Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Bob: I was fortunate to work with Walgreens for 25 years where I had the opportunity to learn from some incredible leaders like Dan Jorndt and Dave Bernauer. I’ve always considered myself to be a retail guy, so the switch to consumer packaged goods would likely surprise most people who know about my background.
Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Bob: During my time with GNC, I was commuting back and forth weekly from Chicago to Pittsburgh and I quickly realized that I didn’t like being away from home 52 weeks a year. My favorite part of running Walgreens and GNC merchandising was always private label development – I have a passion for product innovation. So I made the decision to take the knowledge I’d acquired and co-created Protein2o along with my son Rob back in 2013.
The last six years have taught us a lot about how to deal with failure, as there was definitely a learning curve and many humbling moments along the way. The idea was good, maybe a little ahead of the market, but the route to our current position as the leading low-calorie protein beverage in North America was not easy. Since Rob and I we were essentially pioneering a category, there really wasn’t a playbook on how to produce a clear, great-tasting protein water. There were a lot of sleepless nights but we were fortunate to be surrounded by a great team of people who helped us overcome the adversity.
Adam: As SVP of Purchasing for Walgreens, responsible for $40 billion in business. What is your best advice for entrepreneurs trying to get on the shelves at retailers?
Bob: For entrepreneurs, I cannot overemphasize the importance of being innovative and “new.” I learned a lot over the years by observing brands that were very successful with innovation. But most importantly, I learned why large brands failed with their new product launches.
There’s a lot of white space in the retail market and entrepreneurs have the opportunity to create on-trend products that fill that space. Retailers love “new and better” as they are always challenged to increase sales. It’s almost impossible to increase sales with the same assortment year after year. Flavor proliferation isn’t enough. Retailers want benefit-driven innovation—innovation that drives incremental sales which grows categories. Protein2o is growing category sales because it meets a specific consumer demand that wasn’t previously met—low calorie, refreshing protein. We are leading beverage category growth with our retail partners and will continue to focus on creating innovation to drive consumers to our retail/on-line partners.
Adam: What other advice do you have for entrepreneurs when it comes to dealing with large retailers?
Bob: There are literally thousands of brands looking to get on large retailers’ shelves. The only way to get the category managers’ attention is to create answers to help them grow sales. Category managers are challenged now more than ever with competition and it has become increasingly difficult to grow both sales and customer-counts each year. Give category managers answers to these two problems and you will have a winner!
Adam: What has sitting on the other side of the table, as the founder of Protein2o, taught you about sales, and what key lessons have you learned?
Bob: Well, it was a lot easier being the decision-maker than it is being a small, growing brand trying to get the attention of the retail community. Persistence and moving forward every day, including weekends, is the only way. The harder our team worked, the more successful we became.
Adam: You hired former Tropicana’s CMO and recruited the former President and CEO of Gatorade to join your team. What advice do you have on attracting top talent, particularly at the senior level?
Bob: We are fortunate to have the former President of Gatorade and Quaker Sue Wellington and the former CMO of Tropicana and Mike’s Hard Lemonade Andy Horrow on our team. I have senior-level operations and merchandising experience but no consumer packaged goods experience, so it was critical for us to attract senior-level talent in that field. Both Sue and Andy have compared Protein2o to an early stage Gatorade. Gatorade pioneered launching a benefit-driven beverage. Protein2o is one of the few products on beverage shelves that actually delivers true functional benefits. I’m not saying Protein2o is the next Gatorade, but it’s definitely a brand that inspires us.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Bob: Lead by example, hard work, honesty and respect for every individual in the organization. No one person has all the great ideas. An organization that allows ideas to bubble up from all members of the team will succeed beyond expectations. As a team, every person has to execute for us to be successful; put members of your team in the best possible positions to achieve their personal goals. By creating this environment, there’s no limit to the success that you can achieve.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Bob: Lead by example, make the hard decisions, let others take the credit and stand in front of the criticism. Your team cannot be afraid to make mistakes or you will never learn and improve.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Bob: There is no easy road to success, the world is full of smart people. Less sleep and more effort always improve your chances to win in life.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Bob: Make the lives of people that surround you better. Sometimes it will be easy, but it’s more important to be there when it’s difficult. Never underestimate the power you have to make someone’s day a little better.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Bob: I love tennis; it’s like a physical game of chess. The only way to improve is to focus on your weaknesses. It’s the same in life: know what you need to improve and develop your weaknesses into strengths.