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Updated 30 Mar 2020


USN's best learnings on what your customers need from you

Lessons from the founder of sports nutrition giant, USN. 


Nadine Todd, 03 March 2015  Share  0 comments  Print


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Whether you’re a retailer, or a product on retail shelves, the rules of the game are changing. Consumers are flooded with choice, shopping online and sourcing information from other consumers at the touch of a button, so how do you stand out from the crowd?

According to Albe Geldenhuys, founder of sports nutrition brand USN, successful sales start with the question: What do our consumers need from us?

“This is a strategy that’s worked well for us,” Geldenhuys explains. “It’s one thing knowing there’s a market for sports nutrition products; it’s another tapping into that market, especially because it was already a pretty full market when we launched USN in 1999.”

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And so while Geldenhuys focused on developing products that were good quality but more affordable than international brands, he also evaluated what consumers needed over and above the product alone.

“I realised what they really needed was information. The market existed, but a lot of users and potential users were unsure of how to use the various products. That was our in: Educating the market. The more your consumer knows about you, how different products work, and what you should be using when, the more comfortable they are with their purchasing decisions.”

The power of knowledge

Geldenhuys knew he needed to invest in consumer education, and so he did two things. He developed additional free products like meal plans and dietry advice to show his customers how to use USN products in their daily lives, and which products suited different levels of fitness, training regimes and goals.

Even more importantly though, he invested time, effort and money in the floor salesmen in Dischem.

“We took it upon ourselves to make sure that the Dischem floor staff understood our products, how they worked and which solutions were best suited to which potential clients and their needs. It makes a huge difference to a consumer when they can walk in and get real advice before they spend their money, especially if they’re looking to achieve certain goals.”

An added bonus is that floor reps are more likely to recommend products that they understand and can answer questions about as well.

Making a splash

“This was a lesson we learnt very clearly a few years ago when Dischem, who was our biggest customer, bought 50% shares in a competitor brand, Evox,” says Geldenhuys.

Up until this point USN hadn’t paid much attention to the competition. The Evox deal changed that.

“Dischem was our biggest customer, and at that point we made up 50% of their sports nutrition sales. This was due in large part to the floor support we offered consumers. What we hadn’t been doing was marketing the product outside of stores.”

This was about to change. Geldenhuys knew he had strong in-store sales support, but he hadn’t focused on big branding exercises up until that point.

“I approached Jaco van der Westhuizen, who played for the Blue Bulls. He’d been injured and he was out of shape. I proposed that if he got into fantastic shape through using my products and sticking to a strict health and fitness routine, I’d put his face everywhere, from adverts in Men’s Health to billboards. He agreed.

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"Seven weeks later he’d gone from flat and white to an athlete in incredible shape. It was an unbelievable transformation, and we stuck to our word and splashed it around. He was the talk of the town. Within three months he was on the Springbok team.”

The marketing splash also sent customers flocking to stores, requesting USN’s products – where well-trained and knowledgeable sales staff were able to answer any questions they might have, and recommend the right products.

“The best starting point is simple: What do your customers need from you in order for your product to really benefit them?” says Geldenhuys. “And then give it to them.”

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Nadine Todd


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