006 as the parent of the Qunol brand, with the product hitting the open market a year later. But Boutros’ background was crucial to how the product was launched.
He’d served as a regional vice president of Rite Aid from 1995-2003, before moving into the supplement space with Trim Spa. “From my experience with Rite Aid, I understood the drug store world, how it works and how to sell products in those types of retailers,” Boutros says. “Then I went to Trim Spa, which was my first bite of the vitamin world. I led retail distribution and strategy, and really learned from the marketer’s side how to do category analysis, merchandising, product assortment and more.”
At the same time Boutros took on the Qunol project, he also opened a second business, Mina Inc., a marketing and consulting company that provides brokerage services to other suppliers and category advisement to many retail buyers in the supplement market. But, having been on both the marketer’s and the retailer’s sides, Boutros believed he was in powerful position to bring Qunol to market.
Product, Media Consistency Drive Success
That’s because Boutros believes, wholeheartedly, in his product. “The most important thing for success is having a great product,” he says. “Qunol is just that, and it’s priced competitively for consumers and in its category range.”
Boutros retail distribution plan was razor-sharp from the outset. “We chose to focus on four points of distribution — Wal-Mart, Costco, Walgreens and BJs Wholesale Club — because they offered more incremental revenue and buy-in than at any other retailers,” Boutros says. “We wanted to get in as many doors at these four retailers as we could and then grow within those doors.”
How did the Qunol team plan on creating that growth? “We knew that we had to work television media properly to tell the consumer that we had this great product, and it was available at their favorite retailer,” he says. “We didn’t know that DR media would be the right fit.”
Boutros connected with Irvington, N.Y.-based media agency Lockard & Wechsler Direct to formulate the media plan. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner than L&W,” Boutros says. “They understood the challenge we were bringing them right away.”
With a DR-style media attack designed to drive only retail sales rather than any incremental direct sales, it took some different tweaks before the campaign really started rolling in late 2008. “We use 15- and 30-second spots to drive retail, and it’s effective if you stay consistent. The past two years, we’ve been on-air 46 weeks each year,” Boutros says.
Across all media — “national network, syndication, cable,” he says — the Qunol campaign requires regular touch-ups. “There are a lot of tweaks on a monthly basis, whether you’re talking about clearance, rates, targeting the right eyeballs,” Boutros adds. “But the budget has grown each year with the brand. The only way to make the brand grow was to increase media spending.”
That’s because Qunol’s top retail target — Wal-Mart — took a wait-and-see approach for growing the product in its stores once it decided to take the product on. “As the No. 1 retailer, Wal-Mart’s initial buy-in to Qunol was important,” Boutros says. “But distribution was very limited early on. They waited for us to make Qunol a success. Now we’re one of their top five sellers in the vitamin category.”
Maximizing the Opportunity
Boutros believes there’s still room for growth for the Qunol brand — and for many other brands in different categories — thanks to the right mix of DR-to-retail campaigning. And he continues to credit Lockard & Wechsler for its efforts.
“This was a branding play on their end,” he says of L&W’s initial media rollout. “Qunol was never meant for straight DRTV from day one, and Lockard & Wechsler understood this. They helped me brand this product.”
Still, flexibility remains crucial to the Qunol campaign in so many ways. “Even if L&W doesn’t have the right media at the moment, they will do the homework and find the resources we need to continue to be successful,” Boutros says. “While nothing replaces good product, you still have to tell the right people the right story at the right time. Having consistent media week in and week out has been and will remain crucial to our success.”
Qunol’s success can be replicated by many DR brands, Boutros believes. He says many DR marketers he’s seen during his time on the retail side sell themselves short, even if they do move into retail eventually. He believes that the many DR marketers seeing success in retail today is only a small scratch on the surface of what could be for these products and brands.
“There’s a lot of room for DR brands — especially ones with initial retail success today — to have a much longer retail lifecycle,” he says. “People are leaving a lot of money on the table, even the ones reaping rewards. There is so much more room to optimize retail success from a DR campaign. Yes, you have to work your campaigns a lot harder for DR products to be a success at retail, but if you do, retail can keep working for you for years and years.” ■