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When they launched nearly ten years ago, ASEA married the highly personal and culturally infused aspects of direct selling to a traditional, Fortune 50 corporate strategic planning structure. The mission: Take a revolutionary cellular health product to the masses worldwide.
Headquarters: Pleasant Grove, UT
Top Executive: Tyler Norton, Founder/Chairman of the Board; Charles Funke, CEO; Jarom Webb, President; Scott Aldred, COO
Products: Cellular Health, Skincare, Nutrition
The sheer nature of revolutionary products poses challenges and ASEA recognized the double-edge of a scientifically complex product. Three years ago the company rebranded, planted a flag in the cellular health direct selling space and set about reinforcing the infrastructure necessary to transform and sustain their business on a global scale.
Fortune 50 to Cellular Health Leader
When Verdis Norton retired to Park City, Utah in his mid-50s, he wasn’t thinking about direct selling, and it’s unlikely anyone had heard the term Redox. In fact, “antioxidant” was a new buzzword, and Verdis was fresh from the Fortune 50 corporate world where he was vice president of strategy for Kraft Foods, reporting to the CEO in Chicago.
Strategy consulting work for a biotech company positioned Verdis perfectly to learn about a unique biochemistry area called Redox and a patented core technology—years in development—that promoted communication and ultracellular signaling in the human body. Impressed, he and a group of investors purchased the intellectual property, research, and patents in 2008. A year later, ASEA Redox, a cell signaling liquid supplement, launched commercially.
“We’ve run this company like a legacy company from Day One.”
—Tyler Norton, co-founder and chairman of the board
“Fact is, it was a product and a cause vision to get it out to the world as quickly as we could, once we learned and understood its universal benefits,” says Tyler Norton, Verdis’ son and ASEA co-founder and chairman of the board.
Despite the moral imperative for speed felt by the founders, which also included CEO Charles Funke, ASEA approached the direct selling business model with a Fortune 50 mindset and adopted strategic planning principles and processes that are now sacred, annual practices.
“We were profitable inside of our first 12 months and have been every year since, and that’s largely due to those disciplines. We’ve run this company like a legacy company from Day One,” says Norton.
Strategic Link is a pioneering element of ASEA’s strategic plan for its business. The end game is to address key internal and external business concerns with no more than five and no less than three core strategies, which drive ASEA to financial outcomes and address qualitative challenges and issues. Strat Link is updated annually and includes a three-year outlook.
A series of cascading initiatives link all resource allocation and operating planning back to five areas of focus: product development and validation, new and existing market expansion, associate experience, culture and talent development (corporate and field), and operational excellence and financial management. Ninety-five percent of ASEA’s dollars trace back to these areas.
“Strategically, we are putting those five areas of emphasis out there and aligning resources, time and attention of our team to driving those things forward,” says Norton.
These are things they do every single year to make sure they are making the right decisions for the business. It’s not one guy calling the shots. “It’s a collaborative effort with all the best research and study in place, so that we are doing things strategically for the long term,” says Justin Wilson, senior vice president of sales.
“We’re often told we’re not flashy and we’re actually okay with that. We will take sustainability over a meteoric rise and corresponding cliff any day,” Funke says.
Redox – It’s Complicated
How do you get someone to understand something for which he or she has no context? That was and is ASEA’s Redox challenge.
“The upside: it’s very cutting edge and scientifically validated. We have patents on our technology and how we produce the product. We have all these people in the field that love the product. The downside: the field is filled with laymen and not Ph.D. scientists. It’s hard to explain the underlying functionality in the body,” says Becky Cox, vice president of marketing.
“We’re often told we’re not flashy and we’re actually okay with that. We will take sustainability over a meteoric rise and corresponding cliff any day.”
—Charles Funke, Chief executive officer
But does the sales field need to be an expert to sell Redox? ASEA has worked hard on good, solid science to help people understand what actually happens in the body and why cell signaling is so important. Their duplication model relies heavily on award-winning video and collateral materials to avoid Associate paralysis and inaccuracies when the science gets too complicated.
“We continually remind our field we don’t need to explain the mechanism of action. We only need to tell them it works, how it’s going to help, point to all the studies and the video if they have more detailed questions,” says Cox.
ASEA has come a long way, but Wilson believes they’ve only scratched the surface. One way ASEA hopes to make redox science more accessible is with new products that can make a difference in the world of cellular health.
ASEA first diversified its product line in 2014 when research and development stabilized a molecule that made its first topical skin product possible. A high-end, ultra-concentrated Redox eye serum and complementing skin care essentials (sans Redox) followed.
Intense, launch-product loyalty proved tricky with a hesitant field, but ASEA slowly transitioned Associates away from its ties to a solitary product by pre-releasing information and pre-launching products like its new nutritional line.
At the time 69-year-old Verdis Norton, now retired, founded ASEA, his deep, abiding conviction to make a difference in people’s lives took the lead. His son says he wasn’t processing that through regulatory and compliance chalk lines, so ASEA has had to learn to operate within those boundaries.
