Steinberg began to send samples of his formulation—Vapor Fresh Sports Cleaning Spray—to college equipment managers, and received some good feedback and even few purchase orders, marking the start of his company, Raw Athletics.
“In general, I thought the lack of green cleaning products for the athletics market was a huge hole in the market that was desperately needed,” he told Happi.
Raw Athletics later added a powder laundry detergent, which seemed to be faring well online—not just in the commercial marketplace for which it was initially developed.
“Even though it was never designed for the consumer market from a packaging perspective, it performed well on Amazon, so we always knew we wanted to make a more concerted effort to enter the consumer market eventually,” Steinberg said.
Raw Athletics recently accomplished that goal, rolling out new high-performance, eco-friendly, free and clear laundry detergent pods that are sold on Amazon, VaporFresh.com and at select grocers ($13.99 for 30 pods).
“With pods being the fastest-growing segment of the consumer laundry market, it made sense to launch our own free & clear laundry detergent pods to try and get ahead of trend,” Steinberg said, noting that Raw Athletics spent two years developing the pod.
Like many start-ups that run lean, Raw Athletics relies on a “wide support network of knowledgeable contract manufacturers” and “chemists on staff at chemical distributors and labs” to develop finished products that carry its name.
“Because we get industry insights and innovations from a number of difference sources, we test a lot of assumptions and samples before bringing something to market and continually tweak to remain ahead of the curve. Everything is very methodical,” said Steinberg. His company works with contract manufacturers that specialize in each respective product; its detergents and wipes are made in Wisconsin, for example, and its spray is made in Indiana.
The Raw Athletics portfolio also includes specialty products like a shoe and glove powder and disinfecting gym wipes, which Steinberg described as being a step ahead of every other gym wipe on the market as it combines cost-effectiveness, green chemistry and better efficacy.
Looking forward, Steinberg has high hopes for Vapor Fresh pods, “because not only is it vastly different than all other laundry detergents, it has broad appeal in a very large market.”
Still, he recognizes that Raw Athletics is the underdog and needs to make some smart moves—or dekes as hockey players call them—to have an impact in a market that’s dominated by Procter & Gamble and Henkel.
“It’s difficult to go up against behemoths that overwhelmingly own a large segment of a large market. But our laundry pods focus on benefits that seem to have slipped under the radar of other brands that we know will catch the eyes of consumers. From there, it all comes down to execution in making sure the right people know you exist and building a relationship with our wider network of retailers, distributors and consumers,” he said.
This Washington, DC-based company isn’t shy about taking on the varsity players in household care. In fact, Steinberg told Happi that Raw Athletics is “gearing up for launching two to three new products within the next six months to really round out our product offering for both the consumer market and the commercial market.”