Stephen Magnusen never set out to become a lube mogul.
The 38-year-old Evanston resident and former software salesman said things just kind of worked out that way.
“I heard lube described as uber-lube, and I thought there needs to be a product on the market called Uberlube, and I don’t know how to make it, but I’m gonna find out how to make it,” he said. “I wanted to go from selling something that was really intangible to making something myself here locally that was completely tangible and then connect that in a real way where my customer was my consumer.”
Magnusen, who has no background in chemistry or the lube industry, set about creating a formula that was going to be different than anything else on the market.
“We’ve been perfecting it, it’s probably in its 300th iteration, and it just keeps getting better,” he said.
As his trials have gone on, Magnusen said he’s developed a rather unusual hidden talent.
“Going through so many formulas, it’s funny because when people see me trying on the lube they’re like, ‘What are you doing’ because I’m actually rubbing the lube between my fingers near my ear. I can’t tell the difference between wines but I can hear and listen and feel subtle, subtle differences in lubes.”
Magnusen said the company is doing around $500,000 in sales annually, with the product being sold in around 500 stores nationwide. He employs a full-time staff of three people including his father, who heads up international sales.
“As our sales grow, our facility is able to accommodate some pretty decent expansion as production goes,” he said. “We’ve got deals with Canada, Australia, working on a distributor in Japan, we’ve got a distributor that handles all of Europe for us. We’re in Mexico.”
Part of the key to future growth, he said, is getting people to be less embarrassed about needing products like his.
That’s how he came up with the packaging, which looks more like a perfume bottle than a bottle of personal lubricant.
“People love the packaging,” he said. “It’s kind of gone from being a single-use product to a multi-use product.”
“Because of the packaging of Uberlube, it doesn’t have any of that personal lubricant sitgma,” added Portland, Ore.-based stylist Steven Lightfoot, who uses the stuff on photo shoots in his clients’ hair. “It’s a brilliant look so people don’t tend to be unreceptive.”
Magnusen said the key to growing his brand further is getting people thinking that lube can be used for something other than bedroom sports, no matter how unconventional such an idea might be.
“Now we have athletes that use Uberlube for anti-chafe for running, for biking, for tennis, for swimming,” he said. “A lot of people tell us it’s the only thing that lasts for a marathon and beats anything else they’ve tried. We’ve got stylists in hair salons that use Uberlube as an anti-frizz.”
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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