Knowledge is power. Nowhere is that more important than in natural. Knowing your numbers is the key to your success. Fact-based strategies can add rocket fuel to your growth. Hear how an expert leverages these advanced strategies to exceed expectations.

Today we’re going to be talking about something that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s the underlying focus of this podcast, and why I launched my free Turnkey Sales Story Strategies course. 

Today’s story focuses on the importance of the strategies that brands need to use to get their products on more retailer shelves and into the hands of more shoppers. Today’s story is about those strategies that brands need to use to help retailers be successful, helping them grow sustainable sales across every category within their store. Sadly, these strategies are not given the focus they need and deserve. And yet, as you’re about to hear, these strategies can help you propel your brand and add rocket fuel to your growth.

I chose today’s special guest to help you understand the importance and the need for these strategies, and how he’s been able to capitalize on these strategies to achieve huge growth across every category that he’s worked with and every brand that he’s supported. I’d like to introduce you to TJ McIntyre, the CEO of Bobo’s Oat Bars.

Download the show notes below

Click here to learn more about Bobo’s Oat Bars



Hello and thank you for joining us today. This is the Brand Secrets and Strategies Podcast #45

Welcome to the Brand Secrets and Strategies podcast where the focus is on empowering brands and raising the bar.

I’m your host Dan Lohman. This weekly show is dedicated to getting your brand on the shelf and keeping it there.

Get ready to learn actionable insights and strategic solutions to grow your brand and save you valuable time and money.


Dan: Welcome. Today we're going to be talking about something that's near and dear to my heart. It's the underlying focus of this podcast, and why I launched my free Turnkey Sales Story Strategies course.

Today's story focuses on the importance of the strategies that brands need to use to get their products on more retailer shelves and into the hands of more shoppers. Today's story is about those strategies that brands need to use to help retailers be successful, helping them grow sustainable sales across every category within their store. Sadly, these strategies are not given the focus they need and deserve. And yet, as you're about to hear, these strategies can help you propel your brand and add rocket fuel to your growth.

I chose today's special guest to help you understand the importance and the need for these strategies, and how he's been able to capitalize on these strategies to achieve huge growth across every category that he's worked with and every brand that he's supported. I'd like to introduce you to TJ McIntyre, the CEO of Bobo's Oat Bars.

Good morning, TJ. Thank you for being on the show today. Why don't we start with having you tell us a little bit about yourself?

TJ: Great, thanks for having me Dan. So, I moved to Boulder, Colorado in the summer of 1994 from the Midwest. I was a vegetarian, and then a member of a food co-op, and immediately started working in the natural foods industry, and was with an ice cream company that was trying to be a lot like Ben & Jerry's, called Josh & John's back then. And we were making naturally homemade ice creams, had a bunch of scoop shops, and we sold pints throughout the Front Range, and in King Soopers, and Safeway, and Wild Oats at that time, and Alfalfa's, and Whole Foods.

And I got us into the farmers markets and music festivals, and I really fell in love with natural foods. I loved the quality of the products. I loved the people. I loved the brands, and how the brands could take a stand, and develop a relationship with consumers, and fight for social justice or environmental causes, and upgrade the overall food system. And the general idea of a food fight was very attractive to me.

And since those early years, at the very beginning of my career, I've had just great opportunities to work for companies in Boulder for almost 20 years now, and throughout that process I've had a lot of great mentors, a lot of great colleagues. The best part is that when people enter the natural foods arena, they tend to stay. So, all of the friends that I've made from the very beginning, we're still traveling on this path together. We're just maybe a little bit slower with some of our moves than we were in our 20s, but it's been a lot of fun, and I'm really forever grateful for finding this line of work.

Dan: That's interesting. You made me think of someone when you said that, and I appreciate you sharing that. People in CPG, traditionally, they don't hold their job very long. They bounce from company to company, to company, and we keep bumping into each other. People that are in natural CPG space follow that same path or that same trajectory, and they still remain very closely knitted together or connected. Can you give some ideas on how your paths keep crossing, because I know that you're very involved in the community in Boulder?

TJ: Yes. Well, one thing that I learned pretty early on, is to take your competition very seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously in the process. And recognize that it's a long road, and this industry is not that big, and somebody that you're competing with today could be on your team tomorrow.

