It’s a courageous challenge for an entrepreneur—launch a product against a direct competitor that both dominates the market and is free of charge most of the time.
How does one decide to go head-to-head against such a challenge?
For Jason Berry, the epiphany happened the night before a cycling race. As he was preparing his gear for the next morning, he grabbed four safety pins and his bib and was about to pin the race number to a brand new skinsuit.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I didn’t want to put holes in it.”
He explored his house for an alternative, settling on four magnets stuck to his refrigerator. After getting praise at the next morning’s race, he perfected the magnets to make them both stronger and able to interlock. He then filed for three patents, and had great success crowdfunding his idea. RaceDots was born.
Some endurance athletes find safety pins to be an annoyance, and some even value their apparel enough to despise poking holes in it just to attach a bib on race day. There are even cases of rusty safety pins staining clothes.
But are there enough disgruntled athletes out there willing to fork over money for an alternative, when safety pins are provided for free by many races? That’s what Berry and other entrepreneurs are banking on.
Across the pond in the United Kingdom, Mike Drage was frustrated that his favorite running top had a hole in it that was growing with each race due to safety pins.
“I thought about buying myself a new top for my birthday, “ Drage said, “then thought it would just get ruined again.”
About 18 months later, Drage launched EventClips, a two-piece plastic clip that snaps together and securely pinches the race top and bib number together. He claims that since his August 2013 launch, he’s sold more than 180,000 packs to runners, cyclists, triathletes and obstacle course racers. The flat facing can allow athletes and companies to customize their clips with logos, their names or any other small message—which has proven popular with running clubs, charities, sponsors and more. Like RaceDots, EventClips are reusable.
But they aren’t free. A pack of four EventClips retails for $2.99. RaceDots, featuring powerful interlocking magnets that never weaken, go for $19.99.
“I think everyone hates safety pins to a point that if you’ve got a little disposable money, you can throw (RaceDots) on the fridge when you’re not racing and use them year after year.” Berry said.
Berry, who runs RaceDots full-time out of his home in Virginia, says he has had about $250,000 in sales in 15 months since launching. RaceDots recently secured a shrewd partnership by sponsoring Michael Wardian, a serial racer known for wearing more race bibs than just about anyone. Despite a full-time career as a shipbroker, Wardian races nearly 50 times a year across a variety of distances and disciplines.
RaceDots can be found in close to 50 running stores in the U.S. and Canada, as well as online. EventClips can be found online, in Up & Running stores in the U.K. (30 in all), and Drage is currently looking for distributors in the United States. Other safety pin alternatives are on the market, too. Race belts are popular among triathletes as a bib holder, and there’s even apparel on the market, like X Racewear, with a see-through pouch built-in to secure a bib without safety pins.
Clearly, many companies see a market ready to be served. But the cheapness of safety pins—plus the fact that many athletes don’t have a major issue with them—is a treacherous mountain to climb over.
But all of them think it’s a mountain they will eventually conquer.
“Once people get them in their hands,” Berry says of RaceDots, “they’re hooked.”