My Business: Aussie SME secures global sports star - January 2017

If you’ve ever wanted to get people talking about your business, an ambassador is one way to go. My Business speaks to one SME that secured a high-profile tennis champion as its global ambassador.

On a mission to offer convenient, delicious and nutritious snacks aimed at helping people develop a healthier lifestyle, Sharon Thurin started her business in 2005 as a hobby.

“I was actually working in the health and wellness industry, and just saw a gap in the market for the snack products for busy people on the go that actually were not geared towards the body builder or towards the strict weight watcher,” Sharon says.

“It was more a lifestyle-type product.”

Sharon took this lifestyle product and took Australia, and the world, by storm. Today, Slim Secrets is a global brand, promoted by high-profile ambassador, current world number one tennis champion Angelique Kerber (pictured below right, with Sharon).

The rise of the ambassador

Slim Secrets exports to multiple countries, despite having just three employees. In order to capitalise on international markets, Sharon needed a way to increase Slim Secrets’ global appeal, and that is why she decided to engage a global ambassador.

“We have had other smaller ambassadors over the years. For example, we sponsor Miss Universe, we use social media in terms of a lot of influencers, and that works really well for us,” she says.

A prominent, global ambassador was the next obvious step.

Sharon was approached by a US-based brokerage specialising in pairing businesses with celebrities. She decided on Angelique because of what the German tennis player represents.

“She’s number one in the world at the moment. She worked hard to become number one. It took her time to become number one. She supports a healthy [lifestyle] and she also inspires others to reach those goals,” Sharon says.

“But … the biggest factor is she actually won her first grand slam in Australia and she has a soft spot for Australia.

“She’s coming to the [Australian] Open very soon, because this only happened, I’d say six weeks ago, so it’s all very quick. They approached her agent and they investigated our brand, they looked at, obviously, all the ingredients ... we sent them product and the rest is history.”

There’s more to having Angelique and her status of ambassador for the Australian market. Being the world’s best tennis player in women’s singles means Angelique has global recognition and popularity, both of which Sharon is hoping to harness for the benefit of her business.

“We are exporting a lot at the moment, or a lot more than we were, and one of the export countries is China,” Sharon says.

“[Tennis] popularity has grown incredibly in China since [former women’s singles number two] Li Na, and hence we felt this was great. We just thought it would help in terms of growing our popularity and sales in China.

“One of the main reasons we did go ahead was to grow our brand internationally,” she says.

Dealing with competition

Sharon sees Slim Secrets as a trendsetter in the health food industry, something she says stands the company well against competitors.

“The one thing that I believe we’ve done very well over the last 10 years is actually keep ahead of trends, and just be innovative in the products we bring out,” she says.

“For example, we had chia seeds in our cookies. Nobody had heard of chia seeds in most countries around the world.

“We just keep ahead of research, and just try and ensure that our products are as healthy as they can possibly be, as well as taste great. That’s very important.”

Sharon says that as well as staying ahead in the marketplace, expanding Slim Secrets’ product offering has given it an edge in the fight for retailers’ shelf space.

“Whilst we do mainly have a range of bars, we recently launched some shelf stable protein puddings, for example, so they’re the first on the shelves like it.”

The right relationship

For Sharon, forging a strong relationship with an ambassador is not the only success of her business growth. She believes her success to date is due to the relationships she has built.

“Building relationships, and just building great relationships … to me is number one,” she says.

“It just relates to everything you do, whether it’s with your customers, whether it’s with your retail partners, whether it’s with the media … anybody and everybody.

“Those relationships become so important, because it helps everyone feel like they’re part of your business as well.”

International food industry: a regulation nightmare

Despite achieving success around the globe, Sharon faces excessive red tape in every market she finds herself in.

“There’s such complexities to do with the food industry, whether it’s regulations, it’s packaging, it’s those minute details,” she says.

“When we’re launching a new brand or products, there’s just so many things that you have to look at with new products and new packaging to ensure that you get everything right, because if you don’t, it can be very costly.”

Making sure Slim Secret’s products translate well in other markets causes Sharon many headaches. Because of the small size of the business, she ensures that her products comply with each country’s food regulations to avoid having to produce multiple versions of the same product line.

“It's really difficult and a lot of what’s on our packaging may not be suitable, for example, in Kuwait or China, so occasionally, depending on the market, whoever distributes for us has to actually use a sticker and change a couple of things, which is a pain for them,” she explains.

“All countries are so different, so it really does become very tricky to get something that everybody will be able to use.”

SOURCE: My Business