Pivot, Pivot, and Pivot Some More: How Restin Chairs Refined Their Concept to Open Up New Markets

March 26, 2012

1:00 pm

Every startup pivots at least once during alpha or private beta to improve their concept and/or open up new markets or applications.  This has certainly been the case for DC-based Restin Chairs, which was called Restin Digital when I first met co-founders Barry Womack and Frank Taylor last month.  Their story is almost a perfect case study (almost, because of course the story is still being written) of how pivoting can really pay off.

Womack and Taylor were roommates at The College of William & Mary (W&M)  when they started noticing massage chairs in malls and other public spaces.  “We decided to take the concept and develop it around the college market as a way to help relieve stress during exam time,” Womack said.  “Our original concept was pay-per-use, so students would swipe their student ID cards to use the chair, but it turns out the time-to-market was just too long, so we immediately changed that idea, and we leased a few chairs to the college during exam periods.”

The service was offered as a free service to students, and during the initial trial period, they had 10,000 uses in 12 days – and this was just with 4 chairs at one library at W&M.  “During that trial, we saw that tons of kids were using iPods, iPads, iPhones, and their laptops while in the chairs to access digital content – music, entertainment, the Internet, and so on,” Womack continued.  “Frank and I quickly realized that if we could capture an individual’s attention for 3-5 minutes while they are sitting in the chairs, we could integrate a digital marketing aspect and offer this in corporate settings, public spaces, and tradeshows.”

And thus the idea of Restin Digital came about.  The massage chairs originally had a built in screen that would stream location-specific content and advertising at malls, in public spaces, and at airports.

Fast-forward from our initial meeting in February to last week, when Taylor told me that had pivoted again and were now called Restin Chairs.

“As we’ve learned things along the way, we might go off in one direction for a little bit and refine the idea, but we are still going in the same direction.  People love these chairs, and we need to figure out how to best leverage that attraction.”

At a tradeshow at the beginning of March, they got a lot of feedback and learned that there is a huge need for regular massage chairs for rent or lease, especially in the business/corporate market. Chairs retail for $3,000 to $6,000, so they’re pretty expensive.  But a $150-250/month rental is much more attractive – it’s no longer a capital expense, but instead a line-item expense without maintenance costs.

While Restin Chairs now focuses on renting or leasing chairs for their original target market of malls, public spaces, corporate clients, and airports, the digital media component has not been thrown by the wayside.  As Taylor explained, “We are putting together a network of digital marketers who can create branded messaging, so we will continue to offer digital marketing, but we will not be doing it ourselves. We will be able to integrate your content or recommend companies that can do it for you.”

Did you keep track of the number of pivots?  Four by my count.  Time will tell how quickly they pay off, but thanks to so much user feedback, Womack and Taylor do appear to be headed in the right direction.

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Monika Jansen is a writer and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, newsletters, website content, and other materials. Follow her at: @monikacjansen

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