A brand or product can be unique for many reasons: maybe it’s the market you’re catering to, the kind of product you’re selling, or even the way you’re putting your brand out there. Whatever the case, there’s a lot that goes into establishing a unique brand, and you should at least be aware of how to go about it. Gerry Foster is joined by Tyler Ornstein, the Owner and CEO of Tyler’s Coffee, a single-source no acid coffee brand. Tyler shares his experience of establishing his own unique brand in a marketplace that seemed, at the time, to be too saturated. Let Tyler’s story inspire you to keep on doing what you can to strengthen your unique brand.
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Create A One-Of-A-Kind Brand With Tyler Ornstein
I am thrilled because I have this amazing young man, Tyler Ornstein who created Tylers Coffee, the world’s first and only acid-free coffee. I helped brand this guy and his partner several years ago. I am thrilled because they are awesome. Tyler, how are you doing?
I’m doing fantastic, Gerry. I can’t thank you enough for the opportunity. I’m excited. It’s like walking down memory lane with you. I’m super stoked that you gave us a lot of insight, a lot of branding knowledge at a very young age. I have to give a shout out to Rebecca because she took your boot camp. She did an amazing job with it. She took it and ran with it. She built the company to where we’re at now. She did a lot of resources. You were a good mentor to her.
Give me a quick update in terms of your growth because one of the things that I do on my show is I want our audience to absorb big branding gems because you’ve got something extraordinary. How has the growth been?
The growth has been phenomenal. We’re excited because from when you knew us to where we’re at now, you wouldn’t even notice us. We went from a small mom and pop company. We were growing very small and now we’re in 1,000-plus stores. We’re on Walmart.com, eBay, Jet.com, Amazon. We’re in 40-plus retailer websites. We do drop shipping. We’re doing great.
It doesn’t surprise me because you’ve got what I’ve always preached, a me-only brand, a one-of-a-kind brand. The whole idea here is to put something out into the marketplace that is distinct and different from the standpoint that people love it. What it sounds like is that people have fallen in love with your brand.
Not only have they fallen in love with our brand, but they’ve fallen in love with the idea. It’s the idea of having a healthy coffee. There are coffees out there that are low acid. There’s Ganoderma, which is a mushroom coffee. These are all great brands and all great products. I’m not knocking anything. We’ve created the pure essential essence of coffee as it should be. We take everything to the nano level. We take it to the cellular level. We don’t bloom the tannic and lipid acids. We make sure that our coffee is 100% USDA certified organic. It’s single-sourced from Chiapas, Mexico. We go to the next level of coffee. We want to create this essence of the best and purest flavored coffee. We’ve accomplished it.
When you were putting all of your products together before it became a brand itself, did you do any research? Did you identify anything in the marketplace that said to you, “There’s a gap there?” Talk about that a little bit.
There are 50 million Americans who suffer from stomach-related modalities. That was a statistic done in 2016 by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and that has grown. People do not realize that there is an 80% chance of harboring cancer cells if you have inflammatory. Lower pH causes inflammatory cells. When you put all that together, you realize that there is a huge detriment to your health every morning if you’re not drinking an alkaline coffee.
This is not only for someone who is health-conscious. It’s also for someone who wants to be, but let’s say he has some ailments and is eating or drinking the bad stuff and now they drink your coffee instead. That can help reverse some conditions.
We’re not inflaming the issue. People have Crohn’s, GERD, OAB, the list goes on. It’s growing unfortunately. These are all inflammatory issues. By having an acidity coffee, you’re inflammatizing the cellulars.
Unique Brand: There are three Ps you need to have: passion, purpose, and people.
One of the things I love about what you’re saying is the importance of looking out in the marketplace and asking yourself, “Where’s that gap? Where is that void?” People want A, B and C from coffee. They’re settling for D and F and you come along and say, “We’ve got the A, B and C you’ve been looking for.” That’s a lesson for all of our audience because you’re either me-too or me-only. You’re a me-only brand, which is how you scale up. What are some lessons that you feel other entrepreneurs and small business owners can take away from your rapid growth?
It boils down to a couple of things. I call it the three P’s. You have to have Passion, Purpose and People. If you have those three things, add your business. You could go out and raise $1 million capital gain. If you don’t physically have that passion that you want to get up every morning and you want to shout at the top of your lungs, “I have this wonderful thing that I want everyone to know about,” that money’s going to go away. If you have a passion, you nurture that money and you want it to grow. That’s how you become successful.
You had gotten the brand into Natural Grocers and it flew off the shelf. That led to expansion into other grocery chains, supermarket chains.
We’re in 300 grocery stores with Natural Grocers. We’re in about 100 Hy-Vee Grocery stores. We’ve got a couple of others that are coming down the pike. What I think is going to happen is there’s going to be this huge shift. I saw in the Expo West Show, which is a very unique show. It’s a health and wellness show of a magnitude that I’ve never seen in my life. It’s 8,000 to 10,000 people. Go to it. It’s in Orange County. What I saw in 2016 is that tech is huge but food is bigger. What you put in your body is going to be more investible because people care more about health. I tell people this all the time and say, “You’re going to have 1,000 problems, but if your health is not number one, you don’t have any problems.”
I like that you saw not only the opportunity and the gap in the marketplace, but also a growing trend. We as a country and around the world for the most part are health conscious. You ride that wave. If you remember when I was coaching you, it’s all about having you be different and better than the competition. How you’re different is the me-only part, but what makes you better is your “secret sauce.” You don’t have to tell the audience what your secret sauce is, but talk a little bit about the importance of making sure that your brand was nailed down before you got into the marketing stuff. You had to have something that could not be duplicated, imitated or negated by the competition.
I use the analogy of the Ziploc bag concept. If I took my coffee and I put it in a Ziploc bag and I walked into a buyer at a major grocery store chain, I’m not going to sell. They’re not even going to try it. I got to have a brand. I got to have a product. It has to look, feel and have a look of desire. I want to put my money that I worked very hard for, out to buy this. What am I getting for my money? I want value.
What’s also great about what you’re saying is you have to give the consumer a reason to purchase your brand, which goes beyond simply the packaging, which is important because you’ve got to jump off on the shell. People have to notice it. The main thing is what’s inside or the product itself. Is there some secret sauce?
It’s a proprietary process.
A proprietary process is huge. For anybody out there, if they want to become super successful like you two have, they’ve got to make sure to have something that nobody else can copy, especially if you’re on Amazon. I hear all the horror stories about that. You can get Tylers Coffee over here in China or whatever country. I don’t know. I’m just throwing that out there. What are some other success lessons for our audience here? It doesn’t have to be just brand-related, it could be around the passion and all of that. Is there something in terms of dos and don’ts?
There’s a big drive in our company to give back. We have partnered with a 503(1)(c), the Beacon Foundation. We love them. They find people that have mental disabilities at an adult level who can no longer work in the workforce as we know it. What they can do is they can do remedial jobs like fulfillment. Every single time someone orders our product, we donate because we pay for that fulfillment. It’s important to find your cause and invest in it. If you’re going to make a company and you say, “Our profits were phenomenal.” Why don’t we take 0.5% of our profits? I’m not saying 20%. I’m saying a very limited small amount and we donate it to a charity. That is a huge PR. What I love about it is I’m giving back to society as a whole. That’s why I started my company because I knew that I didn’t want to sell coffee. I wanted to sell a completely different and alternative coffee.
Unique Brand: You’re not going to be able to make a business out of doing something that people just don’t like.
I love that, Tyler, because it makes me think of TOMS Shoes. They don’t make shoes. They make shoes that matter. They’re known for their philanthropy and giving back. That’s great because you’re socially conscious and at the same time you’re giving, because if you’re not giving, you’re not getting. Be a giver not to taker. Everyone wants to make a profit. However, making a profit means that you are able to do something better than the rest of the crowd. At the same time, you want to benefit others as well. How big is your company gotten now? How many employees are you? Are you packing your own coffee?
We’ve got a fulfillment company. It’s doing a wonderful job. The company has grown. We did a 50% increase in growth in the last few years, which is insane. Our number one problem is we don’t have enough inventory for our demand, which everyone says, “It’s a great problem to have.” I said, “Yeah, but it’s still a problem.” That’s one of our pitfalls, to keep inventory on the shelf but we’re working better at that. We’ve gotten lines of credit. We’re starting to ramp up and get the marketing going. We’ve got our own offices now. We’ve got staff. We’ve got a wholesale department team. We’re growing.
Is there something special about the beans? Are they coming from Ethiopia, Brazil?
It’s from Chiapas, Mexico. It’s single-sourced USDA organic coffee. We wanted to make the best, so it’s single-sourced. This farm has been around for hundreds of years. It sits on a beautiful aquifer that’s clean. The USDA has certified with the NLP regulation that it doesn’t have chemicals in the soils. It’s good coffee.
You should go to Amazon, Walmart, Natural Grocers. You should google acid-free coffee and not for my benefit, but for yours. Check out their coffee on Amazon. Where are the other places?
There’s Natural Grocers, Walmart, eBay, Jet. We’re working with the deal on Target. We’ve got two distributors that are going to be rolling it out into a lot of other stores.
Are you looking to get into regular supermarket chains?
We’re looking to get into Whole Foods and Sprouts.
What about Kroger, Ralph’s and Vons?
That’s a great opportunity. Unfortunately, our price point is high. For example, there was a lot of initiative in 2016 from Walmart, Costco, Target, all the big box stores to start going organic and now you’re seeing it. You walk into any big box store and you can buy organic food. Tylers Coffee is going to be poised in the next few years to be in a big box because there’s going to be such a demand for it.
You’ve got something that people want. Not only are you satisfying their needs and wants, but the main thing is also you are addressing an area of concern to them, which has to do with all the reactions that people have with bad coffee in terms of how it’s made and all of that. You’re riding the wave here. Tell me about your competition.
No one has tried to come out because you’ve got something that can’t be imitated, negated or duplicated. When we worked together, we said we got to make this a me-only brand. You’re either me-only or me-too. If you’re me-too, you’re a commodity. You’re competing on price and it’s a hard game. Brands like Nike and Starbucks have shown us that the brands they market and sell are more important than the products because people don’t want products. They want brands as well.
To touch on Starbucks quickly, I don’t think that Starbucks ever thought that they were going to make a lot of value in the coffee. It was more they were going to make a value in the third place in the meeting. I read Howard Schultz’s book. He said, “There was home, there was the office and there was lunch or dinner places like restaurants.” There wasn’t a third place and that third place didn’t exist. He filled that niche. He did a great job of it. He was very successful.
He’s very successful around the big brand idea of a unique coffee experience, a sense of community and so on and so forth. What you said is true because Barnes & Noble in the bookselling space try to create a third place for people to read books and magazines and did that successfully. What they didn’t see on the horizon was with Kindle and how a lot of people don’t want hardcover books. You’re ahead of the curve. I don’t think there’s anything coming on the horizon because you always have to worry about that. Is there some next-generation whatever coming out in terms of acid-free coffee that could take you from me-only to me-special? I don’t think so. You’ve got an incredible partner. She’s outstanding. If Rebecca is here, what do you think she would want people to know about your success? You’re the Founder and CEO. What is her title?
I would say she’s the business development on sales.
Is there anything from that end of the business that you feel people should know about as far as generating sales and marketing?
To go back, when I went door-to-door on a bicycle at fourteen years old, I gave coffee away. What I wanted in return was a phone number and a name so I could reach out to them and I did. This was completely driven on a test market. I’ll never forget this old lady. She was sweet. I called her and she said, “That’s good coffee. Where do I get it?” It was a light bulb moment. I said, “You can get it from me.” She said, “How much does it cost?” I said, “$1.” She said, “Why don’t you come by and bring me $5 worth of coffees?” I brought her five packs of coffee. At this time, there was a two-ounce pack. That solidified that I got twenty noes to one yes. The more noes you get, the more yeses you’re going to receive.
That’s a cliché statement but it’s a such a true statement. I remember Becky and I calling and not getting anywhere. We’re looking at the numbers and going, “This is not good. We were struggling here.” We called one that’s like, “I’ll take three cases.” What I’m saying is you’ve got to stick with what you’re doing. The other thing and I’m adamant about this. This is my terminology here. You don’t want to get into a business that no one wants. My analogy is you do not want to sell turtle shoes. If you go out there and pitch turtle shoes, no one’s going to buy. They’re going to be like, “I’m not going to put shoes on my turtle.” No one’s going to do that. You’ve got to have something that someone wants. You’re not going to make a business out of doing something that people don’t like. You’re going to make a business out of something that has been semi-established in the industry and you’re making it better. As you said, you’re going from red water to blue water. I use that analogy all the time.
That’s what Becky would say is you have to make sure that you have some benefit and feature that’s outside of anyone else in the competition. Price is a very interesting game because the bigger the fish are, they’ll lose money for three years to knock you out of competition. They’ll go back and they’ll make all their money back. They’ve got millions and millions of dollars stockpiled and you come in and you say, “I got a product and I’m going to drop the price. I’m going to compete against them.” “Really? We’re going to drop the price.” At that point, you’re under your costs of whatever you’re doing and you can’t stay afloat.
I like that because that’s another valuable lesson, which is if you are a me-too brand, you’re forced to compete on price. I love how you made sure that you have a highly distinctive, one of a kind, we’re the only one who does what we do brand, which means that you can command the price. You’re not a commodity. They haven’t allowed themselves to become generic because people will make you generic if you let them. I want to go back to a couple of things you said that were so good, which is the taste. She loved the taste. What do we associate with healthy anything? It doesn’t taste good. It’s good for us but it tastes horrible.
The other thing I want to circle back to is how you have been able to compete. I used to work in a grocery industry back in the day when I was at P&G and another company. That is brutal. You have no idea. Grocery people, I love them. You said 50% growth average year-over-year and you’re the number one type of coffee in this category, in terms of getting the product off the shelf. I remember one time I had a client who had me sit in on a presentation of a light product. It was not a light bulb but a nightlight and it was very decorative. We went to this meeting at this Grocers Conference in Vegas. There were four buyers across from us at the table. The guy presents his product and they loved it. They looked at him and I happened to be next to him. I don’t quite know why I was there. They asked him one question, “What are you going to do to get the product to fly off the shelf? Our job is to simply give you distribution and give you shop placement.” Talk about that.
The answer is you don’t do it. You let other people do it. You tell people, “This is our product. I want you to try it.” For example, we did a demo at Natural Grocers. We went in there. We set up our coffee booth. We had a coffee machine. We started giving out coffee. It’s great. Everyone loved it. They started selling coffee. I said, “We’re done. That’s it.” You’ve got 30, 60, 90 people that are now walking around saying, “Have you tried Tylers Coffee? It’s good. I’ve tried it. It’s super good. Try it. It’s in Natural Grocers.” What’s interesting is the manager came up to me and said, “Do you want to do another demo?” I said, “We’re done. That’s good.” He looked at me and he goes, “What? I don’t understand.” I’m like, “You’ll see.” He called me a couple of weeks ago after that and he goes, “We’re out of stock.” I’m like, “I know. How much do you need?” I went in there and grabbed some groceries. I said, “How are you doing?” He’s like, “It was funny. I never thought that you were going to be real about it.” I was like, “Because we have a good product.” Let people take it off the shelf.
That should be the lesson for everyone. Let people take your brand off the shelf. I also want to commend you for putting your name in your brand. Tylers Coffee, his name is Tyler Ornstein because a lot of great brands put the name of the founder in the brand itself. George Foreman Grills, Debbi Fields, Mrs. Fields Cookies, Craigslist, Angie’s List. This has been great to see you again and get caught up. If you’re interested in finding more about his coffee, you can go to TylersCoffees.com and on Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and Jet. They’re blowing up the universe of coffee. Google acid-free. This is a brand success story. They are rocking the coffee industry. Thank you.