One great example, before I joined Bobo’s, I was at Boulder Brands for six years, and we acquired the Udi's business, and it was a gem in our portfolio. We put an enormous amount of resources against it. And our number one competitor was Rudy's, right here in the same town, and Doug Radi was running that branch and business. So was Jane Miller, and those two are good friends of mine today. In fact, Doug and I spend a fair amount of time comparing notes, and just sharing industry insights with each other. And frankly, we did back then too, when we were direct and very intimate competitors. When somebody was not buying my bread, they were buying his bread and vice versa. But you really have to take a long view, and to those that do, they really flourish. You're rewarded with great friendships over time.

Dan: Yes. Doug is a great guy, and good story. And back to your point, it's all of us working together. The rising tide, that statement. And the point that there's so many interesting people in this industry that are willing to give our time and help out. I had a great conversation with John Foraker a couple weeks ago, and I thanked him for all he does for the industry, and he said, "No, no, no. For what WE do for our industry. We're all in this together." And it's great to be re-centered from the experts saying things like that. So thank you for sharing that.

You said you had a lot of great mentors. Do you have some interesting stories to share about some of the things you learned, that, maybe, how you fell down, how they helped pick you back up, or whatever?

TJ: Sure. I have a few. The early part of my career was with Frontier Natural Products Co-Op, and Rick Stewart was the founder, and he was a fantastic visionary. We sold something like 30,000 items in our wholesale catalog.

And I learned a lot about quality from him, and he was very serious about coffee. He was roasting coffee at a time when there was certainly Starbucks, but there weren't all these roastries like there are today. And I remember as we would work with co-ops around the world, and he would actively protest for economic and social justice in foreign countries and here. He was not afraid to get arrested. And then, he was incredibly serious about ... again, on the quality front ... and we would have these cuppings, and he would reject lot, after lot, after lot. And I was managing the spice business, and the specifications that we had on our spice product line were really intimate. And that enabled us to create a great relationship with Whole Foods back in the very early years. We were making private label spices for them. There's a guy named Lex Alexander at Whole Foods at the time, who was running private label, and he was very serious about quality as well, and it was a good fit for us. And because we had such great standards, we were able to really develop a great relationship there.

After Frontier, I was at Legacy White Wave, the company that Steve Demos had founded. And I got to work with Steve, and that was just a complete rocket ship. Everything that our team did just really turned to gold in those days. So it was just a power brand, one of the most powerful in the industry and he, Steve Demos was championing the plant-based diet far before it was fashionable. And he really taught me a lot about making sure that we honor all of our stakeholders in the business, and that we have a lot of fun in the process. We threw the best industry parties. We would have Blues Traveler or Ziggy Marley, and we would bring those artists to Expo West, and that was not happening at that time, and it was on our time. And we would also throw parties in Boulder.

I remember right when I started, it must have been for an anniversary or some milestone ...he threw a party at the Boulder Theater, a great local theater that Doug Green, founder of New Hope owns, and he must have flown like 150 stakeholders in the business. Some of the original buyers from co-ops and we had this amazing party for everyone and then had a special guest at the end and said, ''I'd like everybody to take a seat.'' And Bruce Hornsby walked out on stage and played an amazing concert. And things like that stuck with me. Steve Demos was very, very passionate about Soya and championing whole bean technology at a time when everybody was hexane extracting, and I think a lot of those foundational moves really benefited our business.

But undeniably, my greatest mentor throughout my career has been Steve Hughes. I spent 15 years working with him and for Steve, and he's a leader like none other. He entered our natural foods industry with a really solid background in conventional CPG. He had created Healthy Choice and he ran Tropicana business and really blew up Tropicana taking wrong foods out of the freezer and putting it in Table Top.

And I don't know where to start and stop in terms of all the moves that I learned from Steve. He's relentless and he is a type of leader that creates teams that run through walls for him. And it's because of the vision that he has, he's always on a different scale of everyone else. He'll see a business opportunity at a multiple that is two or three times what you can envision and then he figures out how to manifest it, and then he gives the team kind of the keys to the new car, and everyone is all of a sudden managing something much greater than what they thought they were capable of.

And his approach to people is probably his greatest skill. He went to the University at Chicago Business School. He's always the smartest guy in the room but the folks that he likes to champion are the scrappy players, and he's always developed a deep relationship with a selling organization and he liked the guys who would prefer to drive 300 miles or 500 miles in their sales cars and stay at Motel 6 - they were the ones who were going to probably stay up a little bit up later at night too and have a lot of stories and fun. And he would encourage the salesmen and sales women to go far beyond what they ever thought that they were capable of. And that's why as I had the ability to travel with him through really four different companies, it was the same crew for a lot of that journey because people would really dedicate themselves to him. That doesn't just happen with compensation alone, that's building a family out amongst your team and I certainly try to take a lot of those lessons and apply them now at Bobo's.

Dan: You certainly do. In fact, that's actually, one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you and I was thrilled that you were able to come on. So, to go back, I didn't know you worked for Steve Demos, great guy.

And I remember some of those parties and the way he'd bring people together in his visionary spirit, and back to the plan base. He was way before his time like you said, a true thought leader in the industry. I haven't seen him for quite a while. I've also had the privilege of talking to Steve Hughes him a few times. He's got a very different way of looking at the world. But to your point, he really understands the business, and this is really why I wanted to bring you TJ, because I talk to and work with a lot of different natural brands in this space. You impressed me as being perhaps the most knowledgeable in terms of understanding the numbers and understanding what drives sales and products at shelves etc. And the reason that's so important is because so many brands struggle in this area. So that is your gift and for you to share it with me how you learn that, that really helps.

What did Steve do, or either one of the Steves do, to help really bring you up in that discipline and help teach you and mentor you, because a lot of people go to school, or get that education but they don't know how to make it actionable. What made that different for you?

TJ: Well, from the very beginning in my career, I did get my MBA before I went to work for Frontier, and we lived and died by the success of our P&L. We would very diligently plan and we would hold ourselves accountable to the plan, and we would spend a lot of time identifying levers that we pull that are going to improve our top line growth, boost our gross margin, and keep our expenses under control. And that is the discipline that entrepreneurs need to capture first in their approach to natural foods.

In working for Steve Hughes for 15 years, I found myself on a daily basis, in a form of the situation room with him, and it was always rapid fire, it was an enormous body of work at all times, and it was always quantitatively based. We certainly spent a lot of time on brands, and trying to get our messaging right, and making sure that we have all of the right touch that's going to break through to the hearts and minds of our consumers. But we dedicated a lot time to margin improvement projects, a lot of category management, and paying attention to all of those quantitative pieces, especially surrounding yourself with really bright people, that's what rises all the boats as well.

And like here at Bobo's, I brought over some of the best talent from Boulder Brands. We understand how to measure the health of our brand. Ultimately my job here is just the same as any of the other jobs that I have had, and it is to build value, build value for all of our consumers and stakeholders, build value for the ownership, everybody that's on our cap table. And eventually our business will sell, and we pay really intimate attention to what our prospective acquiring entity is going to value in Bobo's.

Six years at Boulder Brands was really 24 quarters. I learned that public discipline. I really enjoyed the private side a lot more than the public side because we employ exclusively long term thinking here as opposed to closing quarter. When you spend a lot of time closing quarters you're being constantly interviewed by analysts who are trying to understand how the next quarter is going to come in. You have to have such a firm grasp on all the financials. Those are some, again, the team moves that I've been able to pick up with great mentors in my path.

Dan: So important that you mentioned it, thank you. Because most brands just ... they don't really understand that, how important that stuff is, the blocking and tackling the simple day to day stuff. Entrepreneurs are typically the people that go and invent their product, they don't necessarily have the where with all to hire someone like you to be able to drive sales.

So, to unpack that a little bit more, when you're saying, talk about the longterm financials, if you don't mind sharing, how far out do you plan? And the reason I'm asking that question is because, years ago when I started in this industry, it was all about like you said, the next quarter, getting through this quarter, getting through today. And now we started looking towards one year, two years, three years, and then having a sustainable plan to get there where we were able to really get ahead of the curve and that gave us more freedom and flexibility to focus on the longterm game rather than just survival.

TJ: Right. Well, the strategy is fundamental to the planning process, and if you're going to look at a full year, or as many as three years, here at Bobo's we ... if I'm going to put up anything beyond three, we're making that up, we have no idea. We grew 70% last year, we're going to grow over 50% this year, I'm trying to manage a business that can retain a 50% growth rate over a five year period on average. That's our key growth pursuit, and I want to ensure that, let's say at the end of that five year path, if we have a 50% key growth, that it's very healthy. So we have to intimately focus on the year that we're in, our chant at our holiday party at the end of last year in 2017, was because we said we would. And everybody got over 100% bonus with the company because of top line revenue and gross margin, and are just at E-bay, we exceeded plan on all marks.

Dan: Congratulations.

TJ: Thank you. And that doesn't come easy. Everybody carries a lot of water around here, but it's fantastic when you can raise a glass at the end of the year and say, ''My gosh, we said that we were going to do something that was gigantic from a growth percentage perspective, we did it, and now we're going to do it again. Go home and take a couple of weeks off, and we come back in January and hit it hard again this year.'' What I have found is that the capabilities that individuals have is always much greater than what they realize.

Dan: Absolutely.

TJ: And going back to my comments about Steve Hughes, giving people a lot of responsibility that is beyond what they thought they are ready for, we do a lot of that here. I take young people and promote them, and give them responsibilities that they might not capture if they were to leave our organization and interview for another job. And then I bring them intimately under the tent on all of our financials. From the first month that I was here at Bobo's, I sat down with our founder, Beryl, and Pam Mercy was our controller at the time and said, ''were going to go through our P&L, every month with the entire team, and we're going to show them everything, they're not going to see everybody's salaries, but short of that, they're going to see every financial detail, and as we review it I'm going to do my very best of educating our entire team, our customer service team, the people that answer the incoming consumer affairs calls, our quality team, our operational directors, I'm going to educate them on P&L management so that they can understand, again, the levers that need to be pulled to succeed financially and then we're going to point out what they do and how it impacts our total P&L so that everybody develops a language that is frankly, language of business and they feel empowered to help drive our plan.''

That type of transparency has to be a part of your culture if everybody on the team is going to be rolling in the exact same direction. And then you avoid cross-functional flack where, let's say the operations group is not understanding why you're going innovation yet again and you're going to put everybody to the ring, and why does it have to be done in such a short timeline. You’ve got to get the entire team aligned. And P&L management and planning it can amount to success.

Dan: Absolutely, thank you. It reminds me of a mentor of mine many years ago. And that's a huge compliment because he did the same thing. He invited us all in, he made each of us a stakeholder of the business. We understood what was at risk, what we needed to accomplish, what the vision was, and what the goal was, not just today, but tomorrow and beyond. Point being, and that goes to what you're saying, and I'm so glad you did that, is that we would walk through walls for him. We would do whatever it took to bring in the numbers, and they were profitable numbers, not just trying to make the next quarter or whatever. Compared to where I started, at a big CPG company, and you look left, you look right, okay, and you think, ''Okay, if I want to get ahead, how do I knock out that guy?’' And it was very combative and we weren't a team. I love the fact that you were able to leverage that and bring people into the family, and I love the way you put that, because really, that's what's important.

And the cool thing about natural is being quick and agile, being able to adjust a business plan is a lot easier for a small company to do that than large business. Large companies when trying to change direction are like an oil tanker in the ocean. It takes a lot of hours, a lot of time.

What do you do to further that? How do you go beyond what you're saying in terms of, helping people understand and drive the business? Do you actually let them put their hand on the wheel so to speak?

TJ: Absolutely. I have a way of managing this business that goes very deep in details but only for a short amount of time. And a saying that I learned a long time ago is that, what I respect is that everybody else is going to respect, and having the right KPIs, that you're consistently measuring the company against, and it's never about the individual, it's not like a product distribution, it's not a sales team issue alone, we all share that responsibility together. The product has to get made, it has to be of the right quality, it has to be positioned well by the marketing group, and the pricing and the packaging has to all be ticked and tied. But if we're consistently measuring our performance against KPIs that matter, then people are going to get trained to make sure that the velocity is right. As an example, there's an opportunity that's pursued by too many brands that I believe hurts their performance. We're going to grow 50%, hopefully greater this year, and I could accelerate that with more innovations, I could accelerate that with more club, more mass, but we have to be metered and we have to be disciplined.

We've recently launched with Wegmans and one of the conversations that we had in the fourth quarter of last year was, with the Wegmans' buying team is that every piece of distribution that this company picks up, we treat it like it's our first. And we absolutely mean it because our velocity is, for Bobo's, we compete in the nutrition bar category, and in the cereal bar category. Nutrition bar being 80% or greater of our total business today. I have to compete with Clif Bar, with Lärabar, with Kind Bar, those bars are over a billion dollars. I don't know all the financials of Lärabar and Clif, but they're each over half a billion, let's say, and they have a lot more resources that we do.

So we have to, if we're going to pick fragments, we got to pay really, really close attention to how well we're performing there before we check that box, ship it and forget it, and spend time in Florida talking to the public. We descend on the new distribution that we get, all with an eye towards, what's our velocity on a dollar sales per point? I want to know every four weeks, how are we tracking? How are we competing against the other incumbent who is coming up from below us that could be a threat? And if the buyer is going to conduct a review tomorrow, am I going to survive, am I going to get my items expanded? All of those conversations happen every four weeks as our consumption data refreshes in here. And then the sales team really get it.

And then, we constantly ask ourselves, what else can we do if we can't go do a free Friday download because it's going to cost us a million and half dollars or something crazy like that, then we have to figure out how we are going to get scrappy as hell. That's where my entrepreneurial experience bodes well here and the type of culture where we try to be disciplined but we're also incredibly tenacious in the process, and we try to act in ways that bigger companies are just not going to do because a big advantage that a smaller brand has is that the team here, and at BoBo's, we're all owners of the business and we're all empowered to think entrepreneurially as well.

And so, we can do unique things in sales and marketing team, and operations team, kind of collaboration that will drive awareness and trial in the market that a bigger company is just not going to bother with because they're going to have all kinds of hurdles in between their different functions. If an organization has a sales team of 50 people or so, they're going to operate like an institution inside a corporation and that's not the family approach that we're taking.

Dan: Absolutely not, and that's what I was getting at. Instead of dictating this is what you will do today, you will punch a time clock, and I hate that metaphor and the idea being that, here is what we're going to tell you to do, we're not going to tell you why you're doing it, or how they do it, we're just going to tell you how to do it. But it's that route, it just doesn't build that family atmosphere. And to back up one of the things you said, I was thinking that you can't hit a target if you don't know what it is. And you can't even aim for the target, three, four, five years out, even though you're guessing, like you said, if you don't have some objective. So, to be able to do the things that you're doing, first of all, extremely inspiring, I didn't know we were going to get into this during this call but thank you for sharing all that.

When you're talking about scrappy, and I love the fact that you get into that too, that whole idea that you've got people that will bend over backwards to help you do things because they are thinking of the business perhaps some way that you're not, but more importantly, you're giving them not necessarily keys to the store but you're letting them put their hand on the wheel and letting them be rewarded by thinking outside the box as opposed to just being a drone. What else do you do to foster that, and how do you find people that are willing to walk through walls like you said?

TJ: Well, at Bobo's we had the ability to create a team inside a legacy company that was very, very small. Beryl Stafford had run this business by herself for over a decade. She had ... when I started here at the end of 2015, there was nobody in sales, there was one woman who was doing some marketing, but she was also operating as the office manager. There was one person in customer service, one running bakery and the controller. So, we took that three and a half employee base up to 30 pretty quickly, but the first four hires were some of the best in the industry, the best of who I've worked with in my career. They all came over from Boulder Brands together.

And then we had a foundation from which we built one at a time, everybody being hand-picked. If you get that culture right in the very beginning, then you recognize if somebody new is coming in, are they going to fit with us? Are they going to be as fun? Are they going to be as hard working and disciplined? And because we got it right in the very beginning, we were able to build out, again, one at a time, hand-picked individuals.

Making everyone an owner and sharing all of the financials, that makes a really big difference. It's just like all of us that go to restaurants or go in to a café. There's a really big difference. If you go into a coffee shop and the owner is behind the counter with an apron on, and she's making your drink or taking your order, you're going to have a fantastic experience in a café like that as opposed to one where the owner is absent. There's just a degree of pride that's created inside an owner-run operation that's different than it just being business.

And so, here we speak pretty freely about the fact that today we're all here together. In a period of years, in the proverbial three to five years, there's going to be a different owner. We're going to sell this company to somebody else, the owner is going to need to take liquidity, unless we raised a serious aid with a couple of great private equity groups. And so, we can hold hands and have a team meeting and talk freely about the fact that at some point we're going to sell, and you may continue to work here, you may not, we need to be big boys and girls and recognize that when that time comes, the economy is very strong in America, the economy is incredibly strong in the natural foods industry, and by the way, we're all from Boulder. So, if this company was purchased and the acquiring entity decided to move back to some other corporate headquarters, and the jobs dried up here, there's going to be an opportunity and pretty much we're going to go ... if that happened we're just going to go re-group on the next star branding business anyways.

So providing that type of transparency gives everybody a real clear insight and what their job is, how we're trying to build value, where we're all headed together.

Dan: Well, and the whole idea behind family, I mean, blood is thicker than water. So being able to build that into your DNA of your company is great.

And a lot of companies I had to work with TJ, they struggle to understand that you need to spend money upfront, not many, make the right hiring decisions and choose the right people to get started. I'm really glad you pointed that out. A lot of companies are trying to be lean and mean and they cut corners, and they make a lot of mistakes, and then they go back and clean that stuff up down the road. That's very costly and I don't think a lot of people realize it. So thanks for sharing that.

I think I shared with you also that when I was a grocery manager many years ago, I actually championed a local brand. It wasn't Bobo's, it was before their time …. a type of an energy bar. Point being is, that's authentic nutrition as opposed to some of these and I'm not saying that natural brands are synthetic or something like that, but that home-baked taste, and feel, and texture. And there's something to that that really is a big part of the brand I think. Can you talk a little bit about, how do you leverage that out on shelf, and then how do you leverage what consumers are thinking, shoppers are thinking about your product to help drive sales?

TJ: Well, I think that at Bobo's, we've identified what our brand stands for. And what the brand stands for us is the same as what the team stands for, and is the same as what the product stands for. And those are the primary ways that you're going to express yourself to your consumers and all of your stakeholders.

The legacy of this business is it was a single mum who was raising two girls back in 2003, Beryl, and one of her two daughters were baking these oat bars and they turned out to be delicious. She took them down to cafes, wrapped in saran wrap in Boulder. And then one store at a time grew this into what became a full time enterprise, and then actually a real business. And she took a slower approach, she also all the way until a year ago owned 100% of a company that became very profitable. So, while everybody is chasing a fast growth rate, there are other paths that you can take. You can take a little bit more time and really get it right too in an enduring fashion.

But we like to talk about, instead of our purpose and promise, we talk about our will and our way. We talk about bringing people home, feeding them like family which goes back to this mother-daughter baking tradition. And we are self-manufactured. We have our own micro-bakeries here in Boulder, Colorado. I'm standing in the bakery as I'm talking to you now, and as long as I'm here, we're going to be self-manufacturing and we're going to stand for anti-automation. We're going to make home-made baked goods. The idea of Bobo's in the bar category is that the category needs a quality upgrade. It is hyper engineered, brands are launched with positioning around very specific attributes where they're going to stand for protein, or they're going to stand for Pre and probiotics, or they're going to stand for the absence of sugar, or how many ingredients that they have.

And the consumer has been trained to immediately look at the nutritional fact statements. I don't want to deny the importance of nutrition, but what has happened in the category is case has gone up the window and comfort and love, and family are not embedded in a lot of the products like what we're trying to do.

We believe that we bring the perimeter of the store to the center of the store. The perimeter of the store is where all the theater is, if you think of all the great work that Whole Foods has done and why their basket size is so big, is because they're breading and eating from their produce and their prepared foods are just gorgeous, and they're very inspirational.

And the center of the story has a lot of great brands that are positioned well, but are financed well, but they're also very processed and the vast majority of them are co-packed. In a co-pack manufacturing type of operation, the team is very separated from the food itself, whereas here at Bobo's we're all walking around on stained carpets and our shoes are all messed up because they have oil and oats all over them, and yet we could go on call. A couple of weeks ago, we had two different retailers in the same week saying hey, you guys are going to make a pumpkin for me. Make a pumpkin bar that will do very well. We have the ability to go over to the store and get some pumpkin paste and pumpkin pie spice and the bakery makes a couple of bowls, and put it on one of the trays that are going in on one racks in the oven, and just see how it goes in real time, almost like it's in our own kitchen.

