We listen to podcasts…lots of podcasts. Most of these podcasts that help us learn about entrepreneurship and other companies that have been successful. One of the things that we’ve noticed is that for almost every founder or company, there’s one turning point that really jumpstarts their movement. It’s almost always the result of a chance that they took, someone who took a meeting with them, or insights that helped them drive a breakthrough on product development. As we look back on our first year, it is clear that there was one major inflection point that propelled us forward to where we currently we find ourselves. This leap came courtesy of Cambridge Naturals, our retail partners, collaborators, and perhaps most importantly, friends.
Our whole mission for VitalFit spawned from the idea that the supplement industry was flawed. We saw problems left and right, be it multi level marketing schemes, a lack of transparency regarding ingredients and production processes’, or the lack of reputable retail establishments. From the outset, product creation was our answer to these industry flaws, but we quickly learned that we needed partners - people who not only shared our dissatisfaction with the status quo but who also had the passion to impact positive change. So, we started looking. No product, no website, it was just me and Cam trying to figure out how to make an impact.
“Barrier to entry” is a common turn of phrase amongst entrepreneurs, but what you won’t learn in a textbook is that there isn’t just one massive barrier. Rather, the road of the entrepreneur is fraught with innumerable logistical quagmires that will stall your progress and stress your resolve to its breaking point. At one such roadblock, the details of which I’ve long since forgotten, I decided to take a day and visit some of the health food stores around Boston for inspiration. We were looking to get ideas for our products, packaging, and labeling. After a quick Google search, I hit the road. After stopping at some dingy supplement shops that looked like they were straight out of the 90’s, I pulled into the Porter Square plaza in Cambridge.
The second I stepped inside, I knew this store was something different. The walls are painted in vibrant earth tones. There is a skylight with hanging plants in the center of the store. The smell is infectious and you’re always welcomed by a warm smile from the staff member at the front desk. I instantly had a feeling that this was the partner that we had been looking for.
They truly are a community health store, supporting their loyal clientele and local innovators alike.I spoke with a few staff members that day. Looking back, I can’t imagine what they must’ve thought of me as I stalked around the store, sparking conversation and examining all of the products and sections throughout the store. Eventually, I built up the courage to ask if I could speak with the supplements manager. They told me that his name was Zach, but that he wasn’t in that day. The story could’ve ended there, but fortunately I was persistent. When I went home that night, I took a visit to their website and found Zach. The next day I sent him an email and crossed my fingers. I thought the chance of a response was minimal. A few days passed and Cam and I talked about making another trip over to the store. To my surprise, I found a response from Zach in my inbox, in which he agreed to take a sit down with us and talk shop. I was blown away. Looking back, this brief response, which seems so simple, so easy, is what makes Cambridge Naturals different. Surely Zach could have blown us off and kept doing his job, but he didn’t. The more time we spend with the Cambridge Naturals family, the more we realize that this response wasn’t an anomaly or the result of us doing something right, it’s just the way Cambridge Naturals operates and it’s the reason they are so revered.
At this point, we were nervous and very green, yet as we prepared to sit down, Zach introduced us to Michael and Elizabeth, the owners of Cambridge Naturals. They started Cambridge Naturals 43 years ago and their store is still thriving today. We were shocked and didn’t quite know what to do. To this day, I’m not sure exactly what they saw in that first meeting that made them want to work with us. We talked about who we were, our mission, and some of the ideas that we had for products. They shared some insights and told us that we could meet again once we had made a bit more progress. We left that meeting invigorated and inspired, determined to keep making strides.
Each and every stage of progress was marked by another meeting with the Cambridge Naturals family, altruistically guiding us towards our vision. Over that time, we were introduced to the entire staff, making acquaintance with each member’s unique area of expertise, and more importantly, personality. We started to feel at home, something I’m sure customers can attest to as well. Throughout the months, we showed them different label designs and packaging options, talked about interesting and effective raw materials, and the best distributors to source them. It’s not a stretch to say that the Cambridge Naturals team was involved in all of the decision-making that got us to our first product.
Finally, after many hard months, our product was nearing production. It came time to ask Michael if he would carry our product – and we are so lucky that he said yes! Around the same time, they also joined us on our panel, “Small Business for Big Impact”, despite having just returned from California and having to deal with delayed flights. Every step of the way, they have gone above and beyond to support us in our mission.
When it finally came time to launch, we were nervous. Launching a product is a bizarre experience, because as much as you are proud of what you’ve created and excited to show it off, you’re also nervous about the reception it will receive. I guess it all comes back to the elusive product-market fit that all entrepreneurs seek. Thankfully, our hard work, our collaboration with trainers and fitness enthusiasts throughout the city, and the insights and expertise that Cambridge Naturals contributed have all set us for attaining that elusive “market fit”. Their support for the product certainly gave us a leg up as well. I won’t give them all of the credit though – Cam and I have been working hard to demo the product as much as possible and share information with any customer who will speak with us. We have to thank the community and the customers as well, as their support has helped us get off the ground.
Now, it’s great to look back on the past with fondness and see just how far we’ve come. Our hard work isn’t done – we are now looking for ways to expand our partnership, new products to bring to market, and more ways to engage with the community. The future is bright, and we are excited to continue to grow. Sometimes all it takes is the platform and for people to believe in you – and we were just lucky that Cambridge Naturals gave us that chance.
Thanks to all of the staff members and customers! And a special thanks to the one and only Bex, one of Cambridge Natural’s own who helped me create this post!