The biggest challenge small entrepreneurs face when introducing new products to the market is acceptance, according to Barrie Stefel, president and founder of Shark Skinzz. “It’s never easy being a pioneer,” he notes. “You don’t have millions to spend on brand recognition and marketing.”
So, five years ago, when Stefel came up with a concept for portable, foldable containers that would be an alternative to rigid liquid containers, he knew he had to persevere and push to make the market take notice. Stefel also made sure he had a unique product. “When we started making our pouches, nobody was doing it,” he says. “We spent a lot of time on research of the materials, making sure they’re food-grade safe, ensuring all the components fit properly so the customer wouldn’t have any issues and adding four layers of film to the liner of the pouches. The fourth layer is a UV-blocking film that extends the life of the beverages. Then we backed it all up with certification.”
All Stefel’s meticulous design efforts paid off eventually, although his first trade shows incursions with his Shark Skinzz’s products were met initially with a certain level of indifference. “Five years ago, people would just look at my stuff and keep walking,” he says. But his perseverance and the quality of his foldable drinkware eventually captured the attention of major retail outlets. “The second year, people stopped and said, ‘That is cute,’ but they wouldn’t buy anything,” he recalls. “The third year, they [buyers] started stopping by and asking questions and placing orders. This year everyone is jumping on board.”
A Variety of Options
Shark Skinzz are flexible, foldable and reusable containers that can hold any liquid, from water and juice to drinkable yogurt and even wine. The company manufactures different sizes, depending on its intended application, and has been able to license major characters and brands for its children’s line.
“Different markets prefer different sizes,” Stefel notes. “In sports, bigger bottles are preferred, such as our 20-ounce containers, but for children’s use, the 7.5-ounce and the 12-ounce are the most popular sizes.”
The company that started with a single design has been able to secure licensing agreements with Warner Brothers to feature Superman, Supergirl and Batman on its pouches and with Nickelodeon to produce merchandise with popular cartoon charaters, like Spongebob, Dora and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the illustrating portable containers. “We started with one SKU and one color: silver,” Stefel recalls. “Now we have more than 50 designs and we keep growing and adding more.”
But one of the most important features of Shark Skinzz is that it is a concept developed taking into consideration its potential environmental impact at every level, from its manufacturing and production to aftermarket use and possible recycling. The pouches are eco-friendly because not only are they reusable, but they are made with a process that generates 80 percent less noxious emissions than the closest alternative. Their manufacturing also consumes one-third the amount of energy compared to glass, hard plastic bottles or aluminum cans.
Shark Skinzz is no longer dealing with indifference, and its products are certainly noticed now both at tradeshows and at the multitude of retail outlets that sell the company’s products. “Our business has grown at least five-fold from inception and we plan on hitting 30 to 40 percent annual sales growth every year,” he says.
Shark Skinzz’s growth is focused on making sure its products reach the widest demographic possible. “I want families in America and outside the United States to have these bottles, and I’m pricing them accordingly,” he says.
Stefel is not sacrificing the quality of its products to be able to reach a larger demographic. The high quality of its hydration pouches and other produts are at the cornerstone of his company’s philosophy. “We are making our product as affordable as possible while still maintaining the highest quality possible,” he says. “You may find bottles for less or more money, but what is important is that our products are manufactured at very high standards with very affordable prices.”
The company is also developing new products to add to its line-up. This year, Stefel and his team will add to the company’s product portfolio a line of licensed reusable thermal lined sandwich bags, as well as a carbon fiber water filtration system for their folding bottles. “The [water] filter is a carbon fiber filter designed to fit in our 20-ounce bottles, our largest containers,” he says. “It will remove all impurities in the water and meet all NSF safety standards. It is also very versatile – you can take the same filter and put it in a throw-away bottle and make it reusable. The filters are good for up to 300 uses in 20-ounce bottles.”
Shark Skinzz products are sold in a variety of retail outlets, from Urban Outfitters to Restoration Hardware to Macy’s. “We do custom-design programs and we sell to toy stores, too,” Stefel says.
“We’re getting a lot of attention and have deals, appointments and meetings with some of the major retailers,” he adds.