That type of approach, with the hand-made, home-made aspect of what we sell is why our consumers love us. But beyond that, that type of approach is why we uphold ourselves internally to a certain set of family values that we talk about a lot. We want the idea of coming home from school, and let's say third grade, and mum's got oven mitts and an apron on and she's pulling something warm out of the oven. And how warming that is, it's two years old is how we want to operate as a company, that's how we want our team to interact with each other, that's how we want to operate with all of our customers and certainly our consumers. So, that starts with the bar, how its formulated, how it was formulated with Beryl Stafford and her daughter back in '03, but then that bar became our brand, and that bar and brand became who we are as a company and how we interact as people.

Dan: I love that story, and I love the brand. But it's so inspirational to really hear you tell it like that, and to visualize what it would be like to come home from school and have that fresh made food, that fresh made bar. And to your point, a lot of companies are trying to innovate to what consumers want without really understanding them, staying true to your principles and being authentic and transparent. I think it's what differentiates you guys and I love the fact that you are able to leverage out at shelf, and not lose sight of why you're being here, your purpose for being, and that, not compromise attitude. Thank you for sharing that with us.

What would you recommend or what would you say to a young entrepreneurial brand trying to figure out how to navigate this base, and trying to figure out how out how to survive and how to go the next step? And you've shared so many great things in terms of, know your numbers, be diligent, be disciplined. What other tips or strategies or thoughts would you want to offer?

TJ: Well, I've had the opportunity to work on a lot of brands that competed in many different categories and as I think of where I've had the most success, it's in the high frequency categories that have a broad appeal.

One of the things that I didn't mention is that I spent a number of years in the yerba mate category, in the tea category. I launched the brand with my best friend, Dwayne, he's been in this industry for a long time also. And Dwayne and I have worked together for 16 years or more. At all of those same companies where I worked, he was also employed. And then we started Pixie Mate together and we put tons of love and passion into that, and there was a lot that was right about Pixie Mate, but ultimately it didn't thrive because the mate category is just such a niche and it has flavor hurdles, just inherent in the way that the mate tastes that prevented us from winning over a lot of consumers. And I've really made the conclusion that for the rest of my career, I want to look at, what's my wife Marly bringing home? She does the majority of our shopping in our house. But what does she put in the refrigerator, in pantry, on a very regular basis? From a category basis, what are my kids plowing through? And those are the categories that I want to make sure that I'm competing in.

And at Boulder Brands we had probably a thousand items or something like that across six brands, and our stock price performance was really dictated by the health of our pretzels, our butter, our butter, our bread, our burritos, and our pizza. Even though I could go on for a few minutes talking about all of the other categories we competed in because those consumers would consume, or purchase our products and on just such a high frequency that if we got it a little bit wrong, at least we were granted a second chance, or a third chance, or a fourth chance. Steve Hughes back in those days, to Wall Street used to frequently say, your IQ in this business is pretty intimately tied to the category in which you compete.

And so, I would say to budding entrepreneurs, as you think about your idea, if it is a product that is seldomly consumed, your preparation has to be so fantastic and you have to get so many things right for that to succeed as opposed to selling products in, like in the bar category, the frequency is really high, people are snacking in between meals all day and the whole three-square meals as the calorie plan has gone out the window in the last five years or so.

Like here at Bobo's, the average consumer of Bobo's purchases us almost eight times a month. So if I have a dry one every once in a while, or they buy a flavor that doesn't totally resonate, they're going to come back to that category and give me a second chance as opposed to if I sold them some esoteric condiment because I went on a trip to Taiwan and I fell in love with some pickled thing. That can be a good business and that's a business for somebody, it's not where I want to compete because categories like that are purchased once or twice a year, or maybe never again. And that's the magic of what we're doing here at Bobo's. I personally eat a Bobo's bar every single day. And most of the people that work here do as well, and if they don't have one everyday they have several a week. And even though we're very prepared, and we're trying to get a little bit lucky, at least we know that we're in a very high tunnel category, and that's a just a great place to position yourself.

Dan: You've talked about this - it looks like food, it looks like something that you would make, it doesn't look like something that you'd expect to see on the space station, or somewhere like that, some of the old energy bars, in which to your point have absolutely no taste. Sometimes the packaging, I think is more flavorful.

