For any company selling consumer packaged goods (CPG), growth comes from increasing distribution. The ultimate goal: getting into large chain stores. But competition for physical or online shelf space is intense—especially for VitaminEnergy® who battles in the crowded energy shot industry.
Yet the young company exploded storewide distribution from zero to 10,000 stores within a few months. And they achieved it with a small staff of four. Upwork sat down with Nick Mihnovets, CEO at VitaminEnergy®, to learn how they did it.
Q: Reaching 10K stores in such a short time is an amazing accomplishment. How did you grow distribution so quickly?
A: As with most products, you need eye-catching packaging, solid branding, and a strategic marketing plan. To grow that quickly also requires responsiveness. When a chain makes a request, you have only one chance to make it happen, so you’ve got to have a team that can deliver.
Q: Tell us more about that. Can you give an example of how your team’s responsiveness helped you win a large client?
A: I have several examples. One is when a large Midwest retail chain was resetting their stores. They said they’d get us in the set if we changed our packaging from a single to a two-pack that can hang on a tag. But we needed to deliver the product in four weeks. That’s not much time.
It usually takes months for a large CPG company with a huge staff to launch a new package. If pushed, they may be able to do it in eight weeks, and that would be a herculean effort.
We got the new packaging done and product to them within four weeks. That earned us the contract to be in 2,000 new stores. What we accomplished was phenomenal.
Q: That’s incredible. How did you do that with such a small staff?
A: We have only four employees, so we can’t do everything ourselves. We use Upwork to quickly find top freelancers and leverage their expertise.
For that Midwest chain, we contracted a graphic designer in South Africa who’s world-class at packaging design. Because he’s so skilled, he delivered a solid design within two days. Then we leveraged time by asking him to work directly with the printing company to finalize the design for print.
We still had to scramble to get the product to stores, but if it wasn’t for the designer delivering so quickly, we wouldn’t have made it.
Q: It seems your business utilizes flexible talent for more than small projects. What role do they play in your business growth strategy?
A: Let me say that we’re proud to have a small full-time staff because it shows we’re able to leverage contractors to grow faster. Most of our work is specialized and on a project basis. For example, we don’t need a full-time Salesforce expert, but we needed to contract one to build out a custom CRM.
We use Upwork to find the best of the best in whatever skillsets we need, so we can maximize our talent ROI spend.
We’re not writers, so we hire copywriters for our email blasts. It may cost us $2,000 for a project, but those emails can bring in tens of thousands of dollars in new business initially. The lifetime value of those customers can reach tens of millions of dollars.
By having freelance professionals when needed, we can produce world-class work at a very moderate burn rate. This leaves us more money to reinvest into sales, marketing, and other areas of the business.
We contract out where we can, using third parties to amplify our reach. Outside of Upwork, we contract sales brokers who have their own teams. They work as an extension of our sales force. Having flexible help gives us the ability to focus on national chains.
Q: VitaminEnergy has had incredible success exploring what’s possible with flexible talent. What do you see the future of freelancing looking like?
A: We’ve engaged freelancers for every business function to help us extend capabilities and scale. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is truly happening now where the work comes to you and you don’t need to go to the work. Upwork, to a very large extent, enables that.
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