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After seeing how crowded the health and wellness marketplace was, Cameron Fischer and Alfred Schofield, Cofounders of VitalFit Nutrition, discovered that a lot of the top players don’t do a lot of work utilizing innovation. VitalFit, a supplement company, is a young start-up that’s operating through design and influencer business models that are unique to this industry.

“We wanted to change the standard design thinking process, and one of the ways we’ve done that is by working with as many people as possible on the research and end-user levels to identify problems,” stated Fischer. “By staying super flexible in our supply chain, we’re able to come up with an idea, get everything we need, test it with people in our market and then innovate and iterate just as quickly.”

Fischer and Schofield spend at least 3-4 days out in the field a week, and conduct demos where anyone can sample the product – giving them the opportunity to directly engage with their market. “We understand the significant importance of not only being the face of the brand, but being ever-present,” said Fischer. “That’s what separates us from the rest of the market.”

Following-up from Fischer, Schofield stated, “We’re taking an approach that allows us to be fully accessible to the user, so all of our contact information is online on the homepage of our website. We’re putting a face behind the information being given.”

The supplement industry contains large, entrenched competitors that have been in the space for years. To get a foothold, the VitalFit Co-Founders began their approach by stressing education. Said Schofield, “A huge problem in the supplement and nutrition space is that people are either getting misinformation or not understanding what they’re putting in their bodies.”

Schofield is right. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “All too often, the health claims made for these [supplement] products are false or unproven.” However, being out in the field and conducting research behind the ingredients wasn’t an overnight process. Although the two started their company in May of 2016, they didn’t launch their first product until April 1, 2017.

“We took our time to understand how the industry works: how to build a product, source ingredients, get things produced on a small enough scale so it doesn’t break the bank when you’re just a young company,” said Fischer. “That brought us to this point – where we’ve been able to establish a super flexible supply chain, allowing us to receive feedback and iterate new products just as quickly.”

Their greatest obstacle to growth is distribution. “Traditional retail and grocery are dominated by the big players,” continued Schofield, “even recently, Whole Foods started requiring producers to be part of United Natural Foods in order to sell your products through them.”

VitalFit’s distribution network includes more than 30 retailers, partners and fitness instructors, all of whom Fischer and Schofield work with face-to-face. “When you mix that with the real world product testing and feedback we receive, coupled with the network of doctors and health professionals that we work with, we improve our products and get them to market in two-to-three weeks tops,” stated Schofield.

Unique to its design and influencer models, as well as industry itself, VitalFit works directly with the boutique fitness base to get direct, in-person feedback from its consumer base. “We work with a lot of the instructors and members at specific studios to help design our products,” continued Fischer, “and then actually distribute them through those locations. It’s a really good point of sale approach.”

The direct communication with instructors and members helps combat a major problem with expanded dialogue in the supplement industry, because the more “middle-men” a product goes through, the more likely misinformation is likely to reach the end user.

“There’s so much that can get lost in that process,” claimed Schofield. “We’re really focused on telling the story of our products to those who distribute them, creating “champions” so that anyone who is representing our products know them really well.”

Maintaining their unique take on the influencer model is a challenge as well. “To challenge things that we know work so well, traditionally, and try and do things a differently is intimidating,” said Fischer. “The influencer model is massive in every industry, but I’d say even more so in the supplement industry at this time. There’s a ton of ‘pay-for-play’ marketing, this is not part of our plan.  

“Any influencer that you see representing our brand has been directly part of the VitalFit Nutrition design process. We value their insights and by establishing a trust, all the promotion is truly organic and genuine.”

“Our business model runs the risk of becoming outdated if we’re not constantly flexible and responsive to feedback,” stated Schofield. “As we move to the next stage of growth we have to maintain the authenticity and the story we have been sharing. That’s another huge challenge.”

While not rapid scale growth, Fischer commented that “being able to stand behind what you’re doing really makes a difference.” He continued to say, “Don’t get me wrong, we want this company to be successful and thrive, but there’s a certain balance that has to be met in order to maintain the image we’ve establish for a larger scale.”


Originally published on Forbes.com. More articles by Christopher Skroupa on his Forbes column.

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