And I love the fact that you talked about being very prepared in terms of what you're doing.

Thanks so much for everything you've shared, we've had such a great conversation. I love the brand, I love the story, I love what you're doing with the brand. They are truly lucky to have you, and I mean that, and with all sincerity. Someone like you that has the ability to come in and steer the ship, and yet make everyone else a part of that crew, to be able to build a team underneath you so it's not just you but here's what we are going to be doing, what a philosophy. And I hope a lot of people are inspired by this podcast because you certainly inspired me to share that message with more people.

Would you like to give any, or say anything else about Bobo's? I'll certainly include a link to Bobo's at the end of the podcast and in the show notes. So, anything else you want to offer?

TJ: No Dan. I really appreciate you bringing me on... and thinking about Bobo's as well. In parting, as we've advised people that are starting companies, don't take it too seriously, make sure that you're having fun. You spend a lot more time with your work than you do with your family and with your friends, and if there's ever a point in your work life where you're carrying around too much stress, it's not worth it.

Dan: Agreed.

TJ: There's no price that is worth suffering unhappiness. For me here, I work very hard at Bobo's, and our entire team does, and we have a lot of celebrations, we take time to acknowledge our victories, we take time to acknowledge the victories of individuals. And the more that you employ that type of thinking and make sure that gratitude is part of the team culture, everybody is just going to be happier and you're going to have a lot more success.

Dan: Absolutely. I'm so glad you wrapped it up by saying that. I love what I do, being in the natural channel, working with inspiring brands, thought leaders like you, people and disruptive companies that are making a difference, it's so much fun than it is working for a company that is managed by Wall Street. It's such a different atmosphere and I absolutely love what I do, and working with brands like yours and even though you're not a client, but point being is that, working with disruptive companies that are making a difference, and are standing up for a mission, a way of thinking, a way of doing stuff. And again, I can't thank you enough for making time for us, and I look forward to our next conversation.

TJ: That's great, thanks for having me Dan.

Dan: Thanks TJ.

I want to thank TJ for making the time for us today and for sharing his valuable insights. I'll put a link to Bobo's Oat Bars in the show notes and in this podcast webpage.

You can download the show notes at

Today's freebie is my strategic solutions to grow your brand. This guide is an introduction to the many strategies that TJ and I discussed today. You can download them on the show notes, or you can get it instantly by texting, “StrategicSolutions” to 44222.

As always, thank you for listening, and I look forward to seeing you in the next show.

This episode's FREE downloadable guide

This short guide levels the playing field between small brands and their more sophisticated competitors. It highlights the advanced strategies the big brands use called Category Management - what retailers want.


Thanks again for joining us today. Make sure to stop over at for the show notes along with more great brand building articles and resources. Check out my free course Turnkey Sales Story Strategies, your roadmap to success. You can find that on my website or at Please subscribe to the podcast, leave a review, and recommend it to your friends and colleagues.

Sign up today on my website so you don’t miss out on actionable insights and strategic solutions to grow your brand and save you valuable time and money.

I appreciate all the positive feedback. Keep your suggestions coming.

Until next time, this is Dan Lohman with Brand Secrets and Strategies where the focus is on empowering brands and raising the bar.

Listen where you get your podcast

Like what you’ve heard? Please leave a review on iTunes

FREE Trade Promotion ROI Calculator:

Click Here To Maximize Sales And Profits

Strategic Solutions To Grow Your Brand

This short guide levels the playing field between small brands and their more sophisticated competitors. It highlights the advanced strategies the big brands use called Category Management – what retailers REALLY want. 

Empowering Brands | Raising The Bar

Ever wish you just had a roadmap?  Well now you do!

Don’t miss out on all of these FREE RESOURCES (strategic downloadable guides, podcast episodes, list of questions you need to be asking and know the answers to, weekly newsletter, articles and tips of the week.  You will also receive access to quick and easy online courses that teach you how to get your brand on the shelf, expand distribution, understand what retailers REALLY want and address your most pressing challenges and questions.

All tools that you can use, AT NO CHARGE TO YOU, to save you valuable time and money and grow your sales today!

Image is the property of CMS4CPG LLC, distribution or reproduction is expressively prohibited.