If your back aches or your ankle swells, managers of a Columbia-based company want you to forgo the ice pack and grab a TheraPearl instead.
The maker of therapeutic pearl-filled packs that can be chilled in the freezer or heated in the microwave want their brand to be to ice packs what Kleenex is to tissues. The company appears on its way. After less than six years, the brand that started with an idea and three employees has grown to $10 million in sales at some of the nation's biggest retailers.
The sports packs, designed in a variety of shapes and sizes to conform to the body and relieve pain in the neck, back, knees and other spots, debuted in stores in 2011. They can be found in Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite Aid , Harris Teeter, Dick's Sporting Goods and other stores. This month TheraPearl launched in the nearly 1,800 Targets in the United States, an outlet the company expects to enhance the brand's profile even more.
Daniel Baumwald, TheraPearl's president and CEO, expects sales to be driven by the rising cost of health care and an increase in sports injuries.
"This is an inexpensive solution. I can take this home and heal from therapy on my own," said Baumwald, a former national accounts manager for Coca-Cola-owned Vitaminwater, who was recruited to the start-up in 2009 by its founders. "The hot-and-cold-pack set had no brand leader or consumer loyalty. With attention and effort, this could become the Q-tips of hot-and-cold-packs."
The privately held company now has 17 full-time employees and a headquarters and warehouse off Snowden River Parkway. It projects sales of between $13 million and $15 million this year and expects to reach the $25 million mark within three years.
It started with Baumwald and two other employees and a small sampling of products at a small warehouse near Arundel Mills mall. The founders, Gary Rezeppa, a retired senior vice president of Vitaminwater, and venture capitalist Gina Dubbe, developed the product in conjunction with a doctor who is no longer connected with TheraPearl. Originally the packs were envisioned as a fit for the spa and salon niche.
One of the company's first hires, then-account manager Chris Corsiglia, recalled spending the first couple of years packing up his car with the products to hawk at salons throughout Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia.
"My job every day was to get up and make a list and hit accounts all day every day," said Corsiglia, TheraPearl's director of national accounts. "I'd walk in and pitch the product and get them to buy it on the spot or leave samples in their hands. We never had someone say absolutely no. That's when I knew we had something."
The company began to build its reputation among salons and added beauty product distributors nationwide, then began branching into independent pharmacies. A big break came when distributors of Moroccanoil, a high end hair product, began carrying TheraPearl packs to sell to salons.
But TheraPearl saw a larger opportunity in retail and early on had been sending samples and making calls to buyers at mass discounters, drugstores and other chains.
Baumwald began talking with Target buyers in 2009 and had his first meeting with Wal-Mart buyers in 2011. Always selling, he remembered using the time waiting for the Wal-Mart appointment to pick up the lobby phone and dial other buyers within the company.
That year, TheraPearl launched for the first time in stores. It hit three chains at once — Duane Reade in New York, Harris Teeter and Supervalu, owner of Shoppers Food Warehouse and other grocers. The company began getting publicity on "Good Morning America" and in magazines.
It refined its packaging and signed on more retailers, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Kroger, all in 2012. The company recently signed a licensing deal with Bausch & Lomb to co-brand the TheraPearl eye mask.
Acceptance by numerous major retailers bodes well for the brand's future, said David Warschawski, CEO of Baltimore-based marketing agency Warschawski. But while the health category is growing, it's also highly competitive, Warschawski said.
"Big pharmacy and big box, that's a tough category to enter into," where shelf placement matters and rival manufacturers often look to create similar products, he said. "It can be very competitive. Some wonderful products have been made because of shelf space, and wonderful products [have been] broken because of horrible shelf space.
"There is a lot of opportunity and a lot of dollars ... in health and wellness, but it is a very competitive space, and there are a number of really big hitters," he said.
Brands such as TheraPearl need to differentiate themselves successfully, and consistently, from similar brands by making an emotional connection with consumers, Warschawski said.
"Great brands are focused on and very clear about why and how you are different from competitors," he said.
Baumwald says the biggest challenge in getting into stores has been convincing chains that TheraPearl is different.
After years of talking with buyers at Target, TheraPearl was given a test run in 50 stores. This month, sales expanded to the entire chain after TheraPearl bumped a competing product from the shelves, Baumwald said.
"Within the over-the-counter personal care category, Target guests are looking for products that are innovative, high quality and effective, and the TheraPearl brand is a good example of this," said Jamie Bastian, a Target spokeswoman, in an email.
Target is a significant outlet because of its size and customer base, Baumwald said.
"Target is a big one for us," he said. "They're growing and thriving. We identified from day one that was a need-to-have."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun