Reinvention can save small businesses whose survival is threatened
BY AP Wire Service
Sunday, November 18, 2012
11/19/12 at 9:25 AM
NEW YORK (AP) - One of the most painful moments small business owners can face is when they realize: It's not working.
It could be a product that's not succeeding, business that's taken away by a competitor, or changes in the economy that threaten a company's survival.
When something has gone awry and sales are taking a hit, company owners have to make big changes to turn things around - and they usually can't afford to waste time. Large companies often have enough revenue coming in from a variety of products and services that they can weather a problem in one area of their business. Smaller companies typically don't have that cushion.
Reinventing a company, large or small, is not an easy task and can't be done overnight, but many business owners have been able to pull it off.
Arnulfo Ventura and his business partner, Jose Domene, decided while getting their MBAs at Stanford University to start selling aguas frescas, beverages made from plants like tamarind and hibiscus that are popular in Mexico.
The partners called the drink Bonadea and ordered the first batch of 3,000 bottles from a manufacturer by the time they graduated in June 2008. They found several customers: six delis and natural food stores in the Palo Alto, Calif., area.
Over the next year, the duo attracted enough money from investors to increase production, working their way up to a run of 15,000 bottles. They got a distribution company in the Los Angeles area, and Bonadea was in hundreds of convenience and small grocery stores. Things seemed to be going well.
But Bonadea, priced between $2.49 and $2.69 a bottle, didn't sell as well as hoped. Sales were up by hundreds of percentage points from the first batch, but Ventura expected an increase in the thousands by then.
"The brand wasn't moving off the shelf," he says. "I wasn't sure if it was the price point or the marketing."
In January 2010, Ventura and Domene showed Bonadea to focus groups. Based on the feedback, the partners realized they had to change the way the beverage was packaged and marketed. One problem was its name, which had no real meaning. People didn't connect with it. And the 16-ounce bottle looked too much like the ones that contain Snapple, one of the top-selling iced tea and juice drink brands in the country.
Over the next nine months, they considered many names and label designs and eventually came up with a new name, Coba, a Mayan city on the Yucatan peninsula, and decorated the labels with images of flowers and fruit.
In March 2011, they took Coba to a trade show in Anaheim, Calif. On the show's last day the organizers surprised the partners by announcing that they had picked Coba as the best product in the show. Coba also caught the interest of retailers.
Coba is now sold in Whole Foods stores in Florida and the West. It's also at delis, convenience stores and restaurants, priced between $1.99 and $2.50. Sales are up five times from Bonadea's best levels.
Original Print Headline: Reinvention can save business
Arnulfo Ventura, co-founder of Coba, a Mexican beverage company, had to take his product to focus groups to determine why it wasn't selling. His efforts paid off, and the beverages are now sold in delis, retail stores and restaurants. REED SAXON / AP