4 Ways to Compete Against the Big Guys

Courtesy Company.

Fed up with clunky headsets and uncomfortable earbuds that constantly popped out during his workouts, Judd Armstrong set out to make something better. Armstrong founded JayBird in 2006 to build wireless earbuds that would stay put during even the sweatiest workouts. He faced some tough competition. Industry giants such as Motorola, LG, and Sony dominated retail shelves and had multimillion-dollar marketing budgets.

JayBird had only one product and much less money to spend. “They had trusted brands, and we were a brand no one knew about yet,” Armstrong says. What JayBird did have was a product that was laser-focused on pleasing sporty users. Since the company launched its first earbuds in 2007, revenue has grown to $31 million in 2013–up more than 110 percent over 2012. Numbers like that have given Armstrong plenty of reason to smile.

JayBird founder Judd Armstrong


1. If your users get sweaty, make sweat-proof products.

The list of things sports enthusiasts want from their earbuds is fairly obvious: primarily, great sound and a secure fit. When Armstrong and his team were designing their first product, they went a step further. If fitness buffs were going to be their main users, then their earbuds better not quit when they got drenched in sweat. As such, JayBird products are engineered with technology that repels sweat, and they come with a lifetime guarantee against sweat damage. “We were the first to do this, and it’s been a huge selling point,” says Armstrong.

2. Know where your customers shop.

In addition to selling its earbuds through Amazon and its own website, JayBird initially had a brick-and-mortar strategy focused primarily on one retailer: Target. “It’s hard in the early days,” says Armstrong. “You can’t handle a lot of major retailers.” For the first two years, retail sales were sluggish. It turned out that young men–the main buyers of Bluetooth products at the time–weren’t flocking to Target. “All the guys were going to Best Buy,” says Armstrong. JayBird expanded into Best Buy stores, and sales soared.

3. Ask for more money, but be worth it

Achieving all the innovations that Armstrong demanded meant higher production costs and, ultimately, more expensive earbuds for customers. He had faith, however, that shoppers would be willing to shell out a little more for those innovations. “We’ve always priced our products more expensively than the go-to product,” says Armstrong. “It sends a confident message to the consumer that you’re worth what you’re asking.” Though competing brands sell for around $89, JayBird leading seller, BlueBuds X, costs $169.

4 Don’t sell precious jewels in chintzy packaging.

Armstrong didn’t want a potential customer introduction to the JayBird brand to be through plastic clamshell packaging. “Big Goliath brands looked really cheap on the shelves,” he says. The company spent more to create sleek packaging with artful photographs and a case that opens to reveal the earbuds displayed “as if they were precious jewels,” says Armstrong. An endorsement from USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body, is also prominent. “We knew it was working,” he says, “because it was helping us to outperform and outsell everyone else on the shelf.”