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Back in the Beverage Business

The founders of an upscale natural juice company throw themselves in the ring again with a fizzy new approach to on-the-go nutrition drinks.

The smell of fresh paint permeates the office, and all that breaks up the bare surroundings is a bright, lime-green "Z" splashed across one very white wall. Shutting the newly installed conference doors takes some nudging, but they finally close, and Bevology LLC founders Tom Hicks and Brad Barnhorn kick back in their new chairs, relieved that they're finally unpacked and ready for business in their new Irvine, California, offices.

And ready they are. Since partnering again in the summer of 2005, the founders of Fantasia Fresh Juice Co. (sold to Naked Juice in 2000) have moved quickly to get their DrinkTab revolution out to consumers. Inspired by the success of Airborne tablets, the duo created effervescent drink tablets--they dissolve in water to create a colorful, fizzy beverage--which they're marketing to both teens and young adults as high-energy, vitamin-packed beverages.

Despite their experience in the beverage industry, however, both Hicks, 50, and Barnhorn, 41, agree: It's not any easier the second time around. That's because Bevology's product is a completely different animal in the beverage product jungle. As Barnhorn says, "Each company has been its own, separate beast."

The original venture sold upscale fresh juice and smoothie drinks. Their new operation marries the idea of a healthy beverage and an on-the-go lifestyle for consumers who are interested in convenience, wellness and eco-consciousness. They launched two brands, the Zenergize Vitamin InfuZed DrinkTabs (hence the "Z" on their wall) and the energy-packed Superfly DrinkTabs.

They've created all-purpose drinks that use water as the foundation; the tablets allow consumers to create their own unique drinks. Add as many tablets to a bottle as you want to increase both the flavor and the potency, and mix flavors to create new combinations.

"Water is omnipresent," Barnhorn says, explaining the partners' impetus for the beverage's creation. The drink tablets are portable, so anyone can get a nutritious, quick beverage anywhere, anytime. Each recyclable tube contains enough tablets for 10 drinks, reducing the product waste, too. After spending two years researching, developing and test marketing, they finally launched Bevology in 2007.

The partners feel they've perfected a vitamin-packed, flavorful drink in tablet form, a revolutionary beverage that's indicative of today's culture and attitude.

Says Hicks: "Really, what else do you need?"

Hicks says that having a very different product has its benefits, but being too different can cause setbacks.

"You want to bring something disruptive and different by looking forward to where trends and consumers are going," Barnhorn says. "But you also have retailers and other parties who are focused on tomorrow and not a year from now. It's definitely a balancing act."

If a product is too different, consumers and buyers may be completely alienated by it. Recalling a meeting with buyers, Hicks says, "We came into the meeting with a couple of tubes. And the first thing they say is, 'We buy beverages. We don't buy pills.' "

Trying to explain to buyers that Zenergize and Superfly are indeed beverages and not supplements, Hicks says, was definitely a challenge. Moreover, once buyers and other distributors have agreed to sell a product, if it's not properly branded, it can get lost on supermarket shelves among the dozens of other drink products.

That's where the Bevology founders come in. Barnhorn and Hicks have learned that sharing their vision with sellers and teaching them how to market their product accurately and appropriately is essential if they want to carve out market share. They also spend time defining the brand to employees, investors and distributors in order to create a cohesive and cooperative company.

And their time and efforts are paying off: Such market chains as Albertsons, Whole Foods, Hows Markets and Henry's Farmers Market carry Zenergize DrinkTabs, and Ralphs will begin selling it by the end of 2008. Currently General Nutrition Centers carries the Superfly brand.

Despite the challenges that have come with introducing an entirely new product to the market, the founders remain unfazed. With several years of experience behind them, they advise that if you're starting a business, an even-keeled attitude, a solid belief in your product and a good team--especially a good team--will keep you sane.

"It's the people that make the company," Barnhorn says, and Hicks emphatically agrees. They have seven other full-time employees--seven talented, enthusiastic and adaptable employees who hand-packed and moved the company from San Francisco to Irvine in May.

Showing their commitment to their team and this venture, Hicks and Barnhorn have not taken a salary since starting Bevology. They assert that they'll do well when their company and their people do well.

When will that be, exactly? They look at each other and shrug. Chuckling, they decline to say more than that the company makes more than zero.

The partnership and brotherly friendship between Hicks and Barnhorn provide the foundation for Bevology. The reason it works, they say, is that they listen to each other and have complementary skill sets.

"Though it's hard for me to admit this, because I'm a much better singer, Tom is like U2's Bono, whereas I'm Edge and the rest of the band laying down the beat behind Tom," Barnhorn says.

He coordinates the research and gets the information to Hicks, who'll then represent and sell the product or "sing the high notes," as Hicks puts it. Occasionally, they'll argue, but it's always about what's best for Bevology, and for that they're both willing to compromise.

The bottom line for both partners--the glue that holds the company together and a big reason why Hicks says they're in this for the long haul--is a strong belief in their product.

"I truly believe that every time someone drinks this product, they're going to have a healthier life," he says.

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