Can a snack bar change the world? This serial social entrepreneur proves doing good for others is good business.
March 16, 2013
If I didn’t get the product into, say, Zabar’s, I would make friends with the manager there and say, “Hey, why did you not approve this? Walk me through what I’m doing wrong.” And the manager would talk to me about things like the pricing structure, or the level of sodium. I took advice from all the buyers who rejected the product.
But I was friendly and warm. I’m a confused Mexican Jew and I happen to have that quirky enough personality that they would be patient with me. And I learned to be more patient myself, and to be more strategic.
It was also about being creative. In the early years, we would come up with 10 great jokes and fax them to store managers. I remember once I was trying to get into Stew Leonard’s and the buyer was not returning my phone calls. “I left him a voicemail saying, “I’m going to give you the car washing guarantee. If our products don’t do very well for you, I will wash your car on the weekend.” And he returned the call.
And so we would do whatever we could to get people’s attention. But that was in the early years. I used to be a lot more of an emotional seller and talk about the features, which has an important role, particularly when you’re launching.
LLC: How does selling evolve as the business grows?
DL: As you become more sophisticated, and certainly with KIND, the data does it all. I learn from my team so much more than I lead on that front. Data, fact-based selling, is something they taught me. Once you are an established product, it’s much more powerful for you to just show the evidence, and fact-based selling is where the industry is moving.
But I want to be clear: The most important factor in selling is getting the product right. Product is king.
It’s much more important to create the “pull” than the “push,” meaning it’s more important to make sure people pull the product off the shelves than for you to be able to put it there. You can put the product on the shelves once, but if the consumer picks it up, that can happen iteratively. Then your business is going to work itself out even if you’re not doing other things right.
LLC: What was the thinking behind the KIND bars packaging with the distinctive colors and transparent wrapping?
DL: Transparency was an important value for us as a company from the very beginning. We chose to build a brand on that, in contrast to what we saw in the market as a lot of gimmicky social propositions that consumers couldn’t trust. We felt it was very important for us to be authentic.
So transparency informs everything we do. First of all, of course, we have a beautiful product that looks artisanal, where we’re showcasing the integrity of every seed, every kernel, every nut. Transparent packaging seems like an obvious decision in retrospect, but at the time it was a very innovative thing.
Transparency also goes into the way we name our products. For example, this bar is called Pomegranate Blueberry Pistachio because it has pomegranates, blueberries, and pistachios. Another one is called Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew because of its ingredients. It would be more fun to do as the majority of brands do and come up with cheesy names like “Cookie Cutter à la Mode” or “Blueberry Parfait,” but we feel we owe it to our customers to be very direct.
We’re also very scientific about our nutritional claims. And when we deal with our suppliers and partners, we are very emphatic about open communications, and we show data much more than probably would be common or acceptable.
Principle Behind Packaging
LLC: How does the value of transparency translate into managing a staff?
DL: We have a culture of open communications. It surprises me that there’s not more of this in the corporate world. Firing somebody should be reserved for when somebody has committed a horrible sin, burned the building, or committed a crime.
I don’t understand the general practice where you get fired, they take back your stuff, and you leave. Because the overwhelming majority of people are good people who are trying their best to do a good job. Instead of firing a person and making him go away, you should give him plenty of chances, let him know what he needs to improve.
Everything works better with open communication. For example, one of my assistants wanted to go to graduate school. But instead of telling me at the last minute and me scrambling to replace her, she told me some months in advance. Then she replaced herself, doing the interviewing and training. I was able to help her with letters of recommendation, and it was a very smooth transition.
In another case, a team member was dissatisfied with her position and wanted to change it, and told us this. We eventually found a position for her in another department, so we didn’t lose her. And she found and trained her own replacement.
LLC: How many employees does KIND have now?
DL: More than 130, spread around the country in field marketing, sales, and manufacturing. We also have something called KIND Brand Ambassadors, and their role is to do the KIND thing, giving out products and getting people excited. We have a very high conversion rate—about 98 percent of people, by one study, who try a KIND bar will become a fan and will become repeat customers. So the key for us is to just let more people try KIND bars.
Lee Lusardi Connor is a business writer and editor. She can be reached at LeeLusardi@gmail.com.