Ten candles on a cake marks much more than the passing of time. Those 10 candles represent 10 years of firsts, lessons learned, growing pains, and, perhaps most importantly, an eagerness for what’s next. Whether we’re talking about 10 years of life or 10 years in business, a decade is definitely something to celebrate.
|Tarl Robinson||Alec Clark|
Headquarters: Scottsdale, Arizona
Top Executive: CEO, Tarl Robinson; President, Alec Clark
2017 Revenue: $561 Million
Products: Health and Wellness
Plexus founders Tarl Robinson and Alec Clark realize that few companies survive to see this milestone. “When your business is starting out, you just don’t know whether 10 years is on your horizon,” shares Robinson, Plexus’ CEO. Clark, Plexus’ president, echoes that statement: “Sitting in our first convention in 2011, in a room with just 248 Ambassadors, I remember looking at Tarl, saying, ‘I hope we get a lot bigger.’ ”
These days, Plexus doesn’t just hope for another 10 years. Robinson, Clark and their leadership team have experienced tremendous growth, international expansion and an explosion of Ambassadors, what Plexus calls its distributors, by taking calculated steps to establish who they are in the channel. And they show no signs of slowing down.
A Second Chance Startup
Plexus was originally founded in 2006 as a company focused on breast health and early cancer detection, offering only one product—the Breast Chek Kit, a self-examination kit for women. The company was “reborn” in 2008, when the owner sold the company to CEO Tarl Robinson and team. Alec Clark joined the company shortly thereafter, and the new Plexus was underway. The team decided to chart a new course, away from breast health into consumable health and wellness, with the introduction of Plexus Slim, a weight management product. From there, Plexus began slowly adding additional wellness products to the line—today, the complete product lineup is less than 20 individual products.
These products fall into three categories:
- Weight Loss – Plexus Slim, known to many as “The Pink Drink,” anchors Plexus’ collection of weight-loss products. Slim features a premium microbiome activating formula that contains ingredients intended to improve gut health and promote weight loss.” Slim is joined by products designed to block sugar and carbohydrates, increase metabolism, suppress hunger and fuel energy.
- Nutrition – The Plexus line of nutrition products includes multivitamins, probiotics, and support for both the digestive and nervous systems.
- Personal Care – Plexus’ original product, the Breast Chek Kit, is still available and is now joined by two body creams.
Plexus has plans to expand its product offerings, but has thus far taken a minimalist approach to its product line. “Our strategy has always been to go a little slower to grow bigger,” explains Robinson. “We feel like ‘a less is more’ attitude will really drive better results, more focus and higher potential for the company.”
“If we’re not ready to support the hopes and dreams of those Ambassadors in the country we’re wanting to launch in, then we’re probably not ready to go.”
—Tarl Robinson, CEO, Plexus Worldwide
Intentional Growth, Fast-Paced Results
While the team’s intentional growth strategy is slow in mindset, the company’s financials tell a much speedier story.
In 2015, the company reported $385 million in revenue and a roster of 326,000 Ambassadors in the field. At the close of 2017, Plexus’ annual revenue topped $561 million with 732,000 Ambassadors. Things have changed a great deal from that first convention in 2011 with 248 attendees. Plexus’ most recent annual convention saw a record 11,500 Ambassadors in attendance and sold out in 40 days.
The current corporate headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona’s Pima Center opened in 2016—a $11.5 million, 100,000-square-foot facility that houses nearly 400 corporate team members and hosts Ambassadors and visitors daily. When the building initially opened its doors, the facility included 9,000 square feet of unused space that could be configured for future needs. Today, Clark reports that Plexus is “maxing out every corner of this building,” so growing pains are happening even sooner than expected.
In the face of tremendous growth, Plexus has remained debt free and committed to reinvesting 40 percent of the company’s pre-tax revenue. “We’re believers in being self-reliant,” Clark continues. “We believe it allows you to make the best decisions possible. That’s true for both our company and our Ambassadors—it gives you the ability to do it your way.”
Robinson, Clark and the rest of the team see Plexus as an opportunity to change the network marking channel. “Our philosophy has always been to do network marketing how it could and should be done,” Clark shares. This idea, to transform the channel, is also evident in the company’s internal transformation several years ago from a “health and wealth” company to a “health and happiness” company.
Robinson explains, “[Our original mission] was very product-based and we felt that our company was becoming more and more consumer value-based.” Today, the Plexus mission is “to enhance the health and happiness of those who support, promote and use our Plexus products.”
“We’re very transparent with our field, we’re very transparent with our employees, sometimes too transparent, but we believe the front door approach is the best way to approach things.”
