What do you do when it turns out your business idea isn’t viable? You pivot to find success.
Sean Johnson spent an entire year working on a skincare line for multiracial and Hispanic skin types. “You can go to any store and find products for Caucasian and African-American skin,” reasons Johnson. “There’s a niche for it.” But it turned out he wasn’t the right person to do it.
Luckily, he had two 21-hour drives ahead of him, heading to Michigan with his family. “You see all these sex shops on the side of the road. I thought, These things have been around for decades, someone must be shopping at them regularly. I thought, It must be like liquor stores, no matter what, someone is always shopping there," he recalls. By bringing his idea into the realm of adult products, the leap of using his skincare knowledge to develop a personal lubricant seemed only natural. In the company’s first week on Amazon, Johnson made his first sale. In the first month, Amor Oral brought in $1,000 in revenue.
After a small series of tests, Johnson launched last October with 29 products, most of which were different flavors. “We want to be the Baskin Robbins of flavored lubes,” Johnson says. The ice cream company known for its 31 flavors actually rotates those sweets from a full collection of more than 1,300. Similarly, Johnson wants to keep things fresh by changing flavors frequently. Right now, he has around 60 of them developed, including apple pie, mint chocolate chip, bacon, and horchata. “I’ve seen a couple of customers that have bought seven flavors so far,” he says.
Working with flavor was nothing new for Johnson. As an MBA-trained brand manager, he’s worked with numerous companies, and his personal forays into business have included health-benefit-focused candies. “I’ve sat with chemists for the last seven years,” he says. He knew to make sure that the product was FDA-approved, but also worked for the needs of users’ bodies, with a neutral PH. “One thing I say is that the product is body safe. It’s in acceptable range for both women’s bodies and men’s bodies,” he says.
But while initial sales have been extremely promising, advertising to a wider audience has been a challenge. Because many people still consider a product like Amor Oral taboo, Johnson can’t buy Facebook or Instagram ads or put product specifics on Amazon. He’s attending an upcoming expo in New York for adult products, which he hopes will be instructive in figuring out how other companies are engaging with fans.
But Johnson knows how to work with what he has. For one thing, changing course is nothing new for him. He made a big switch when he entered his MBA program straight from the military, where he served in Iraq. One major shine of the spotlight came last April thanks to his military service. He entered Rice University’s Veterans Business Battle thinking that his adult-focused product wouldn’t even get accepted. Not only did he win his category and a prize of $4,000, it led to conversations that may score him an additional $150,000 investment from a company that focuses on veteran-owned startups.
That isn’t the only advantage military service has given him, Johnson says. “You get more done before 7 AM than most people do in a whole day,” he explains. “I think a lot of my experience from the military learning to persevere through tedious tasks has helped a lot.” And clearly, it’s also taught him the value of knowing when to pivot, and how to do it successfully.
But chances are, Johnson won’t have to make a big change again. By attending industry fairs, he expects to connect with major retailers (like those stores he saw on the side of the road) and distributors who will get Amor Oral seen beyond its website and Amazon. Within a year, he expects to be selling the product internationally -- he already has companies interested from Canada to Australia. By then, he also hopes to hit 200 flavors. All meaning that before long, Amor Oral really will be the Baskin Robbins of personal lubricants.