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2019 Year in Review

December 31, 2019

2019 Year in Review

What a difference a year makes! 

To refresh your memory, despite being our CEO for ~8 years, I started working full time for the first time last fall, partially because I needed an athletic/physical/psychological break, but mostly because we were in a lot of trouble. We’d gone through our worst supply chain disruption ever, and as a result, lost the most money we’d ever lost by a long shot. Being a small and independently owned company with founders who don’t come from lots of dough, that was, I might say lightly, really F’ing stressful.

Well, 12 months later, I’m happy (I might say lightly, really F’ing happy) to report that Picky Bars is finishing its best year EVER.

Those of you who follow me athletically know that I’m just a tiny bit of a data geek and can be a little obsessive over checking stats and metrics on Strava, Training Peaks, etc. Well, the last 12 months that same obsession hasn’t gone away, the apps have just changed - to Shopify, Google Analytics, Amazon Seller, and Quickbooks. And as the year ends, I’ve been obsessively refreshing metrics, downloading final data sets and putting it all together to see how it all stacks up. It’s identical to the process you go through as an athlete - you cross the finish line, you get your place, you look back at your pace, HR, power, cadence, speed, whatever, and analyze. What did you set out to do? What actually happened? How did it all shake out? 

Sometimes, you have a $h!thouse race (I’ve had many), and sometimes you nail it. That’s life. Well this year, we nailed it. It wasn’t perfect (no year, or race, ever is), but I am definitely happy with the results. Here are some of our stats and accomplishments I’m most proud of:


  • Profit - We made a freaking profit! Businesses are supposed to be profitable, right, so why is this such a big deal? At the end of last year, Lauren, Steph, and I put a bunch of personal money (like, most of our money) into the company to keep it running after our summer of disaster. Our bank loan was amortized, which necessitated monthly principal + interest payments. Basically, our backs were against the wall, and unless we raised money (under distress - not ideal), we were literally out. We held it together though, and look at us now - making money instead of losing it! I’m probably most proud of this achievement, not only because of the change from one year ago, but also just proving that the business itself is sustainable at our current level. We had to make sacrifices to make it work, but it works. That takes off the pressure and lets Lauren, Steph, and I make the best long term decision about where we want to go from here.
  • Revenue was up 28%, driven entirely by our two focus areas, Picky Club (up 49%) and Pickybars.com (up 52%). One of the first things we were forced to do to be profitable was focus, making sure every resource was used in the most beneficial way possible. I’m psyched to say our focus on the Picky Club and our direct to consumer business paid off. That doesn’t mean we abandoned our retail business (see below), but the focus of resources on our most unique, highest value and most profitable channels made the biggest difference that led to this year’s success.
  • I paid myself for the first time in 9 years. I know this matters a LOT less to all of you than it does to me, but I’m super proud of this, particularly the fact that we were profitable even with making room for my first ever (modest) salary. It feels like the company has legitimately transitioned from “semi serious hobby/side gig” status to “full on small business getting after it” status. Plus, it is good to know that my first year working full time did actually HELP the business, and I can be compensated for that - you never know, a full time me could have made it worse!
  • Our Picky Club churn rate averaged less than 2% per month. In subscription services, your growth is a combination of how many new people you get (acquisition) and how many people you lose (churn). We did a good job acquiring people this year, but we did an excellent job retaining people - losing less than 2% of Picky Club members each month. I’ve heard from multiple sources in the subscription industry that our churn rate is the lowest they’ve ever heard of. I’m super duper proud of that. It’s the ultimate measure of customer satisfaction, and means that we’re doing something right - our products, service, customization, communication, benefits, and community around the Picky Club is working. We still have work to do, but what a great start.
  • Employee “Engagement” increased from 4.5 to 4.9 out of 5. The last three years I’ve sent out a survey to our employees to try and quantify how we’re doing for employee engagement/happiness across a whole bunch of categories at Picky Bars. I basically copied Outside Magazine’s “Best Places to Work” survey in the hopes that when we’re big enough we’ll apply for it. I believe we already had a solid employee rating, but this year we improved in nearly every category - with the biggest increases coming in fair compensation, work environment, and corporate culture. While we grew this year, we didn’t add any net new employees, and as a result of more targeted spending and more focused direction (working only on the most important stuff) we could afford to give pay increases to nearly everyone, and finished the year with our biggest bonuses in the company’s history. We also successfully experimented with “work from home Wednesday” which was combined with all regular staff meetings happening on Monday and Tuesday, allowing our staff to focus on their own projects come mid week, from wherever they wanted to do that. Finally, we did a good job of having regular group coffee, lunches, happy hours, and open communication that I believe all added to the cultural element. Building and maintaining a psyched workforce is a huge part of the value in Picky Bars for me personally, so I was really psyched to see that.
  • We launched Performance Granola and it performed freaking great. Our second new product line in as many years, and we saw all the same benefits we did with oatmeal - customers stoked, higher average order values, lower churn rate in the Picky Club, and Lauren and I don’t have to buy granola anymore! What else could you ask for? Our granola SKUs are already some of the strongest in the lineup. We also learned from our Performance Oatmeal launch and did a better job of limiting packaging choices, and a better launch, which made things more operationally streamlined in house. 
  • We maintained our most important retail accounts, added new grocery distribution, and made grocery profitable. Like I said, we didn’t abandon our wholesale business, but we focused it on the most important accounts, successfully supporting REI, Sports Basement, Whole Food Pacific Northwest, New Seasons, and Market of Choice. We reduced wasteful spending on the grocery channel and improved our relationship with UNFI (natural food distributor). We also finished the year with some big launches, including custom displays to 120 King Super doors in the Denver area. [ you can check to see if there's a retailer near you with our STORE LOCATOR tool. ]

