Hi this is Adam Hiddel, a graduate student in the Marketing program at BSU. As part of my coursework and Senior Project I’m interviewing James M., founder and partner at SARMTECH.
SARMTECH sells research chemicals known as SARMS, or Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators, is a private company with 3 full-time employees, and has a stated mission of “cleaning up the wild west of SARM sales”.
Good morning James. I’ll jump right in with a question on everyone’s mind: “Why SARMS?”
Haha, well SARMS are on my mind a lot, I’m not sure about everyones’, but if you mean why are SARMS such a great technology the answer is simple: they produce very good results in most test subjects with almost no documented side-effects.
Test subjects? You mean bodybuilders, or just people who go to the gym and want to go further than their genetics?
No. SARMS are not yet approved for human consumption. They are sold as research chemicals only – IND’s, Investigational New Drugs. Buyers on sarmtech.net know this well and if they’ve somehow escaped the messaging on every page they’re presented with a mandatory acknowledgement of it at checkout.
But what about at stores where they’re sold over (or under) the counter?
We don’t have a store, and we don’t support a resale policy. We don’t want to see our stuff on eBay or other sites, but when we do it’s not us, it’s someone trying to make a few bucks. I will say though, there are at least two “sarmtech” competitors who sprung up in 2018. One’s gone, the other is in Australia and still has products on the market.
And how long has SARMTECH been around.
Just over a year now.
I read the article on your site about the SARMS bill proposed last year – what happened there? I also read on a forum that you guys were trying to scare people.
Nope, just informing. Who knows what happened… It was put out there last year in, mmm, April I think, by Oren Hatch, a Senator from Utah where most of the supplement companies are, or source their products from – go figure – and the White House chimed in on the press release with some baseless pseudo-scientific ‘facts’. Then the bill’s wording got dialed back into like this compliance thing or a set of rules, like the products had to have the official really long chemical name (which ours did already) and could not contain any other compounds (which ours don’t). Then the bill apparently languished in committee or got forgotten in all the government shutdown hub bub at the end of the year. We had people emailing and asking at least 10 times a day since it was introduced so we started that blog article and kept it updated best we could. There’s no time when we were trying to scare anyone or capitalize on it. It’s just there’s this bill that’s about to possibly affect hundreds of thousands of people and no one was talking about it, no one, and it’s right there in the House Judiciary waiting to go to the House floor for a vote! The article is still up on the site if you haven’t read it. At any rate, fortunately the bill seems to be off the table and no news yet of a 2019 version of the SARMS Control Act that we’re aware of.
Ok, let’s change gears. How are sales?
Sales are very strong. We continue to grow rapidly month over month.
What’s your average ticket sale?
I’d rather not get into those specifics.
What’s your projected increase for next month?
The metric that I’m most interested in is repeat business: right now we’re almost at 70%. I’m really proud of it. I mean, we want new traffic and new customers of course, but we’re trying to build something cool here, trying to do something good, so what turns us on the most is when customers come back again and again.
Wow, 70% is amazing for an e-com. You mean 30% of your orders are new customers, and 70% are return?
Not quite. That’s more like 50/50. I mean total sales volume… return customers come back more frequently and they order in higher quantities. Versus most new customers order just 1 or 2 bottles.
But aren’t SARM cycles most often performed with ‘stacks’?
Yes, but you gotta put yourself in the shoes of a new customer. The SARMS industry is, overall, pretty sketchy. Some are just dudes in their mom’s basement with a bottling or capsule machine and big jugs of powder, probably exposed to all kinds of stuff. It’s terrifying from a GMP standpoint, or just basic sanitation. No quality control. We have another article on the site that links to that study showing about half of SARMS sold are either underdosed or contained the wrong SARM. At least this is how it was a few years ago – maybe it’s better now. The thing is these days people are used to buying with a lot of trust since they buy everything from Amazon and there’s, you know, 100% buyer protection. But not SARMS. Also SARMS aren’t cheap. You really have to build trust with first time customers.
You mention quality control a few times – do you feel you sell a clean, quality product?
I know we do. Most folks think price is the main factor but it’s not for SARMS. Product legitimacy is the primary concern. Our mission statement actually includes our 4 main priorities: Quality, Price, In-stock, Speedy Delivery.
