Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

The Painful Bliss
Of Our First Pivot

Adams Chimera is the co-founder of Root’d Sparkling Vitamins and imPASTA Straws. He has been in CPG for 20+ years ranging from cart attendant at Target in High School to Sr. Director at a Fortune 100 CPG company before taking the entrepreneurship leap.

You know that feeling where your chest pounds, you can’t eat, and you feel like you’re going to vomit at any second?

Yeah, that was me in late October. That was me for about three weeks straight, actually. We had finally gotten a glimpse of our first round of numbers from our launch partners for our brand new brand, Root’d, and things weren’t pretty:

  • We were only hitting about 1/10 of our initial forecasts
  • Our online reviews were settling in right around 3.5* (the death rating for an e-comm product)
  • Our revenue flatlined, and our product was staring down expiration dates.
How the F*** could this happen! Let’s back up a little.

It’s March 2020, we just got our first production run of Root’d, and things were off to an incredible start:

  • All three of our launch SKU’s got picked up by our target launch partner in 300+ doors
  • Our Broker network was onboarded and fired up!
  • We sold out of our first production run w/in the first 3 weeks and already ordering more.
  • We secured an account manager at Amazon, and we’re building a strong presence.

To say the least, things felt amazing, and our excitement (and admittedly arrogance) felt justified. We were on top of the world!

Then, COVID hit. Not really a huge deal though, that should only last a few months, right? Yeahhhh.

Well, luckily, we were in supplements, and while our in-store placement did get delayed by a few months, we still got into all 300+ doors by July; we still felt good. As for Amazon, we were on fire, growing 40% every month, doubling our business every two.

Then the first hit came. The Amazon Catfish.

Catfish (an affectionate term I use for people who buy our brand from our distributors, then resell it on Amazon and undercut our retails) had moved in and taken over our listings and advertising. We lost all control of consumer messaging, keyword advertising, and ability to e-mail consumers to address potential concerns. By the time we got it back in October, our ratings had fallen from 4.5*+, to 3.5*. Needless to say, our volumes never came back.

It hurt, but we still had our launch partner and were about to get our first number look! The second blow in the one-two knockout.

Have you caught up? Feel that punch? Ready to get the job application filled out?

THE PIVOT

Well, luckily, after three weeks of total anguish, far too many whiskeys, and a total loss of any arrogance that may have once existed, our friends, family, and mentors (who are SOOO key!) asked us to put our tiny violins down, and get to work to figure out what happened, why it happened, and fix it!

So we did. We called or visited EVERY store in the chain for a week straight. We called or talked to as many actual consumers as possible and learned… A LOT:

  • Most store people had no idea who we were! What! But our packaging is so pretty! How could you not know ROOT’D! Okay, arrogance back on the bench… fixable problem
  • Consumers didn’t understand what the product is. Well, I guess the packaging wasn’t so pretty after all. Fixable!
  • Consumers hated the color of our drink mix. Consumers didn’t like the flavor.
  • Consumers DID love the concept and felt a noticeable difference when they stopped taking it. Score!

In short, we had a product that people didn’t understand at first, but once they figured it, they wanted it, but it just didn’t meet their expectations.

That awful feeling of utter failure was leaving us, and we were encouraged again (Cue the Rocky song). We had to fix our messaging and make minor tweaks to our sensory experience. PHEW!

We’re now four months into our pivot and are about to launch an upgraded product that is truly amazing! While we feel great, though, we know we’re not out of the woods yet, and you better believe we’ll be listening a whole lot earlier and more often than we did before.

The Takeaway

While early (and even late) wins are super exciting, don’t let them define your brand, especially if it’s a distribution win, as that’s only the first part of the puzzle. It’s all about the people who are surrounding you, and your product. Listen and talk to anyone you can about their experience with your brand, what they love/hate about it, why they use it, what they would change about it, etc. Don’t take it personally either, and be willing to make a change if you keep hearing the same thing. For the undoubtable failures in all our futures (hopefully small ones) talk to your friends, family, or mentors to ensure you stay grounded, and look at it from the POV where the world isn’t ending, because trust me, it’s not!

Update

The product born from this wild experience launches in mid-April!

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