Muscling into the health market

Four years ago, a long-running health battle with chronic endometriosis caused Charlie Ercan to give up her life as a lawyer and search for a new job that would allow her to manage her disease and deliver an income.

It was shortly after this time, that Ercan met Daniel Papanikolaou. After spending several years working for his family’s (unsuccessful) health business, Papanikolaou was a mass of stress and his weight had ballooned to an unhealthy 110kg. Realising something had to give he quit his job in the family business and began to look for new opportunities.

Papanikolaou was couchsurfing when Ercan met him and their pair soon found they had much in common. Mentally and financially at their lowest points, the duo was determined and passionate to get their health and wealth back on track.

After hours of discussion, the pair realised there was a gap in the wellbeing market that educated and empowered customers with healthy products ‘free of nasties’. Unique Muscle was born.

With little capital to their name, the couple started their business out of the local library where they built their website, designed their own graphics and survived off one meal a day in order to scrimp and save.

Unique Muscle was launched in 2014 with their last $5,000 going towards the purchase of a small quantity of product. The couple also released free eating and workout guides to encourage healthy lifestyle changes without the need to purchase anything first, these guides have since been downloaded over a million times.

“A lot of hours, hope and effort went into starting the business, it was ‘go hard or go homeless,”‘ Ercan says.

Fast forward four years and the company has gained a stronghold in $149 million online vitamin and supplement market in Australia and are in the top 1per cent of earners on Shopify amongst brands who launched in that same period.

The brand now has its eyes on the lucrative vegan market. To capture the $134 million vegan market they have reworked their products to be completely dairy-free.

“We wanted to perfect the formula so that there was no ‘chalky’  taste, like a lot of other vegan options on the market Although the majority of our customer base is non-vegan,  they are loving the product and our positive reviews speak for themselves,” Ercan says.

To introduce the Unique Muscle brand to market initially, the pair turned to social media, putting their marketing efforts into influencer-led social media campaigns through Instagram.

“Our strategy was to let real people test our product and share their experience with their community. We sent our first product to a few influencers, one of which decided to post for free because she loved it so much. We received our first 20 sales in one night and we were ecstatic,” Ercan says.

It was bold move. Influencer marketing was at its infancy but the duo felt influencers would have the biggest impact for their brand’s marketing bucks.

Today the brand’s best-selling product is its vegan-friendly ‘Unicorn Water’ and the pair plan to expand their range to include further vegan products.

“We have just released the best tasting Gluten Free and Vegan Brownie Mix which gives the standard supermarket box varieties a run for their money,” Ercan says.

With their feet firmly on the ground, Ercan and Papanikolaou show no signs of slowing down and will soon launch their worldwide store and warehousing based in the US and UK

“We have funded 100% of the business since the beginning and have continually reinvested into the business. We have never had a business loan or outside funding The growth has been astronomical, (165% average year on year) and we are about to launch into the US market which should see revenue continue to soar,” Ercan says.

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Cec is the managing editor of KBB. She is a multimedia professional with over fifteen years experience as an editor on titles as diverse as SX, CULT, Better Pictures, Total Rock, MTV, fasterlouder, mynikonlife and Fantastic Living. She has spent the past four years working as a news journalist covering all the issues that matter in the political, health and LGBTIQ arena. She is the Head of Content at Pinstripe Media and a recent convert to the world of small business.

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