After hitting its fifth birthday, direct-selling skin-care business Nerium is poised for global expansion.
The perhaps less-than glamorous reason, is software. According to chief executive officer Jeff Olson, Nerium has spent years and millions of dollars developing a proprietary software system that can onboard information from new countries, plus support Nerium’s independent brand partners and customers without complication. The system, which connects marketing web sites, e-commerce, back office and digital applications, serves as Nerium’s green light to global expansion, giving the business access to billions more potential customers than the 300 million it started with back in August 2011.
“From Day One, I wanted to build out a global operating system,” Olson said. “Most companies run one-off operating systems…once you get into four, five or six different operating systems, it’s very hard to get back to one. I didn’t move this company as fast as I could have [in order] to build that operating system. A software platform that I own, that I control, that’s global, that’s scalable…I didn’t think it was going to take me as much time and money.”
“It’s so neat to have it now,” Olson added. Once the content marketing systems are in place in about nine months, “I’m going to be able to do so many marketing things that all my competitors just won’t be able to do,” he said.
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Nerium is already distributed in the U.S., but the new software allowed the business to open in Mexico and Canada, and then in South Korea and Japan. In the next four months, three more countries will be added: Australia, Hong Kong and Colombia. By the end of 2017, Nerium should have operations in between 12 and 15 countries, according to Olson.
The business did $100 million in sales for its first year, doubled the next year, and surpassed the $1 billion mark in 2015, according to industry sources. The business was number 56 on the WWD Beauty Inc Top 100 for 2015. “What’s really great about direct sales is it’s a way to get through the clutter,” Olson said. “It allowed us to be pushed into the market instead of being pulled into the market.”
“On the product side, I wanted to build a company that people felt good about,” Olson said. “I really wanted people when they saw our company, the thought that would go through their mind, [to be] ‘real class’ and ‘first class.’”
“We really didn’t spare expenses when it came to building our brand,” Olson said, calling out formulation, packaging and conferences as areas where Nerium invests money. “[We’re] asking people to give us something that’s really important, which is their time and their credibility with other people,” Olson said. That’s one of the reasons, Olson says, that Nerium doesn’t pinch pennies when it comes to corporate events.
“I have a very, very strong relationship with the field — the entire staff has one,” Olson said. “We took 500 people to a resort in Mexico, and when we got there we had the whole resort branded with two words: ‘Nerium Family.’ On top of that, it was branded with three other words: “loving, caring, sharing.’”
“I like themes and I like words because I think they force you to aspire to something,” Olson said.
Olson knows a thing or two about aspiration. “I grew up very poor…without a father, but with a great mom, and I was pretty much a C student. I called myself less than — less than in grades, less than in social skills and less than in sports,” he said.
But that all changed one day at the golf course he was working at when he had an a-ha moment that led him back to school, where he said he got straight As, and to a handful of jobs at Texas Instruments. That’s when Olson’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, when his job involved traveling and talking to small business owners. “I just fell in love with it — they were struggling or thriving but they owned their own businesses….I said, ‘I want to be one of these guys.’”
Eventually, he struck out on his own, building a string of companies, including television network, the People’s Network, before starting Nerium. Now, with the new system in place and his dream management team, including Deborah Heisz as president and chief operating officer, Sharon Ellis as chief financial officer, Ana Clark as chief information officer, Roy Truett as president of global sales and marketing, Amber Olson Rourke as chief marketing officer and Doug Allen as vice president of international operations, Olson said Nerium is ready for its next phase of growth.
“I think the next five years are going to dwarf what we did in the past five years,” Olson said. We’ve really taken our time to build out the infrastructure, and most importantly, the management.”