Why so much confidence in your product’s quality?
We get into that on our FAQ page, mainly in Q&A #1, but it really starts upstream in China, and making sure we have “boots on the ground” in the facilities there.
Your SARMS are from China?
All SARMS are from China.
Yes. Maybe a tiny percentage from some other countries, but 99% from China. As sellers, we just decide how much of the work they do and how much we do. Whatever we, as sellers, decide, it’s still our job to ensure quality in the sourcing and at every step in production until the finished product. We actually have 2 main sources that we sort of work against each other to keep pricing low, always dangling the carrot of higher sales for them if they do their job well. We’re cultivating a third source now as a backup in case of any issues.
Our producers create a Certificate of Analysis during every batch, then once we receive shipment we send off random samples to an independent lab to be tested and verified, and the closer the purity numbers are to the COA the better they’re doing their job, and we show them (“Look, your compeitor did 2% better than you this time! What’s up?”). We’re actually considering doing a second independent lab test for each product, so there will be the COA and 2 seperate and independent third-party lab tests to corroborate it. Testing is quite expensive per item, and we have 8 items — soon 9 when we add S23 — so we still need to do the math on if this to see if it would attract enough more customers to offset the cost … we really don’t want to raise prices.
Seems like the more testing the better though, as that’s what everyones’ talking about. So anyway why does almost every bottle of SARMS say “Made in the USA”?
I don’t know. They shouldn’t. It’s not true. Ours don’t.
Oh wow, Ok. Alright this may be a touchy subject, but on that note, talking about quality, I’ve seen a few forum posts out there accusing SARMTECH of selling fake SARMS.
Ya, we’ve seen it. I get emailed links sometimes from our customers about it, but honestly I’m not even interested in looking at them anymore. Most of that noise is coming from one particular forum.
Why wouldn’t you be interested in looking at them?!
It’s not that I’m not interested. It’s … look it’s a combination of being disappointed and also knowing there’s only so much we can do about it. Some of it’s young inexperienced researchers who don’t get out of their experiments what they hoped to. They thought they were getting a fast-acting magic pill instead of something that provides small, incremental improvements over a longer time period, where a lot of other factors also come into play. But they’re mad and they’re naive and they go online and say SARMTECH is crap. I prefer to sleep at night, so I stopped looking at it, but one of our guys looks at it a lot and is up to speed on like every post (he doesn’t sleep!), and he thinks most of it is manufactured from our competitors. He traced some of these fake accounts back to other things they said and made some strong connections to their companies they were recommending.
There are real accounts too from real sellers that are trying their best to be upfront and help folks but I think they’re really asking for it. So what you get is this soupy mixture of opinion and bro-science and some facts, and on top of that mischaracterization of some companies (not just SARMTECH) plus unwarranted kudos to others. Some forums sniff this stuff out better than others.
For a few months last year we made the mistake of asking customers to help us out on forums – help clear it up – but it came back to bite us – made an even bigger mess. Now our position is to steer completely clear and just work hard on providing a perfect product and perfect service and letting the market correct itself.
What do you mean your asking your customers to help came back to bite you?
Ya so for a few months on our product review pages there was this blurb like ‘Hey thanks and please also share your SARMTECH experience with ____’, so some of our good customers would eagerly go out there and onto these forums … sigh… oh man, like lambs to the slaughter. They’d want to give their 2 cents but because you have to create a new account to post they’d just get the shit knocked out of them by the everyday forum members — maybe some of the fake members too — sometimes pretty badly. Looking back, it seemed logical. I mean I’m a business and marketing guy so it made perfect sense to ask our actual customers to do this. But looking back it was probably a mistake. That stuff needs to be totally organic.
And you’re saying other SARMS companies selling on these forums are “asking for it?” How do you mean?
Ok think: why would an employee or representative of a Research Chemical company be talking about their products on a forum where everyone’s discussing human consumption for performance enhancement? Do you know how many SARMS websites have come and gone in the past year alone?
No, how many?
Ha ha, well I don’t know either but I can think of four off the top of my head and I’m sure there are more.
