Crazy Scrubs' niche pays off with growth
Premium content from Denver Business Journal - by Jeremy Johnson
Sandi Richter, the founder of Crazy Scrubs, surrounds herself with mannequins wearing some of her wares. Richter’s most recent line is Bling, which is festooned with rhinestones.
Contrary to what the name implies, Crazy Scrubs has a very sound business model: providing comfort and confidence through customized hospital apparel. And Crazy Scrubs is not merely treading water in the choppy manufacturing market. Instead, it's bucking current trends — growing in profit and revenue, as well as expanding in scope and services, at a time when many businesses are cutting back or collapsing altogether.
"We have a very strong sense of what needs to be done in a business and what kind of business model we need to follow to be successful," Richter said. She said her company had a record year in both revenue and profit in 2008, and the numbers were up through the first quarter of 2009 as well. "Sales and marketing are what drives us, and are a huge key to our success."
Following an emergency appendectomy in 1994, Richter began to realize just how frightening hospital experiences could be, especially for children.
"Surgery was really, really scary," Richter said. "That's when I told my husband, 'It would be nice for kids not to be so afraid.'"
She decided to take a simple approach: Create bright, colorful, custom surgical caps as a way to take the fear out of hospital visits, for both children and adults. Richter felt that by providing a distraction in the form of wacky patterns and wild colors or themed prints, patients would feel more at ease.
She began selling her product in 1995.
"It's all about making that connection with the patient," said Karen Bradley, who started a rival company, Sassy Scrubs, in upstate New York in 2003. Previously the owner of a nursing agency with nine locations, Bradley formed Sassy Scrubs after hearing several complaints from her colleagues about the limited design and selection for scrubs.
What began as a kitchen-table operation for Richter has expanded into two retail locations (one in Glendale and one in Littleton) and a corporate office in Englewood, with 16 full-time employees and manufacturers spanning the globe. Richter said the company plans to open another retail location in Colorado.
Because of the small-scale, at-home approach, Richter said she never had any need for startup loans, and that Crazy Scrubs was built by continually dumping all of its profits back into the business.
The company embodies the "niche" concept. After all, 15 years after it started, Richter's business is one of only a few like it in the United States, and the only one of its kind in Colorado. "The concept caught on because there was nothing like it," Richter said. "It's very, very out there, I guess. It was just a trend that hadn't even begun yet."
The company has broadened its scope to beyond just unique surgical caps and scrubs. Richter prides herself on Crazy Scrubs' innovation, and its ability to serve as a one-stop shopping experience for health care professionals. Aside from finding their favorite floral-print hats and matching scrubs, doctors and nurses also can shop for shoes, jackets, blood-pressure cuffs, surgical scissors and stethoscopes.
Then there's Bling, a recent line of Crazy Scrubs that offers rhinestone-encrusted scrubs for the health professional who really wants to make an impression.
"We're unique in the respect that if you can dream it, we can make it," Richter said. Bradley's Sassy Scrubs follows a similar business model, offering aprons, lab coats, scrunchies, neckties and — Bradley's own proud niche — maternity scrubs.
Both Richter and Bradley implement new fabrics into their designs to meet the demands of different environments. Crazy Scrubs now offers a new dry-fit scrub for those blistering -hot Colorado summer days, and on the flip side, Bradley makes warm, flannel scrubs, ideal for those chilly Upstate New York winters.
"It's crucial to offer new, fresh ideas," Richter said. "It's like anything else, like golf equipment for example: You want to know what's new, and you want to use it." However, the company's niche is not just kitsch; Richter also recognized the need for style and professionalism beyond old, antiquated hospital standards that included "unflattering scrubs." "Nurses want to look nice and professional, and they want to feel good about themselves," Richter said. "They don't want to look frumpy and dumpy. Some of the styles that nurses used to wear — those old boxy, square tops — aren't popular at all anymore."
Richter said Crazy Scrubs provides high-quality apparel because it uses what she describes as "respected and trusted" brands in every aspect of production, from the more comfortable cotton microfibers it uses to detailed, matching buttons.
She also insists that — despite the fact that most manufacturing happens overseas in Southeast Asia — the company supervises all production from start to finish by providing highly regulated specifics on design, and implementing relentless quality control before shipping merchandise to clients. "I've always believed it's the details that make the product really special and sets it apart," Richter said. And while Crazy Scrubs seems to cost a tad more ($28.95, compared to an average price of $12.95 elsewhere), some professionals are willing to pony up the extra dough in exchange for style, comfort and exceptional customer service.
Antoinette Roybal, clinical supervisor for Trinity Orthodontics, which has locations in Arvada and Thornton, said Crazy Scrubs has supplied her office with apparel for more than eight years. "They're just so comfortable and so professional looking," Roybal said. "And Crazy Scrubs' customer service goes above and beyond anywhere else I've ever bought scrubs, or regular clothes for that matter. They go to great lengths to make sure we're happy."
Roybal also praised Crazy Scrubs' use of cotton microfibers, which she said are more comfortable than scratchy scrubs of the past.
Crazy Scrubs earns more than patients' trust, it also earns respect through generous charitable practices. Following what Richter refers to as a "distinct belief system," Crazy Scrubs donates hats, scrubs and other wares worldwide, from Africa to India to Louisiana (following the destruction from Hurricane Katrina). The company recently donated 60 surgical caps to a hospital in St. Louis, and Crazy Scrubs gives a pair of free scrubs to local health care professionals who work in emergency rooms on Christmas Day.
"As much as is given to us, we believe the same is expected from us to give back," Richter said. Flashy patterns aside, the real key to Richter's continued success can be seen in the excitement she exudes when talking about her company.
"You really have to love what you do, and that will carry you through the good times and the bad," Richter said.
"One of our slogans is: 'We believe in the healing power of color, and we believe in you,' That process of making things a little bit brighter and happier has been a great process."