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Sunday, 10 November 2013 22:00

That's a wrap: West Michigan firms offer new advertising surfaces for retailers

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Grand Rapids-based Handstand Innovations LLC wants to change how retailers advertise to customers. Working with Mol Belting Systems of Walker, Handstand says its MessageWrap product offers stores an advertising opportunity on the checkout conveyor belt and provides for a more hygienic surface than the traditional belt material. Handstand just completed a $600,000 equity offering with Annapolis, Md.-based Compass Marketing to fund working capital as it continues to develop the product. Grand Rapids-based Handstand Innovations LLC wants to change how retailers advertise to customers. Working with Mol Belting Systems of Walker, Handstand says its MessageWrap product offers stores an advertising opportunity on the checkout conveyor belt and provides for a more hygienic surface than the traditional belt material. Handstand just completed a $600,000 equity offering with Annapolis, Md.-based Compass Marketing to fund working capital as it continues to develop the product. COURTESY PHOTO

A West Michigan startup wants to revolutionize in-store advertising at grocery stores and other retail outlets.

The company believes it can capitalize on the captive audience at checkout lanes by turning a formerly blank surface — the checkout conveyor belt — into an advertising opportunity.

Grand Rapids-based Handstand Innovations LLC piloted its concept at local grocery stores, but the firm has visions of taking its product to the global market. The company just completed a $600,000 equity offering with Annapolis, Md.-based Compass Marketing, a multi-national strategic marketing firm.

Handstand executives say they will use the funds for working capital as the team further develops the concept.

Susan Vanderploeg founded Handstand Innovations in 2009 with the idea of being a retail innovations company and placing branded advertising on the checkout lanes and other surfaces of groceries and retail stores such as Target and Walmart.

In partnership with Walker-based conveyor belt manufacturer Mol Belting Systems Inc., Handstand developed and prototyped its MessageWrap product. The coated, antimicrobial belts are easily installed in the checkout lines of grocery stores and make for an easy-to-clean surface that is more sanitary than the typical conveyor belts used to get groceries to the cashier, Vanderploeg said.

The new belts also contain eye-catching ads that the company believes will grab shoppers’ attention better than the typical advertising scattered around stores.

While the West Michigan area has a decent cluster of shopping chains headquartered here, Handstand has national and international prospects. The company has spoken with Wal-Mart corporate executives about getting MessageWrap in all 4,000 of its stores around the U.S. Handstand currently has distribution for its product in grocery stores in several countries including Russia, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago.

“This will become ubiquitous,” Vanderploeg said. “People will just have the expectation that they will be able to use MessageWrap for any type of promotion. Retailers are like puppy dogs. Once somebody is doing it, everyone else is.”

Prior to founding Handstand, Vanderploeg spent a decade working for Meijer Inc. as the Walker-based retailer’s senior vice president of properties. Since leaving the company, she has leveraged her experience into building a firm that provides advertising platforms for retailers. Between her tenure at Meijer and founding Handstand, she also worked as a senior vice president of technology and advertising at Mol Belting Systems, which manufactures MessageWrap.

Vanderploeg said the idea was also fueled by her stint as president of The Merchants Consortium, a collaboration between regional grocers Meijer, San Antonio-based HEB Grocery Co. and Wegman’s Supermarkets in Rochester, N.Y. that aimed to help smaller, regional chains better target national brands. That experience taught her how to approach retailers that may be slow or hesitant to adopt new ways of marketing in their stores.

“(Handstand) is going to the more innovative companies like Wegman’s, Giant Eagle and Whole Foods,” she said. “Those companies are early adopters and see the benefit of this. Many of them think the greatest benefit is the more hygienic check-out experience.”

Handstand has also formed a positive relationship with Compass Marketing, a Washington, D.C.-area marketing strategy firm. While the startup had plenty of marketing firms to choose from in West Michigan, it went with Compass because of its history as an alternative channel marketer, Vanderploeg said.

Compass was the company that helped Advil identify an opportunity to put its pills in smaller bottles at checkout lanes in Office Depot stores and that initially developed the concept for selling candy bars in the checkout lines at Home Depot, she added.

These fairly simple ideas represented huge boosts in sales and new markets for everyday products, Vanderploeg said of the innovations brought about by Compass CEO John White.

Handstand currently has nine employees — including Vanderploeg’s sons Tim and Nathan — and has a second office in the Washington, D.C. area to work more closely with the Compass Marketing team. The company declined to give revenue figures, citing the relatively young age of the business.

While Handstand has looked to the East Coast for its marketing and branding strategy, the company’s earliest market testing for MessageWrap took place right in its own backyard. In 2011, the startup installed a prototype of the product at Forest Hills Foods, an upscale grocer in suburban Grand Rapids that was acquired by Spartan Stores last year. In January, Spartan approved the deployment of MessageWrap advertising in 82 of its stores around Michigan.

Handstand executives said that the installations they have done in those stores have created positive attention to the branding they are providing.

“Since we’ve gone in on the (MessageWrap) installations ourselves, when we go to the store and the executives see it … it creates a buzz in the store,” said Tim Vanderploeg, Handstand’s shopper marketing planner. “We see the first few customers come through, and they all comment on it. It makes the whole front-end of the store look nice and clean.”

Read 5038 times Last modified on Saturday, 09 November 2013 17:47

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