What happens to them?
I’m not positive but, sometimes they’re just gone one day. Other times there’s a message like “It’s been real, sorry we have to quit” (and they don’t say why). I’ve not seen it myself but I’ve heard of FBI/DOJ takeovers of PED sites where SARMS are sold, too. My guess is they get a warning or visit from some agency, probably linking them back to places online where it was apparent they had an active knowledge and participating interest in their products being used contrary to their official IND classification, and there’s some kind of very compelling discussion that takes place that scares them off.
So you’re not on any of these forums?
SARMTECH employees or agents are not on any of forums?
No. Absolutely not. Not on social media either. Oh wait there’s an account on Instagram from way back but we’re trying to delete it. We went to delete it a few months ago and somehow we can’t. I don’t know I need to ask #### maybe we got control of it again. But we can’t check it for some reason. I get emails like “Hey ya jerk I’ve been messaging you on Instagram why aren’t you answering!”
This sounds like a marketing disaster, James! I mean, how do you communicate with your customers? Your potential customers? How the hell do you go to market if you can’t even talk to your customers?
Haha I know, right? It’s weird. I’ve run a few different business. Been in business all my life. This is the weirdest one in terms of having a ton of stuff we want to say and not being able to say it. It’s even worse than you think… we actually have to ward off potential customers and even ban existing customers’ accounts sometimes. Like people will email “Yo bro, it’s my first time and here’s my stats and what should I take?” and we’re like “I’m sorry, read #10 in our FAQ… we legally can’t answer that, and oh by the way, no you can’t be our customer because you just said you were going to consume our products yourself.”
But to answer your question about reaching or keeping customers, it’s mostly word of mouth. We started out slow, but when people started returning they’d bring their friends, um… research cohorts, then the snowball just kept getting bigger. We added in our Reward Points program last year and that was a huge hit. Lots of ways for buyers to get points to use to discount orders, like 50 cents each day just for visiting the site, so after a month there’s $15 off your purchase right there. There’s a $10 referral bonus, 5% back on all purchases, stuff like that.
You’re paying people to visit your site?
Ya I guess, sort of, 50 cents a day. In reward points.
How are you making any money?
Haha we make money. One thing is you can only use points for a maximum of 50% off. The thing is, because it is a little crazy and people are amazed by it, they’re telling the friends “Hey man you gotta check this out…” so then 5 of their friends are now on the site. The profits go down but the sales go up.
That’s some pretty cool marketing man.
Thanks. On top of the reward points, there are a bunch of 15% off codes out there people find and use from when we used to run our Affiliate Program.
Used to? What happened?
We only had it going a few months last year before the SARMS Control Act popped up, then we killed it. So affiliates are sort of like employees. It’s a gray area but they’re essentially employees, doing work for you. That means there’s liability not only on their side for what they say and do (which we can’t control) but there’s some liability on our side too for these hundreds of sort of part-time employees. It’s fine if you’re selling toothbrushes. But what about new protocol research drugs not approved by FDA? Now add to that the idea that SARMS were possibly about to go Schedule III like steroids. We just didn’t want these guys to possibly get themselves in hot water for a bunch of comments on social media that could come back to haunt them, maybe us too.
But I was gonna say a little more before on your question about how we go to market, since you’re probably wanting that for your paper. We do put a lot of effort into our website. It’s not fancy but it’s fast, and it’s easy to navigate. The product is ‘boom right there‘ at the top of the home page, as well as the pricing. The pricing itself is carefully calculated to be as low as possible per milligram and still allow us to get a paycheck. I think we’re still lower than anyone on a per milligram basis. The chart needs to be updated with some of the newer players though.
So the thing is we may not troll the forums like other guys and maybe we get less web traffic because of it but when we do get a site visitor we really try hard to offer them the best possible experience and remove as many pre-purchase barriers as possible. At this point, over a year in, we have a ton of product reviews on every page (except Stenabolic that’s a newer item), but they can only be left by someone who’s logged in and the system recognizes them as having purchased the product.
We do a little bit of email marketing too, but only with our subscriber base – we never purchase lists. One of those emails is a reminder to leave a review and a $5 discount incentive, regardless if it’s a good or bad review.
