The norm for the past 20 years or so in bodybuilding was to feature gigantic, monstrosities of men. Who would question this? As it stands, the majority of fitness enthusiasts and others interested in bodybuilding are men, so it is natural to assume that they want to see the men who are on the top of their game. These men act as a model for up-and-comers, figures to look up to, to show how far the human body can be pushed. They are the result of the mountains of research, trials, and experimentation in exercise science, nutrition, and supplementation. It's a lifestyle for some, and an obsession for most. BSL's president and founder PJ Braun recognized this and utilized it to great success, but something else always stood out in his mind. He knew that this particular style of marketing to this specific demographic would play an integral role in his company's success, but he always had something more in mind, and the key to creating what he dreamed of was heavily inspired by, and really, completely contingent on his own relationship with his wife and business partner Celeste.
Data and Marketing
The numbers don't lie. After analyzing web traffic data from Blackstone Lab's first year of operation, the numbers showed that a whopping 96% of visitors to Blackstone Labs' website were comprised of men in the 18-25 age bracket. Again, this is completely within the norm for a fitness/sport nutrition supplement company, especially to a company that made a concerted effort to become known as the premier "hardcore" company. Originally, they branded themselves very effectively, becoming best known as a company that was not afraid to push the limits of what was available in supplementation and how to go beyond what had been accepted and utilized by the concurrent market.
BSL's marketing approach fell in line with what a person would expect to see for a company such as this one: muscular men, "meat heads"(we use this term endearingly), etc. Having achieved a level of success in professional bodybuilding himself, PJ Braun was featured in most of their marketing imagery. As they continued to grow, other professional bodybuilders were contacted and used for further advertisements; men with monstrous physiques like Aaron Clark, for example. It all just made sense, right?
Well, not exactly. PJ's wife Celeste had been going through some personal hardships during her time in the WWE, which led to an epiphany, one that would change the face of the company forever.
It's Hard Out Here for a Diva
As you may already know, Celeste began her career in the WWE. She initially made waves, eventually become the Women's Champion and firmly establishing herself among the rest of the WWE Divas. As time went on, though, something funny happened. They began to re-write her story on the show. Not only was she intended not to be the champion any longer, she eventually stopped being featured on TV at all.
As months went by, she began to share stories of being called into meetings with producers and other higher-ups in the WWE with the majority of time spent discussing why she was not losing weight. She began to feel like a load of stress was being levied onto her for not conforming to existing beauty norms of that particular era. While stressful to Celeste, PJ also became baffled by this as she was dubbed "the hybrid diva" by the WWE due to her muscular physique. She rose to prominence on the show for her ability to perform the exciting moves that are normally associated with professional wrestling as a woman.
All of the pressure and disassociation from the show eventually took its toll on Celeste, where she ended up having an emotional breakdown. She and PJ both had a talk about what it was she was really doing and what she could do going forward. This is where the two of them birthed the idea to create Celestial Bodiez. If the WWE could not appreciate the form of a healthy, muscular woman, surely someone else would, which is why they decided to move into bodybuilding.
She came back with an idea. She recalled how the WWE seamstresses would alter her pants in a way that she felt made her butt look excellent. They approached Cynthia James, renown competition suit-maker with their idea. They asked her to add ruching to the seam of her pants and were instantly amazed wight with they saw, Celeste emphatically declaring that it was like "a wonderbra for your ass!"
After sourcing manufacturers and materials, they both knew that they had something special here. Not only did the pants look amazing, but they were also attached to the story they would eventually tell. PJ ended up investing $75,000 of personal funds into creating Celestial Bodiez. While he and Celeste were both satisfied with what they had created together, PJ also had another idea, which was to find a way to intertwine this with Blackstone Labs.
Rating and objectively monitoring a company's perceived success can be somewhat difficult. Often, various CEOs and other higher-ups in companies, especially entrepreneurial startups, are quick to boast their company's profits. While this may seem like a solid basis of measurement at first glance, we often forget to evaluate every factor in a company. What was their total growth? What are their margins like? How many employees have they taken on in the past year? Unless you have a solid background in business and marketing, the lines start to become blurred. Presence matters in marketing and success, sure, but what about the hard data?
Blackstone Labs, in particular, has been recognized by the well-respected publication Inc. 500 as one of the fastest-growing companies in 2016, gaining them a feature in their print edition, as well as a number of awards. BSL is projected to be included in this exclusive list once again in 2017, but will also be joined by its sister company Celestial Bodiez. This did not happen on accident. The two are more intertwined than what is often initially perceived.
