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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 6, 2018 5 months ago

Through professional athletes, company with unique products builds trust

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Cool products, even a cool name — SeaSucker has both — will only go so far, an entrepreneur discovers. A "foot on the gas" marketing mantra is a key response.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

A stash of bicycles can often be found in the break room at SeaSucker.

The company’s Bradenton headquarters is where a variety of products are made that use vacuum seal technology — among them are marine accessories, electronics mounts and bicycle racks.

The bike racks for vehicles have become SeaSucker’s biggest seller, and founder and president Chuck Casagrande says most of the company’s employees are avid cyclists. Some ride their bike to work, including Casagrande, storing their bikes in the break room until work is done for the day and its time to go home.

The origins of the company started in 2001, when Casagrande wanted to secure a chair on a boat. Then, as a cyclist himself, he wanted to build a bike rack, too. He realized he could use the same vacuum-mounted method. “That became our biggest product within a couple years,” he says. 

Since then, as the sole owner of SeaSucker LLC, Casagrande says he’s invested $1 million in the company. “Now,” he says, “it’s paying off.”

Both in sales and in turning SeaSucker into something of a research and development factory, with 32 products currently in test mode. Beyond bestsellers, the company is developing products in a variety of realms, including home health, industrial and building.

While Casagrande says the company is "growing at a crazy rate right now," with the new and current products, in addition to untapped markets, he adds that "there's a lot of room to grow."

SeaSucker had a little under $4 million in sales in 2017, up around 250% from $1.5 million in 2012. Casagrande projects the company will surpass $4 million in revenues in 2018. It has 25 employees. 

Yet even in growth, SeaSucker faces big challenges that come with marketing unique products. “Our biggest problem is acceptance,” Casagrande says. “People look at it and think it’s a suction cup, not a vacuum cup.”

And people don’t trust a suction cup to hold their bike. Casagrande says “marketing has been our biggest challenge.”

Foot on the gas

SeaSucker is determined to change any doubts customers have about how their products work and convince would-be buyers their bicycles are secure with the company’s bike racks.

Growth in dependability around the racks has partly come from marketing from the company’s relationships with professional cyclists, including teams that use the racks during competitions. A professional team of cyclists would have about $120,000 worth of bicycles attached to a vehicle, Casagrande says, so when they use a SeaSucker rack for their bikes, it builds big trust with consumers.

“We don’t like to do it standard or straight-faced.” — Chuck Casagrande, founder and president, SeaSucker 

While the company manufacturers bike racks for athletes competing in championships, Casagrande says the real money is on the consumer side.

SeaSucker offers consumer bike racks for one, two or three bikes. Single bike racks are $300, double bike racks are $440 and triple bike racks are $550. 

Because of the popularity of cycling overseas, Europe is a big market for SeaSucker. Casagrande says half the company’s business is international. Sales come from the company’s website and through bike shops.

There was one year, three years ago, when SeaSucker didn’t do any marketing, Casagrande says. The cutback showed in the sales ledger. “We were focusing on other things,” he says. “We didn’t grow that year.”

From that experience and others, Casagrande says he’s learned a big marketing lesson: “Not to let your foot off the gas. You have to stay on it. It’s not going to sell itself.” 

Casagrande, 53, brings other business lessons and experience to SeaSucker. He's also the owner of Strata-Tac, a manufacturer of self-adhesive products and films based near Chicago. Most of his first patents, he says, are for Strata-Tac products. "I'm an inventor," he says. "That's who I am."

He's also a partial owner of Santa Ana, Calif.-based Documotion Research Inc., a company that makes sticky tags. But he says he spends 90% of his time on SeaSucker.

‘A Bit Avant-Garde’

SeaSucker has super fans worldwide using its products and taking photographs and videos of themselves with them. They post them to social media, and sometimes they’re so good SeaSucker employees ask for original files so they can use them for marketing.

Those fans allow the company to partly outsource the creation of original content. It also provides potential customers a glimpse into real-life users who have purchased SeaSucker’s products.

To get additional footage for marketing videos, SeaSucker sponsors cycling events. Through the sponsorships, the company gets use of clips from races for promotions.

SeaSucker also amped up its video marketing efforts in 2017. Casagrande hired Sarasota-based video production company Evolv Media Inc. to create professional videos that would showcase SeaSucker bike racks and how they work.

Casagrande and the president of Evolv Media, Damen Shaqiri, knew each other through the local cycling world. 

“His product is a bit avant-garde,” Shaqiri says. “It’s not really traditional, and his style and approach to marketing reflects that.”

Shaqiri and his team created a commercial called “It’s Never Coming Off.”

The main challenge of the video, Shaqiri says, was “How do you convince someone in 30 seconds that it’s interesting and that it’s going to work for them? You have to overcome some of those initial apprehensions and fears.”

The commercial shows a vintage VW bus, branded with SeaSucker’s colors and logo, shaking. For the first third of the video, the viewer doesn’t know why it’s shaking. “Something is making this van move,” Shaqiri says. “You can draw your own conclusions.”

The next shots reveal a cyclist standing at the back of the bus, trying to remove a SeaSucker bike rack. Then the driver leans out the window of the bus and says, “Dude, it’s never coming off. Put your bike on. Let’s go.” The cyclist does what he’s told, and the commercial ends with the van driving away with the bike secured to the back.

“From a marketing standpoint, you could tell someone that,” Shaqiri says. “You could say it in a voiceover. You could explain why it’s never coming off, but I feel like we’re able to show them.”

What’s most important with this video and any promotional video, Shaqiri says, is to keep it short and sweet. “You have to engage on an emotional level,” he says. “You have to make people feel something.”

Casagrande wanted to run the video on NBC Sports during its coverage of the Tour de France. In July 2017, it ran on the network, and Casagrande says the commercial quadrupled sales during the event and captured other business along the way, too. “It was the best return on marketing dollars we’ve ever had,” he says.

The commercial recently won three Gold ADDY awards at AdFed Suncoast’s annual American Advertising Awards show. It also won a Best of Show award and will go onto the next stage of the competition in Orlando in April, where it could compete against spots from major theme parks.

Like the commercial, Casagrande says SeaSucker’s overall approach to marketing is edgy. “We don’t like to do it standard or straight-faced,” he says. Plus, he says, “The combo of a cool accessory and a cool car is fun.” 

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