One of the things I think helps a lot, and almost no one else does this, is a 100% money back guarantee even if the product’s been opened. I don’t think anyone else offers that. Enhanced Athlete did, god rest their souls, and I think people really appreciate it. Ours goes even a step further than theirs did – there can be as little as a third, or 30 capsules, remaining. And we recently updated it to extend the timeframe indefinitely – it used to be “return within 30 days” but with all the fake forum stuff we were getting folks asking to return products after 1 or 2 or 3 weeks of use (not near enough time for results for most research trials ya know) because they read some bunk online or they’d say “my research subject should feel ____ and he’s not”. These are our last two returns. This LGD is missing maybe 5 capsules, and this RAD maybe a dozen. Go figure. So anyway we’d say “Yes of course you can return your entire order but looks like you just received it a week ago? What if we remove the 30 day time limit? Would you continue your experiment and use at least 60 of the 90 doses?” and they’d always say yes. So we just did away with the time limit. Now we have even fewer returns.
Oh wow so you must get a lot of product returns?
Very few. Surprisingly few. Probably twice a week I’ll get an email asking to return. About a third of them are expecting a fight and when they don’t get one they’re like “Oh ok… well, maybe I’ll just continue my research.” So it ends up being about 5 or 6 a month, out of thousands of orders. Almost 20,000 orders now.
Ok, gear change again – What do you like best about this job and what’s the worst thing?
Ya I think we already went there. The best thing is seeing the repeat customers. SARMTECH provides a modest paycheck to me and two other guys. But I also have two other businesses. SARMTECH is doing well but probably none of us are going to get rich off it. If I get rich, haha fingers crossed, it’ll be from one of the other business. But we all three want to perform with excellence. Kinda perfectionists. We want to bring a sanity and order to the wild west of SARMS sales. So when I get an email that someone just left some product reviews from what they ordered the previous month, and they’re all 5 out of 5 and going on about the fantastic results acheived, it really makes my day.
The worst thing about the job- Mmm, I guess it’d be the “fake news” or whatever you call it that we talked about earlier. It’s one thing when someone’s upset about their research results and they think it’s your product, they think the product is fake or watered down or whatever. It’s normal to be upset when you buy something and it doesn’t work they way you expected. In time this self-corrects… maybe he tries other companies and gets same (or worse) results, maybe he figures out other paramaters of his research aren’t up to spec, maybe his cohorts are using SARMTECH and having good results, whatever, in time the truth comes out. That’s one thing. The frustrating part for me is putting in 14 hours a day and doing everything you can to ensure quality product, price, placement, and promotion – there’s your 4 P’s Adam – and you come across a ginned-up negative comment about your product, and then a bunch of comments under that like “Oh glad you said that I was about to place an order”. That’s just not fair.
What’s the one thing you wish more people knew about SARMS?
Well most people are like you, very surprised they come from China and not quite “Made in the USA” as often advertised. But for me the main thing is people need to know SARMS are not magical. Lots of things need to come together for researchers to achieve the goals they usually want. If the other parameters are good, SARMS can work wonders, over time. OVER TIME. A few weeks of research won’t accomplish much.
What’s the one thing you wish people knew about SARMTECH?
I guess that we try really hard for perfection. We’re not bros or muscle-heads, but we know more than most about SARMS and how they actually work. We’re business guys and we could have chosen a different category or industry. Actually I’m jealous of Harry’s.
Haha the razor guys?
Hell ya, what a great idea! Read their story. They saw an opportunity in the market… the existing market being very dysfunctional, creating a niche opportunity, and they seized on it. I love my Harry’s razor! Their website is simple. Their process is easy. Their products are quality. So anyway, for some reason we chose SARMS, and we feel like we can to some extent “fix” the broken parts of the SARMS market. Obviously we’re not the only sellers out there, we may or may not be the biggest, but we really just want to be the best. Bring some order and discipline to the space. Give customers a level of consistency they haven’t seen there yet.
What’s the one thing you wish people knew about you, James?
Me? Nothing. I’m off the grid. I’m just trying to be a business man and a family man at the same time. Not always easy, but you’ll find that out soon enough, my friend.