A lot of the great products we know and love today were born out of personal need of the inventor. Karsten Solheim, the father of PING golf clubs had troubles putting so he invented a putter (and then some golf clubs) that revolutionized the golf world.
James Spangler, a janitor working in a Canton, Ohio, department store, invented the portable vacuum cleaner. Spangler figured out that it was the dust he stirred up with his brooms that was making him cough constantly. The vacuum cleaner trapped the dust and solved his problem.
Karen Cherniack, a Canadian native from Manitoba province, who came to the U.S. in 1979, was having side effects from a series of Deprovera shots and needed relief not provided by other progesterone creams on the market. So, she and a doctor client invented a new one. It made life better for Karen in more ways than one. Besides the relief from the skin irritations, she changed her lifestyle and started a whole new online business selling her invention, Awakening Woman Natural Progesterone Cream, to other women.
That was four years ago and today the Alternative Medicine Network is one of the major providers of reliable health products and information on the Internet. At age 48, the former TV producer and ad agency executive offers a wide product range that includes skin care, men’s and women’s health products, sexual health products, and books and videos on health and health care.
PeC: So how exactly does a TV producer make the transition to skin care product inventor?
I had been in the advertising and TV production business for about 21 years and I was really getting burned out. I had produced 650 TV shows and done lots of ad campaigns. I was on a merry-go-round. I really needed a change. Then I started having skin care problems after some Deprovera shots. Nothing I was using off-the-shelf was working. Also, I didn’t really know what was in those products, and the dosages were questionable. I thought maybe I could develop something that really worked. Obviously, I wasn’t a chemist, but I did a lot of research on the subject. I figured out some things I thought would work.
Also, I had done a series of TV shows with Dr. John Lee, who is a pioneer in hormone replacement. So, I contacted him and we talked about what I wanted to do. With his help, we developed my first product, Awakening Woman Natural Progesterone Cream.
PeC: After developing your first product you decided to sell it on the Internet.
It worked for me and I wanted to make it available to other women. The quickest and least expensive way was the Internet. I got some help from one of my graphic designer friends and from a programmer and we put the site up and started trying to get people to come to it. Meanwhile, I continued to work on other new products, I saw a big need for other products and reliable information.
PeC: What was you basic philosophy in the development of your products?
I wanted my products to have better results and to feel better than what was on the market already. I also wanted them to be pure. Many of the skin care products have so much junk in them. So, to develop more products I do the research and then work with my chemists, Melanie Vasseur, Hamilton Musser, and Rebecca Campos. I tell them what I want to do and what I have learned and they develop and refine the formulas. We’re constantly working on new products.
PeC: Once you had the products, your ad background must have helped in your marketing efforts.
Well, moving from traditional print and TV to interactive marketing was a learning experience. Basically, I had to forget what I knew about ad design. I knew what I wanted in terms of packaging and I knew how to execute that. I was fine there. But when it came to the website it was a tough transition. I’m one of those who like plenty of white space and minimal text, great images, you know. You can’t do that on the web. In fact, the home page of my site makes me a little nuts. It’s got way too much stuff on it. But it works. I just had to get used to a new way of doing things.
PeC: You’ve been up on the web for four years now. What was it like in those early days?
Mmmm, crappy. There were times when I wondered if I really knew what I was doing and if the business would survive. It took a year or so to start seeing things grow. In that first year, I would go days without an order and I would get nervous. By the third year, things were rolling pretty well.
PeC: What was your biggest challenge?
Getting people to the site. I hated going out and asking for links and trying to get higher on the search engines. Now I have a person, Mitch Feidler at AllBizNet, who works on our search engine optimization. I use hundreds of search terms and some of them are working pretty well.
PeC: Did you try any traditional media to drive traffic?
Not as much as you would think. I did try a couple of ads in the National Inquirer and Globe. I thought it was a natural. The demographics of those tabloids fit my customer perfectly. They cost me a fortune and I don’t think I got one single order from them. It was a big zero. I tried some pay-per-click. I did that campaign myself, wrote the copy and monitored it. It worked fairly well, but it had problems. I had a lot of fraud, phony clicks, which cost me a lot of money. We did get some results and, I guess for a while, it kept me in business.
PeC: You use Virtual Cart, but it looks like it’s not your off-the-shelf version.
We had them add several custom features that have to do with discount pricing, special shipping and pricing.
PeC: So who is Alternative Medicine Network now?
Just one part time person and me. I have sub-contractors like the chemists who help me develop the products and the people who write the books and other materials. I lived in Colorado for a long time and my company headquarters is there, but I work in Temecula, California, which is where the warehouse and shipping is.
PeC: Are you 100 percent online sales?
Online and telephone. I have an 800 number and we take quite a few phone orders now.
PeC: And how’s business?
Pretty good. We grow about 12 percent a year. We’ll exceed $400,000 in total revenue for 2005.
PeC: And the future?
I would like to develop an off-line business with reps and a wholesale system.