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Brand Revival: How Talking Rain went from death’s doorstep to $200 million in revenues in three years

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Brand Revival:  How Talking Rain went from death’s doorstep to $200 million in revenues in three years

An interview with CEO Kevin Klock on his extraordinary turnaround of Talking Rain, a beverage company based in Seattle, WA. From the July/August, 2013 Edition of PRESIDENT&CEO Magazine.

To listen to the interview, click here

PCEO: So Kevin, first of all, congratulations on the amazing success of Talking Rain.  It's a really remarkable story. In the annals of a sleepy brand that never got any traction, and all of the sudden a change in management occurs and it takes off, it's really amazing. Maybe we could start out with you just giving a brief history of your time at Talking Rain. As I recall, you were the vice-president of operations before you took the helm as CEO.

Kevin Klock: I started with the company in October of 2006, came in as a VP of Operations, and the company was looking to make a national push. What had happened is there was this kind of beverage boom in the early 2000s where companies grew rapidly and then sold themselves off to strategics.  And so Talking Rain, seeing that same element, decided to leave its core and go into what was called "new age beverages," which was going to be the next great category. We spent a lot of money and effort from 2007 to 2010 trying to do exactly that.  Come circa 2010, all of a sudden the owners said, you know, this doesn't make financial sense for us anymore. We're not seeing the traction we need to see.  Plus, the retailers started to drop us and distributors were starting to drop us and then the CEO, President and Vice-President of Sales all left within a six-week period in the spring of 2010.

It was at time when the company was not in a very good financial shape. [The owners] were going to go out and look for a president, and while they were they doing that, they gave me the opportunity to run the company.  And we did some really good things and got the business turned around, and shortly there after we were on our way.

PCEO: So, you come into this situation, by definition a company in crisis. Executive leadership leaves en masse, and you come in, never having run a company I believe...how did you turn that around? 

Klock: I had never turned around a company, but I had certainly turned around some business aspects of companies in my previous roles - one as a plant manager, one as a production manager, and one time actually overseeing international operations at one location.  So, I had done turn-around jobs before and, two things come into play when you do that.  One is focus and one is, obviously, people.  People are always important.  You’ve got to have great people.  You can have a great brand and not have great people and not be successful.  And you can have great people and not have a great brand and not be successful.  You’ve got to have both of those elements, and one of the things we certainly felt compelled to is that within Talking Rain's portfolio, there was a brand, Sparkling Ice, that had been around for almost 20 years.  It never had any marketing behind it.  It had been sitting there and just continued to sell.  So, in terms of products, when you are in that kind of situation you’ve got to make some quick decisions and go.  Because it’s either that or you're going to just eventually sell off the assets - which is actually one of the first things I was asked to do. So, we were kind of getting to that point, and we had to define who we were. We went out, created a vision, and our vision was to be recognized as the leading beverage company, creating brands that people trust and enjoy.  And one of the first things that that meant was that we were to become a branded company.  So, we dropped the co-packing that we were doing out there.  We wanted to create brands that people trust and enjoy, so we wanted to be more about refreshment and simple versus trying to be something that is complex to people, something that you have to explain. 

"You can have a great brand and not have great people and not be successful."

In my background, I had worked for Nestle, and Nestle is all about branding. I had spent some time in contract manufacturing, too - for Starbucks and Pepsi -all great branded companies. And while I was there, I learned about brand consistency, brand experience, and what we did is we then engaged in really working on the brand experience of Sparkling Ice. We were fortunate. We had one [Sparkling Ice] product - Orange Mango - that we used as our guiding light.  We really spent a lot of time looking at all the elements of the Orange Mango, and for the first time we defined what Sparkling Ice was.  I think that was one of the key elements at that time.  And then we really changed. We always had said, “just imagine what we did if we put the marketing behind it?”  The company historically was very grassroots-minded, had not donea lot of integrated marketing, and so we really then started looking at how wemarketed our products, started looking at the packaging and how we took products to market and really just worked on the whole overall brand experience. That was one of the things that led us to great success.  And then, of course, over time we brought in the people element, where you're now looking out for people who really want to be a part of something special.  One of the things that’s great today is that now I have these people at Talking Rain that are not only out selling our products - they are also consumers of it as well. It’s a great situation when you have the people that work for you also using your own product.

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