More than anything, PJ stresses his vision and drive above everything else as the key to both companies' success. He plainly states that the goal of everything was to create a new movement in bodybuilding and competitive fitness. They both knew that women want to feel like they are a part of something that matters. In doing so, they aimed to challenge all existing views of what makes a woman beautiful with the hashtag #bootyscrunch. They intended to show other women that there are plenty of people who appreciate them for being strong, for having muscular physiques, bigger arms, bigger legs, for being curvaceous. They created an athletic clothing brand for women who might normally struggle with finding clothes that celebrate the bodies they want and work hard for.
The wheels began to turn. They began blasting the message across the existing channels available to them, all the while using Celeste as the face of their movement, while at the same time providing a point of entry to women who might be interested in fitness and bodybuilding, and giving them what they need to succeed with Blackstone Labs.
In time they were approached by the illustrious Bodybuilding.com for a banner ad placement for Prime Nutrition, which at the time was also owned by Blackstone Labs. At first, everyone's knee-jerk reaction was to use PJ Braun in the ad. He was, after all, the owner, president, and a successful bodybuilder. He had a difference of opinion, campaigning hard for Celeste's image to be used instead. After a round of heated debate, PJ stressed that his endgame was to make regular use of imagery that would make women feel inspired and powerful. By taking a strong woman who is also curvaceous and muscular and put her out there, he knew that the ad would be more successful than ever thought possible. In the end, they decided to feature Celeste in the ad and the analytics at the time showed that ads featuring Celeste had generated double the number of clicks featuring PJ or other male athletes.
Sculpting an Image
After proving himself to be correct, PJ and Celeste began to find female athletes who were not only muscular, but also possessed a ratio of curves, muscle, and "overall thickness" as he puts it. They wanted to showcase women who other women could identify with and act as an inspiration. They want these women to not only have an appearance that could inspire other women, but they wanted to show them doing the things that got them to where they are. A point was made to show how they train, how they diet, and yes, how they dress for the occasion, all the way staying true to the underlying theme of independence and empowerment.
All of this is best encapsulated with the success of BSL athlete Carrie June. Month after month, Carrie June's discount code she promotes ranges within the top 5 most-used codes on Blackstonelabs.com. A woman with no mainstream media attention ranks alongside of our own male fitness titans time and time again. This cannot, and should not be ignored. Women matter in fitness and it's time to stop ignoring them.
"Sex Sells" still clings onto the minds of so many in the industry, which is fine, but Blackstone Labs and Celestial Bodiez want to do something different. When a new female athlete is brought into consideration, product knowledge is a must. PJ, however, takes it a degree further. He only asks them to create content about the products in a factual manner. If the women want to create content that showcases themselves in a sexy manner, they are more than free to do so. These types of shoots are still supported and paid for, but ultimately PJ cares the most about what they know and how they can share their experiences with other women. Blackstone Labs completely understands the need to feel confident and sexy, showcasing the bodies that these athletes work so hard for and are proud of. A place can be found for anything like that, but PJ stresses the importance of grounding themselves in facts and knowledge.
Laurin Conlin, in particular, was the ideal amalgamation of these ideals. Yes, Laurin is beautiful, sexy, and fit, but the real appeal was from her level of education. She holds a master's degree in exercise physiology, and is an active fitness competitor herself. It was like finding a golden nugget to have someone who not only looks amazing, but has the background necessary to fully understand and talk about all of the products in a factual manner. They hope that Laurin can show just how attractive it is to be strong, athletic, and also highly intelligent.
It worked. Laurin Conlin's code usage has steadily crept up and now find itself amongst the most used on the website. This proves the point that the women who follow her posts on social media and on Blackstonelabs.com identify with her and feel like they can be a part of everything, too.
Current analytics show that the demographics have begun to shift. Where website traffic once stood at 96% of all visitors to be men, now shows that number to be near 80%. Women who visit the website have climbed up from 4% to 20%, a huge increase!
Blackstone Labs is currently projected to, once again, be featured as an Inc. 500 company. We may even rank higher than we did last year, which would be all in part to the women who have joined our movement. More than anything, we want women to know that it is okay to be athletic, it's okay to be muscular, that it's okay to be curvy, thick, whatever you may call it. PJ and Celeste started something born out of an unfair expectation of what society at large deemed to be "sexy" and decided to do something about it. Women should not feel pressured into looking a certain way and then shunned for not adhering to someone else's standards of beauty. They want to celebrate the woman's shape and physique in whatever form it may come as, all stemming from a group of men who decided to tell a woman that she was too fat. If anything, it is Celeste and PJ's hope that any woman being pressured to look a certain way to see the success of another woman who decided that she would not take it any longer and decided to do something about it.