“Our product is one that does not fit neatly into a classification in most countries, so we have had to establish very good relationships with regulators to educate governments about our product and the benefits of it,” Funke says.
It takes time, patience and a very active compliance department to navigate regulatory requirements in the 31 countries where ASEA operates and in 21 European markets where products are marketed differently. This group also monitors Associate activity for compliance.
Initial international expansion trailed from the U.S. on to Europe and to some degree Australia, New Zealand and Mexico, but left Asia at a cold stop. Funke says one of the biggest impediments to ASEA’s international growth, particularly in Asia, was its IT platform.
So an IT overhaul began. The far-reaching decision impacted every aspect of ASEA’s business and took two years to complete. In July 2017, ASEA transitioned to a customized system that opened aggressive growth potential in Asia.
H.Q. – Pleasant Grove, Utah
Recognized as one of the state’s best places to work by Utah Business magazine for two years, ASEA’s CEO feared they wouldn’t make the list in 2017. “We put an enormous amount of stress on the organization,” Funke says. “Within a time frame of a little under three months, we flipped the switch on the IT conversion, completed construction of a brand new building, moved in, held our international convention and opened two Asian markets.” But ASEA made the 2017 list.
The move into ASEA’s new headquarters, 47 miles south of Salt Lake City, is yet another important infrastructure milestone. It’s a place where Associates can come in, shake hands, and spend a minute in an open space where light passes from one side to the other. They can learn a little ASEA history, see their faces on the walls and understand how important they are to the business.
Less than a mile away is ASEA’s production facility, where the company controls 100% of their Redox-based product manufacturing. Everyone on the line is an ASEA employee. Visitors can tour the facility, peering through windows into production and bottling. From here, products ship by rail or truck to boats bound for 18 distribution centers around the world that stock ASEA products.
“It all goes back to infrastructure. These were all things that we needed in order to set us up to be able to have significant growth in the coming years,” Funke says.
“We’ve grown every year, year over year. We had a record year last year. We’re on pace for significant double digit growth. We just built and finished out a brand new corporate office that’s a world-class facility. We’re a mile away from a 40,000 square foot production facility, which will be integral in scaling our business for future growth,” says Norton.
“We’ve grown every year, year over year. We had a record year last year. We’re on pace for significant double digit growth.”
This inflection point comes as ASEA pivots from a two- to three-year operational and scalable infrastructure strategy to one of operational excellence and execution. Their expanded product catalog now allows a shift in product messaging toward universal appeal and should help diversify their customer base and Associate field that skews older.
They also have a social media strategy in place to get more traction, to get online influencers and to not only enhance their online reputation in search standings, but also be visible to a younger group of people who are more solely online versus the previous generations.
SEO efforts to drag down negative chatter are underway and two full-time, corporate social media hires work to increase online reputation and manage ASEA websites. Three key vendors help on the third party side.
“We have a few leaders who are millennials who have come up through the ranks and are very active online. When you see a powerful online direct seller go after it, they do amazing things,” says Cox. What takes a decade to build on paper, can happen in 12 months online.
“Our first wave of associates trended older and approached the business with a traditional networking mindset, but we have a growing wave of younger leaders that are looking for their audience in new and innovative ways. The first wave sees their success, and many of them are exploring these new techniques to reach a wider audience.” says Shane Martindale.
“We know if you don’t cultivate culture, the natural tendency as you grow is that it will go away. One day you wake up and you’re not the same company that attracted a lot of people to begin with.”
Many Associates acknowledge this is a great strategy, but aren’t capable of doing it themselves. “We recognize the untapped growth potential through generational diversity and are developing ways to educate and train our associates on how to leverage new technology in their business building.” says Martindale. Will ASEA someday lend a hand with that social media process for its field?
That’s tied up in the functionality of the company’s back office provider, Cox says. Some back end systems are a “hot mess” with interfaces that linking different systems together or bolt options on to standard systems. But ASEA’s new, from-scratch IT platform is customizable, Cox says, inferring that with proper lead time corporate social media management may be an option.
All that said, ASEA is acutely aware that theirs is a belly-to-belly business. Its culture is ethos based and a corporate ETHOS Academy at national conventions teaches corporate principles ranging from human interaction to the EP Ratio—managing ego and economic drives beneath principle, people and purpose. Maybe it’s too traditional and not high velocity or sexy, but it has substance, Wilson says, and people are drawn to it.
“We know if you don’t cultivate culture, the natural tendency as you grow is that it will go away. One day you wake up and you’re not the same company that attracted a lot of people to begin with,” Funke says.
“The goal here was to get ourselves, clearly foundationally set before we throw a lot of wood on the fire. We have significant double-digit growth happening now and it doesn’t feel like we’re stretching the business out. We have strong senior leadership positions and strong field leadership that knows our culture and raises that flag well. We’re ready to grow,” says Norton.