CEO Kevin Klock reveals how he turned TalkingRain Beverage Co. from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in just 24 months.
By Jaclyn Crawford
Through a series of events, Klock, CEO of TalkingRain Beverage Co., has made his way up the career ladder from a division manager of industrial engineering to leading a company to exponential growth, all in a decade.
“There were people who were asking over time, ‘how can an operations guy go to leading a company?” Klock said. “The thing I have learned is that I could take what I experienced throughout my career and really apply it across all departments.”’
Klock has had a winding career path, starting with a degree in chemical engineering and then going to work for Ralston Purina. From there, he joined Nestle as a sales support manager, was shortly promoted to a division industrial engineering manager, and then on to a couple of production manager positions. His last role prior to joining TalkingRain was as a plant manager with Dairy Farmers of America. Through these roles he was able to touch in various areas of business and operations that he would soon learn, were preparing him for the future.
In 2006, he was approached by TalkingRain, who was looking for a VP of Operations. The company was looking to make a national push from their regional beverage distribution. At the time, the company had about $10 million in revenue, 50 employees, and about 4 products in only a handful of regions.
“One of the great things about such a small company is that I got a chance to really get involved in all aspects of the business,” Klock said. “I was always hoping to run my own business, but needed more experience in sales and marketing.”
Klock was about to get his chance.
In 2010 within a six week period, many executives and the president of the company began to take positions elsewhere. Klock was then asked to step in as a temporary leader. “I’ve been able to stay at the helm and eventually got the title of CEO.” Klock said.
He proceeded to focus the company on improving their financial state, by choosing between private label and branded business. “We had to make a decision, and we decided to become a branded company,” Klock said. “There was a product called Sparkling ICE that we had since 1992, and it had been successful on a regional basis, with really little or no support. The fact it survived for many years and we all enjoyed it in our personal lives told us that we had a good product.”
By simplifying and branding the product, the company experienced an extremely high growth in sales. Currently, Sparking ICE accounts for 95% of all TalkingRain sales and is one of the fastest growing non-alcoholic beverage brands in the US.
Creating a vision
How did Klock not only manage exponential growth, but build a successful team at the same time? When the company started growing, Klock and the existing leadership team had to substantially increase personnel, creating a challenge for people to adapt to the workplace and keep up with business.
“It took a lot of hiring, but we were fortunate and had a good base of people here, and a sales team that was well established,” Klock said. “Now, we are asking what our global organization needs to look like—we’re defining the departments and what their structure should be.”
To lead a company, Klock and his team had to create a vision that management, employees, and consumers could understand. “We want to be recognized as a leading beverage company, creating brands that people trust and enjoy,” Klock said. “People have created a lot of overly-complicated beverages that they have to educate the consumer on why they need to drink them. Sparkling ICE doesn’t have any fancy ingredients and it is easy for the consumer to trust. It’s all about refreshment.”
At the same time the company created their vision, they established company values, business plans, and key performance indicators that trickled down to every department and individually to every employee, as well as an evaluation system.
“Once every four months, managers sit down with their employees and go over the objectives and expectations. Those things really help us, especially with many newly hired employees, by making sure they have a clear message as to what we were trying to achieve,” Klock said.
A new way of doing business
Business has changed since Klock first began his career, but he has never stopped looking ahead. His best advice for those who are also encountering a period of growth is to take a step back from the situation and plan ahead.
“When people run into growth like this, the best advice is to really start looking and trying to get yourself in a situation where you can look forward,” Klock said. “You are caught up in the moment of the growth and you just have to make yourself sit down and really plan out where you want to be as a company.”
His biggest lesson? Be original and create your own path as a business. “Don’t assume you have to do it the same way everyone else does it,” Klock said. “I would say that one thing that has been one of our greatest successes, is we chose to stay focused on being true to ourselves.”
Jaclyn Crawford is the Assignment Editor at Forefront Magazine