By Diane Mastrull
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The conundrum for Superfit Inc. of Philadelphia is as complicated as love itself: The family-owned company has created a product it wants ring-wearers worldwide to know about, yet it’s designed to go unnoticed.
“We’re still too much the best-kept secret in the world,” said Gena Alulis, chief executive officer of a business trying to revolutionize, elegantly and unobtrusively, the way a ring is made to fit.
Superfit’s patented hinge-and-latch technology eliminates the annoying spinning that occurs when rings are sized to fit over a large knuckle, rather than fitted to the base of a finger.
The technology enables a ring to be clipped on rather than slid on. Alulis and her husband, Paul, the chief operating officer, started marketing it as a retrofit solution while they were owners of a small jewelry store in 1992.
Growth was slow, with the first $1 million in sales not reached for 10 years, and the recession rendering 2009 and 2010 “impossible years,” Gena Alulis said. “You got up in the morning not knowing why we were going to work.”
But with the 2008 debut of a line of its own jewelry, CliQ, to complement the retrofitting business, and the opening of a European headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2012, and a Canadian headquarters June 1 in Toronto, Superfit is emerging from obscurity.
Not that the woman at the helm of the 13-employee company is relaxing.
“Surviving adversity fuels my confidence level and propels me forward to take on new challenges,” said Gena Alulis, 62, whose parents were also jewelers.
The foremost challenge? Getting better known.
“I haven’t met anybody who doesn’t say this is the coolest thing ever, but rarely have they ever heard of it,” said Eric Alulis, 34, the younger of Gena and Paul’s two sons and company president.
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(Brother Jeff is a writer and documentary filmmaker.)
Superfit’s profile is low despite some high-profile customers, including singer Kevin Jonas, America’s Got Talent host Nick Cannon, actress Nicollette Sheridan, and athletes Chase Utley and Brett Favre. The company also has scored some impressive publicity in wide-distribution magazines, including People, Maxim, Modern Bride and InStyle.
Creating more consumer awareness is partly why Eric Alulis encouraged his parents to expand beyond just manufacturing a retrofit part to actually making jewelry that includes the Superfit mechanism.
“Just working with the part, it was hard to turn that into a story,” said Eric, who also came up with the company’s succinct tag line: “Love fits.”
CliQ now accounts for 25 percent of Superfit’s total revenue, which the company would not disclose. A ring made with the Superfit device, which comes with a stylus for easy opening, generally would cost about 15 percent to 20 percent more than the same ring without it. A retrofit costs $1,000 on average, Eric Alulis said.
Believing their product has potential for broad international appeal, especially in affluent Europe and the Middle East, Dale Foote, an international trade specialist at the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia, has helped the Alulises secure state grants to offset the costs of presenting at trade shows.
“The real trick is getting the right partner,” Foote said. “You don’t want a partner that goes off competing against you.”
Richard Lowe recently spent a few days at Superfit, preparing for his company’s new role as Superfit’s Canadian distribution and service center.
“It’s a niche product, but it fits in with a lot of our customer needs,” said Lowe, a partner and vice president of operations at Platinum Unlimited Inc. in Toronto.
That’s evidently the case in Europe, where annual sales from 2012 to 2014 increased by 35 percent and are on track for an additional 20 percent growth this year, Gena Alulis said.
The idea for Superfit first dawned when the Alulises were operating a jewelry store in suburban Philadelphia in the 1980s and early ’90s.
Ring stabilizers were uncomfortable and hardly classy, usually little beads soldered to the inside of a ring, or chintzy metal guards that attached on two sides.
“We saw this universal need,” Gena Alulis said.
In a workshop above their store, they developed several prototypes, eventually creating something patentable. They incorporated Superfit in 1993 and then moved twice, eventually landing at their current, centrally located shop. Eric joined the business in 2000, after graduating from Arizona State University, forgoing plans for law school.
He got engaged in May 2014, and included the Superfit mechanism in the ring he designed.