Internet site puts vendors on the spot

Friday, February 29, 2008

HOUSTON - Having heard one too many sleep manufacturers brag that their product was the best, Johnny Goodman decided it was time to throw down the gauntlet.
"We asked if they were willing to back up their claims by providing free product to use in a head-to-head test whose results would be made public no matter who won," said Goodman, general manager of's parent company U.S. Expediters. "They said yes, and the Product Challenge was born."
Manufacturers request challenges and provide product., an online forum for sleep patients, holds an open enrollment of patients currently using the challenged manufacturer's product. Fifty are selected and vetted based on specific criteria. A product challenge administrator reviews applications and weeds out anyone suspicious, like an employee of one of the manufacturers. Such due diligence keeps the challenges pure, said Goodman.
"Each participant is primarily concerned with expressing their own product opinions," he said. "They are aware they are sitting on a CPAP jury and they take the job seriously."
The challenger's product is used for two weeks and rated via a satisfaction survey on such factors as comfort, ease of use and quietness.
PMI ProBasics in February put its Zzz-Mask Full Face Mask up against Respironics' ComfortFull 2 Full Face Mask.
"We felt our product, as far as quality and comfort, could substitute for the big name, higher end product," said Scott Hassel, PMI president. has 25,000 registered users and the product challenges are generating a lot of interest. The first challenge--in November--set a single day traffic record for the site.
You can't beat that kind of exposure, said Hassel.
"It's difficult for a small company like mine to go out and market against some of the big guys who dominate the market," he sad. "The challenge is the fastest, least expensive way for us to attack the market with a product we feel merits (exposure)."
In November, ResMed won the first challenge hands down, with its Swift II.
It's free PR, says Allen Ehrlich, director of product management at ResMed.
"The Web site is one that a lot of patients and dealers go to," said Ehrlich. "We forwarded (the challenge results) to our sales reps to show them the success of the Swift II."
While manufacturers perform their own product trials, a blind study by a third party carries more weight, says Hillary Theakston, director of communications, ResMed.
"It comes across as unbiased," said Theakston. "Our trials bear out (our product claims), but they might not be viewed as objective."
Offering a standardized method for reviewing products makes it easier for patients, providers, physicians and sleep labs to gauge the effectiveness of a product, said Goodman.
"If you look at it from the point of view of the patient or provider, the question is the same," said Goodman. "'Do you want to buy products that you know the majority of your patients prefer compared to others?' We think the answer is a resounding yes."