It’s crazy to me that we are now embarking on our 6th year of Picky Bars. That’s as long as I’ve ever done anything in my life. And if I’m being honest, I still feel like, for the most part, I have almost no idea what I’m doing. Maybe not something I should admit publicly on my company’s blog, but let’s be real here.
But… there are times when I get into a conversation with a supplier, mentor, contractor, or employee and I start rattling stuff about our COGS, club retention rate, REI sell through, employee benefits or any number of Picky Bar biz topics and it’s like I’m Will Ferrell in blackout/hallucination mode during the debate competition in Old School, unconsciously destroying it!
After these episodes, I realize I actually do know a lot about this business. I’ve learned tons over the last six years and more than ever in 2015. We had a lot of fantastic successes and some pretty spectacular failures. When you add them all up, I’d easily call it another very successful year. BUT…the competitive athlete side of me is never satisfied, always wants more, always wants us to be better for you guys, for everyone involved in this company. And using the experiences below, I plan to do just that.
Overall sales up 37%
Club up 36% – Solid!
Direct (online/non club) up 8% – decentish
Retail – 153 new doors where you can buy Picky (up 58%) – Booyah!
Gross margin – nearly identical – but better than it looks (see below)
But… Expenses were up on a % of sales…
More employees, added health insurance, a full year in our office space, and some unexpected big spends late year (see below)
So overall, profitability was down, but not bad for a small growing company.
Our first sponsored athlete program. Picky Bars started as a way to enable professional athletes (Lauren, Steph and I) to support ourselves and build a stronger connection with our fans. As our resources grow, it’s always been our plan to expand that support to other athletes who have the same passion, drive, and connection to their communities. We had a solid start to this program with some fantastic athletes who greatly extended and added to our brand.
We started 2015 with our first dedicated “salesforce” (read, one person). We also invested in our first ever trade shows and built a nationwide rep force. We strengthened a great partnership with REI, which added all of our flavors mid year. As a result, our specialty sales carried the sales growth.
Easily our most successful new flavor launch ever, Fudge Nuts became our top selling flavor in less than 6 weeks! Another nod to Lauren’s magic in the kitchen. I still don’t know how she could make something gluten, dairy, and soy free with a 4:1 carb to protein ratio taste that amazing. Also a nod to our social guru Sarah for coming up with the winning name.
We’re now a full year since the launch of our “YOU, on a WRAPPER” program. We’ve had 1000s of submissions and over a dozen new wrappers featuring our customers doing what they love. I love this program as it speaks to the core of the brand – supporting and encouraging our community to live life to the fullest.
Oh the glamour of supply chain! Not nearly as hip as the Sales & Marketing accomplishments, but I’m very proud of the work we accomplished here in 2015. While overall gross margin was about the same, it’s trending up, and I’m confident that work will show up big time on the 2016 P&L. We strengthened and broadened our supplier relationships, significantly decreasing supply chain risk. Basically, if something goes wrong, we’re way less screwed than we used to be.
Easily the lowest low the year, the decision to change our club shipping system cost us big time. Buoyed by the success of similar programs in other subscription services, a need to manage our shipping costs, and a strong pitch by the service provider, we made the switch to an “everybody at same time” Picky Club shipment system in September. I knew there would be unforeseen problems in the shift, but believed in the long run the marketing and logistical benefits were worth it. Long story short, they weren’t. We botched the transition, the communication, and the service had poor shipment tracking and took waaaaayyy longer than expected to deliver. All of which made us look bad and didn’t provide the level of customer experience the club was known for. In hindsight, it’s maybe the biggest mistake I’ve made so far in this business. And while I couldn’t have anticipated all the problems, it re-establishes to me the importance of valuing customer experience above all else. The good news is we switched back to good old USPS this month and club deliveries now arrive as quickly as they used to. Not surprisingly, Clubbers are stoked.
An unanticipated result of our club shipping switch was that charging everyone on the same day overloaded our backend club system, which, VERY LONG story short, caused people to inadvertently get dropped from the club. Worse yet, it took us months to patch together customer feedback and system data to figure out what the hell was going on. And then it cost us a whole bunch to fix it. Wham bam, thank you ma’am! I’m lucky my season ended when it did so I had 6 weeks off to Microsoft Excel the crap out of this problem and (hopefully) resolve it going forward.
In my 2014 recap, we had just hired four new full time employees, increasing our headcount from two to six full time and one part time. In 2015 we had three employees move on for various reasons and added another two. In some ways, these changes were for the best for all involved, but in a small company that much turnover has its costs regardless. We didn’t achieve some of our goals, and had a bunch of problems result from the lack of consistency and communication in employee roles.
Employees and Customers. It’s pretty simple, but this is our focus word of 2016. We have a lot of exciting stuff in the works but the lessons of 2015 clearly put my focus on retention.
Internally, I will shift more of my focus to retaining and better leading my current and new employees with the communication, benefits, and systems they need to be their best and happiest. Externally, we will (and have already started to) strengthen the services, products, and communication we have with our current customers. In addition to switching back to our better Club shipping system and improving the reliability of our website, in the next few months we will add more of the key features and improvements Club members suggested in our survey (thanks a ton for the great feedback.) For retail, we’ll continue to strengthen our relationships by more frequent and valuable communication, better support of our reps, and specialty-only marketing programs.
As I mentioned in a Club email a few months back, Picky Bars motto is “Fuel Great Experiences.” And in a simple way, I hope to do just that for all our employees, customers, suppliers, partners, and other stakeholders in 2016. I’m proud of our team for the progress we made both collectively and individually in 2015. We have some really exciting stuff coming down the pipe, so be on the lookout for great things. Thank you all so much for your continued support, and as always, please please PLEASE email me with any thoughts, suggestions, feedback, and/or funny youtube videos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
p.s. And because I wouldn’t be doing at least some of my job without telling you – today is the last day of our first sale of the year. We don’t have them often, so if you’re interested, check out 30% off your first month of the Picky Club with code: janYOUary
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