—Alec Clark, President, Plexus Worldwide
This missional shift certainly resonated with both existing Ambassadors as well as newcomers to the Plexus team. In the past two years, the number of Ambassadors in the field has nearly doubled. Robinson and Clark attribute that growth to both the more relevant mission and the culture within the company. “We’re very transparent with our field, we’re very transparent with our employees, sometimes too transparent, but we believe the front door approach is the best way to approach things,” says Clark. “We truly are ‘One Plexus.’ To us, that means that every decision we make has to be a win/win for our Ambassadors and for the company.”
Robinson and his team believe that Plexus’ “people-first” culture focused on health and happiness attracts committed, tenacious Ambassadors who stay the course. And happy Ambassadors drive results, he says.
The corporate team supports and partners with the Ambassadors in the field in tangible ways, such as a focus group that meets weekly and an advisory board that consults on key decisions. Ambassadors at every level are also given the opportunity to participate in a profit-sharing program, a unique benefit in the channel. They are supported on the technology front as well, as Plexus recently launched a new IT infrastructure that can grow with the company in terms of social media integration, product checkout and a host of back office services.
“[The company] is not trying to grow too fast. It’s basing its decisions on data and on intelligence, but it’s doing it with humanity.”
—Janice Jackson, President of Sales and Marketing, Plexus Worldwide
Robinson cites The Blue Zones of Happiness by Dan Buettner as one of his team’s favorite leadership books, so much so that they’re employing some of the strategies in the book throughout the company. “We feel like happiness is a key factor in what we want to do as a company,” Robinson shares. “We feel like people don’t put enough emphasis on what they’re doing to make themselves, their families, their communities happier.”
Attracting Top Talent
Rapid growth, solid products and a winning corporate culture have taken Plexus’ reputation from the biggest direct sales company you’ve never heard of to one of the top performers in the channel. And it’s attracting direct selling leaders, just in time, according to Clark. “We knew we needed to bring in top-level talent to grow, leaders with experience in billion-dollar-plus companies,” he says.
In March, Plexus announced the addition of two new division presidents to the leadership team: Christopher Pair Garza as president of operations and international and Janice Jackson as president of sales and marketing. According to Jackson, it was the standout corporate culture, quality of leadership and consistent growth that drew her to the company. “I’ve been in the direct selling industry for the best part of 30 years and Plexus, growing at the rate it has, came onto my radar a few years ago,” she shares. “As it grew, it became known as a company with great products, a company that has a great culture, and a company that does direct selling the right way.”
In her new role, Jackson will oversee the marketing and sales functions, product development and customer service. A broad range of responsibilities, but this veteran of the channel says she is eager to use her experience to help propel Plexus forward. “I think the company is growing with an approach that, to me, speaks to sanity and humanity,” she explains. “It’s not trying to grow too fast. It’s basing its decisions on data and on intelligence, but it’s doing it with humanity. It’s got a set of values that it actually espouses. In other words, they walk the talk.”
Expanding into new markets is a goal for most network marketing companies and Plexus is no exception. Though its approach may be more cautious than others. “Our philosophy regarding international markets is this: If we’re not ready to support the hopes and dreams of those Ambassadors in the country we’re wanting to launch in, then we’re probably not ready to go,” says Robinson. Clark agrees. “For the past eight years, almost from the beginning, we have been operating in the United States exclusively. On March 21, we launched Canada officially, our first country outside of the United States.”
Plexus is now fully operational in Canada, with Canadian Ambassadors launching their own businesses. The official launch was broadcast via a live feed with over 20,000 Ambassadors tuning in and another 300 celebrating onsite at the headquarters. As Plexus evaluates new countries as possible markets to enter, the strategy will be the same. The company intends on being ready to support those Ambassadors before entering those markets. “We’re working at that level in Canada now and will be following the same plan in every new country moving forward.”
Celebration Today, Legacy Tomorrow
Plexus’ 10th year in business is meaningful for Robinson, Clark and the rest of the Plexus team. “We’re very proud and humbled to have gotten this far in business,” says Robinson. “As much as this 10-year mark means, the process of growing from a small business to an emerging business means just as much—and not specifically from a size standpoint. This is the opportunity to look out over the next 10 years and realize our goal of becoming a legacy company.”
The idea of legacy is top of mind for the entire company and reflects the defined sense of self Plexus has created within the organization over the past decade. “This is the year of legacy, so our convention is going to be built on that,” says Jackson. “What we mean by legacy isn’t simply a company that will be here for the long-term, but a company that leads the way in serving entrepreneurs and their families for generations.”
Robinson and the team plan to approach the next 10 years with the same intentionality marked by their first 10. Steady growth, thoughtful expansion and a continued investment in both people and products. That includes building out its mission of health and happiness, but particularly a focus on the happiness factor with specific programs and products to contribute to this in measurable ways.
“Our benchmark is another 10 years and well over a billion dollars in annual sales. That’s a mark that shows real longevity,” says Robinson. “We want to create a company that our Ambassadors can look back on 10, 15, 20 years from now and feel proud of who we are and who we continue to build ourselves to be.”