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When former Philadelphia Eagles running back Herschel Walker scored two touchdowns in an October '94 game against the Washington Redskins with a butterfly-shaped bandage across his nose, it was the start of a potential $2 billion score for Breathe Right nasal strips.

Breathe Right, licensed by medical equipment marketer CNS, received FDA clearance in October 1993. But sales were slow, about $1.5 million, until Dr. Daniel Cohen, CNS chairman-CEO, hit on the idea that's built the brand.

"The idea was, if we could get it on football players noses', half of America would see it," says Dr. Cohen, 42, a neurologist at the University of Minnesota Hospital & Clinics before leaving to co-found the company in 1982.

So the company sent a case of Breathe Right samples to all National Football League team trainers. Up until then, Dr. Cohen, lacking a substantial ad budget, had relied on telephone interviews with radio and TV talk-show hosts.

The big breakthrough for Breathe Right, a medical device that allows easier breathing during exercise or while sleeping, was after the Eagles-Redskins game, when the star running back appeared in a Philadelphia Inquirer front-page story wearing the strip. After that, prominent players in every playoff game through the Super Bowl sported Breathe Right. Virtually half of last year's $2.8 million in Breathe Right sales came in the fourth quarter.

Industry analysts expect sales in the $50 million-to-$70 million range for the product, which retails for about $5 for a box of 10 one-use strips. That could push up Breathe Right's ad budget-at Seitsema, Engle & Partners, Minneapolis-from $600,000 to what Dr. Cohen hopes will be $10 million to $15 million this year.

The market for Breathe Right-invented by Bruce Johnson, the contract engineer who originally licensed the product to CNS-is potentially huge. There are an estimated 40 million chronic snorers in the U.S. and countless millions of others with colds, deviated septums, allergy and sinus problems.

One expert estimates that if only the snorers were to use Breathe Right strips half the time, the company would be looking at a $2 billion market.

"The potential market is so big, we tend not to discuss it," says Dr. Cohen.

-Laurie Freeman

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