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Tue, Aug 12th 2008, 10:06

Tiny Detergent Maker Scores Big as U.S. Sponsor

While training for a marathon in 2002, Mark Konjevod never imagined that a berth at the Olympic Games might be at stake.

And sure enough, Mr. Konjevod isn’t here in Beijing.

What is here, however, is a product that emerged from his awful-smelling marathon-training apparel. Called WIN, it is the official detergent of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and it even has its own Olympic pitchman, U.S. decathlete Bryan Clay, who not long ago never imagined himself endorsing soap.

“I didn’t even know there was an official detergent,” says Mr. Clay. “But you know what? It works.”

Popular perception is that it takes a corporate giant — Coca-Cola Co., McDonald’s Corp., Visa Inc. — to sponsor the Olympics. But tiny WIN Products Inc., with revenue of $4 million, is one of dozens of companies that sign deals with USOC, including one company that makes scrapbooks and picture frames.

WIN won’t specify how much how much its licensing deal costs but says it is a six-figure amount, plus a percentage of its sales. The sponsorship is the company’s primary means of marketing, and it appears to have paid off. WIN, based in New York, has slapped the Olympics logo not only on its products but also on executive business cards and company letterhead. The sponsorship also makes it into every pitch it makes to retailers.

“We literally said [to retailers], ‘If it’s good enough for the USOC, it should be good enough for you,’ “ says Mr. Konjevod, WIN chief executive, who was a banker and media executive before plunging into the laundry business in 2002.

WIN now boasts shelf space in hundreds of sporting-goods retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, a Pittsburgh-based equipment company with more than 300 locations in the U.S.

Retailers say WIN solves a problem familiar to multitudes of sweaty exercisers. Traditional detergents are made to remove stains and odors from mostly cotton clothing. But these days, athletes tend to wear high-tech fabrics, which pull sweat away from the body, keeping it cool and dry.

But that synthetic fabric is made of fibers that are much finer that cotton fibers. Sweat molecules burrow into the tiny holes and bacteria feed on the sweat, resulting in a smelly piece of clothing. WIN’s formula uses active oxygen, a molecule so minuscule it can slip into the crevices and remove the smelly bacteria, says Nat Elbi, a senior research-and-development director at JemPak, a contract manufacturer to WIN.

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