How I Overcame Losing One of My Biggest Customers

When Starbucks pulled my product, I had to scramble to find a replacement.

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How I Overcame Losing One of My Biggest Customers
Image credit: DjelicS | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Founder and CEO of Hint
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As an outsider in the beverage industry trying to find a way to reach more consumers, landing my product in Starbucks stores was a huge win. It also seemed like a natural fit, as Starbucks at the time was looking for healthier bottled drink options.

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The partnership was initially planned to start with a limited launch of our blackberry flavor in 500 stores, which would have been significant for us at the time. But, shortly before launch, Starbucks decided to go even bigger, placing our product in 11,000 stores across the country.

I was ecstatic, but we had a major operational hurdle to overcome: Before selling to Starbucks, we had to actually produce the product and get it ready in time for each major shipment. That also meant we had to pay for each large order up front.

It was stressful, but we were eager for the opportunity to share hint water with a wider audience -- so the team and I rolled up our sleeves and made it happen.

The difference one call can make

Things were going great as new consumers began to discover and enjoy our product for the first time. We had set up weekly sales goals that we consistently surpassed. This is how it went for about a year, and I felt like we had settled into a great rhythm.

Then, as we were preparing our next huge order for shipment, I got the shock of a lifetime. Starbucks called and said that it had shifted its business strategy and would begin filling its cases with more food and fewer beverages. Our product would be removed from stores within a week.

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I'm not one to cry very often, but this seemed like the right occasion to make an exception. We had a warehouse full of product we had paid for, with no idea what we were going to do with it. To say that it was a scary moment is an understatement. While logically I knew this was something that was completely out of our control, it felt like a failure. Starbucks was a huge platform for us that was performing very well, so to lose that partnership was devastating.

Once I had the chance to collect myself, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that all was not lost and I still had a great product that consumers loved. I firmly believe that when one door closes another door opens, so while the task of finding a home for the Starbucks shipment that amounted to six months worth of product seemed daunting, I knew we could do it. I was determined not to give up, and immediately began looking for alternatives to our partnership with Starbucks.

Just a couple weeks later, I got another call -- this time, from Amazon. The ecommerce site wanted to sell hint water and requested a large product order within just a few weeks. As fate would have it we happened to have a lot of blackberry hint on-hand and ready to ship. When I asked the buyer how he knew about us, he told me he had seen hint at Starbucks. This brought everything full circle and made it clear that everything has its purpose, and while the relationship with Starbucks may have been short-lived it had a very big impact.

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Finding light in adversity

Selling on Amazon worked out great, and continues to be big piece of our business. Our customers loved the online access to our product, and a few years later it led us to launch our own direct-to-consumer business, which has been a huge revenue driver. It has also helped us foster even closer relationships with our customers, which informs every decision we make, since at the end of the day we are here to make our customers lives better.

Starbucks was great for sales, but it was even better for broadening our awareness. While the short-term "failure" of losing that deal was hard to swallow, ultimately it opened up so many doors and pushed us to try a new way of doing things.

This experience reinforced my belief that everything in life is connected and happens for a reason. When something bad happens, you have to hope to find the light in it and keep moving forward until you discover why things happened the way they did. Every fall is an opportunity to get up and try something new and better.

I learned that when things get challenging as an entrepreneur, don't give up on your dream -- instead, find a way to see the opportunity in the chaos and challenge of a difficult situation.

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