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Nerium Celebrates 5 Years of Making People Better with Big Plans for the Next 5
In late August 2011, Jeff Olson and a corporate staff of 13 brought a new skincare company to market, Nerium International. Since then, Founder and CEO Olson and his Texas-based executive team have grown the company into one of the largest direct selling companies in the world. Its first full year in business was enough to propel it onto the DSN Global 100 list at No. 86 with $100 million in net sales for 2012, rising to No. 38 on the list this year with net sales of $516 million in 2015. Nerium’s growth story is one focused heavily on customer acquisition, with more than 70 percent of its sales to people not attached to the compensation plan. The company also maintains strong support for the personal development of its independent salesforce, known as Brand Partners, and continues to innovate in the fast-growing market for anti-aging products. Just a few days before the company’s official five-year anniversary, Olson spoke with DSN about the journey so far and how he sees the company evolving over the next five years.
DSN: When you look at Nerium today, how does the company line up with the vision that you had when you launched the business five years ago?
Olson: We’ve really lived up to everything we said. From day one, we said the company was about making people better—not just the financial, not just the skin, but as a whole. The other thing we very consciously said was we were going to be real. We have real science, real results, and we’ve lived up to that. It’s really interesting that the words we picked and the themes we picked, we executed on and five years later, looking back, we did them 100 percent.
DSN: The vast majority of the Nerium salesforce did not have network marketing experience before coming into the company. Does that change the way you approach training?
Olson: I ask the field to do two things. The first is to become a great messenger, which means work on who you are. Like Abraham Lincoln said, “If I have six hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.” I was fanatical about personal development, and we made it a big part of our core principles. The second thing is to plug into the third-party system we provide. We created very duplicable training modules that anybody could do and anybody could point someone else to do. We created great third-party tools where we could teach people how to share the product so they didn’t have to be the message, they just had to be the messenger. And we had third-party communication, a really intense communication platform to keep people up to speed on everything we’re doing every week.
For a new person who has never been in network marketing and has other endeavors—a job, family and other things going on in their life—they could just share third-party tools to provide more information about the product and opportunity. By plugging into third-party training they can not only learn but they can teach their team, and they can keep up with what’s going on. We just made it a very simple, duplicable third-party model.
DSN: How has that shaped the Nerium culture?
Olson: We don’t have any tribes. If the company doesn’t lead and give direction and give the system and tools you need, the field will always fill the void. Once the field starts to fill the void, then you have multiple ways to do the business, multiple ways to do training, multiple ways of communication. It makes it very, very difficult.
DSN: Was that consistency more difficult to achieve as the company became larger, or did it become simpler?
Olson: As it grew, it got easier. With so many people, to go against the established culture and system would have been like a minnow trying to go up against a shark. Now, we have had to adjust as we’ve gone international because there is more of a hierarchical team orientation in Asia as part of the culture. But they are still using the same tools, the same communication; we’ve just allowed the people to be a little more branded as part of their teams. We haven’t lost our Nerium rhythm.
|Nerium corporate staff celebrate the company’s five-year anniversary with Brand Ambassadors at its recent Get Real conference in Dallas, Texas.|
DSN: How did you know it was time to go international?
Olson: We went slower than anybody. We were in the Direct Selling News Global 100 with just one country. We’re in four countries and just opened our fifth in five years. You’ve got to decide how you’re going to open a country; we made the decision to do the whole system. When we open a country, we have a country manager who has been with us for nine months to a year, full time. That person has a marketing staff, a compliance staff, a legal staff, and they’ve all been over to Dallas multiple times learning how we do things. We have an office there; we have the infrastructure. We have a call center with people who have been training for six weeks and can speak dual languages.
When we opened Japan, we had 85 call center people fully trained the day we opened. We opened up a full infrastructure in Canada, a full replicated system in Mexico, the exact same thing in Korea and the exact same thing in Japan. We spent $12 million in infrastructure in Japan before we opened the door, not counting product. Word is out that there is a company that’s really trying to do it right.
DSN: Do you plan to speed up the pace of your international expansion?
Olson: Yes. We’ve been moving at about a rate of one country every seven or eight months since we started, but starting next year we’ll be going much faster. We feel like we have our model down, our corporate management team and our software systems. We slammed on the brakes when we were a year old and decided we wouldn’t go anywhere else until we had built one global operating system. We spent probably $30 million to build it, then migrated the United States, Mexico and Canada onto the new system before launching Korea and then Japan. We took our time to do that, but now we can go fast.
DSN: What are some of the other key investments you have made in the company to set the foundation for future growth?
Olson: We kept everything in-house. We have a very robust marketing department, digital marketing department, social media marketing department. The call center is all in-house, not outsourced. Our management team is the best of the best that I could find. We did everything world-class, first-class and took our time—in every single thing we invested. We’ve tried to do it the way you’re supposed to do it. I think our whole company is living up to the design.
DSN: When you think about the next five years for Nerium, where do you hope to be at the 10-year mark?
Olson: We’ll be a $2 billion company in five years, easily, and we’ll be in somewhere between 15 and 20 countries. I don’t want to have a lot of products; I want to keep it tight and simple and execute. Our product line will expand, but we won’t be a jack-of-all-trades. We had our five-year party and gave out certificates to all of the people who had been with us for five years, and it wasn’t 10 people, it was eight. Yet standing there were over 500 more people. You can only imagine where we’re going to go in the next five years with this group of 500 who are plugged into the system and driving a model that’s very duplicable and replicable.