  • THE (kind of nitpicky) NOT SO GREAT

    Of course, like any race, the year came with some downs too. I’m so psyched with the year, that these honestly feel nitpicky, but in the interest of continuous self improvement, I’ll acknowledge a few places we screwed up and will continue to work on next year.

  • We still had an out of stock problem. We unfortunately weren’t able to completely stay in stock this year, and even though just like last year, this was only partly our fault, it still stings, and made October the only “down” month in an otherwise great year. The good news is that the lessons we learned last year (reacting as fast and aggressively as possible, and having backup suppliers warm and ready) saved us from having a way worse problem than it was. I’m most proud of my team for navigating this tough stretch again, staying calm, positive, and working overtime to provide the best communication and customer experience possible. I’m also incredibly grateful to our customers for staying positive and supportive as well. It’s hard to make promises on things you can’t completely control yourself, but we’re making big investments in ensuring we have little to no out of stock problems in 2020. 
  • We said goodbye to six really great employees. We had a bit of a waterfall exit this year, all due to people hitting life stages/changes and feeling it best to move on. Matt, Nadine, Ben, Mel, Collier, and Bernadette all played really important roles during their stretch at Picky Bars, and I’m happy to say they all left on great terms and are still friends (Matt and Mel actually got married, a Picky Bars first)! The flipside of this exodus is that we were able to lean our staff out to focus on the most important things, and add some great new employees - Jared, Julia, Trevor, Kaitlin, and Abbey - who’ve already made a big positive difference.
  • We didn’t create as many new products as I wanted to. Again, another one that’s pretty nitpicky, but I did have plans to launch another new product in the fall, which just didn’t come together and is ultimately on me. I’m hoping to make up for that come spring, but still a goal missed and just shows that sometimes you can’t do everything you intend to do.
  • We lost a few specialty retail accounts. This is the unfortunate result of a combination of our focus on direct to consumer (with less resources allocated to specialty retail), and the state of specialty retail, in that nutrition, particularly bars, seem to be fading in the space with the rise of Amazon and more direct to consumer. I think we did a good job prioritizing and supporting with what resources we could, but I was still bummed to see some of this fall off. I guess that’s partially the price you pay by focus, you can’t do it all great all the time.

  • It’s been 18 months since I last wrote a race report. An intentional break after Challenge Roth then a literal break of my right foot in March has added up to my biggest time since a real race result in 5 years. It was probably the toughest year athletically for me.

    But the flipside is wow, I’m so so happy with how things went at Picky this year. I’m super proud of our team, and what we’ve accomplished. It fills the void in my being as well as anything non-athletic could. More importantly, I feel like our success has a greater impact on not only our local community, friends, family, but also our fans, followers, and customers. I really appreciate you all sticking around with us for the ride, and providing support on the ups and downs. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback if and when you’d like to provide it, jesse@pickybars.com.

    We’ve got big plans for 2020, some of which I’ll hopefully write about in another week or two. Thanks again for the support in 2019, and the entire freaking decade. We’re ready to ring in our 10th birthday with you all next fall. Stay tuned.


    @jessemthomas, jesse@pickybars.com

    Picky Bars Holiday Team Photo

    From all of us flanneled fools at HQ - Happy New Year!