For the 31-year-old director of brand marketing of this natural-products company best known for its toothpaste line, the question has always been "Do we expand or do we defend?"
When he arrived 21/2 years ago after a 7-year stint in sales and brand management for Marion Merrell Dow, the company was experiencing its first flat sales. Mr. Rudberg decided to go with a strategy of "being straight with the consumer [and not] trying to play the positioning game like other package-goods manufacturers."
One of his tactics: When entering a new market, Tom's uses radio to talk with consumers rather than fight it out in the high-priced world of TV.
Gaining shelf-space at mass-market outlets and expanding into areas "where there is a strong shared-value with our customers," such as the Pacific Northwest and Southern California, Mr. Rudberg claims Tom's has "an opportunity to truly own the authentic-natural category."
Because Tom's "isn't in a position to pay excessive slotting allowances," the company builds "a profit story based on a regional rollout....... This provides the retailer with a model for growth." Then they're "willing to negotiate" for shelf space.
Speaking of profits, Tom's is just off it's most profitable year ever, growing at 10% to 15% with annual sales of $20 million.
Tom's doesn't yet track its toothpaste line nationally; for the first three months of 1995, Tom's claims toothpaste sales are up 12% in Boston, 33% in Seattle and 25% in New York. Its line of children's toothpaste has defied the odds, becoming a leader in what was essentially a declining segment.
Mr. Rudberg believes Tom's growth in the mass market is a result of his cultivating retailers, who "don't treat us as a commodity product."
Tom's is "committed to building an honest relationship with our customers," he says.