Guzzling in the ‘Shark Tank’

By Greg Stiles
Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Guzzle Buddy’s future looks bright after founders Randy Rothfus and Jennifer Sullivan secured a deal with Daymond John on last night’s episode of “Shark Tank.” Below is the story of how they ended up on the hit ABC TV show.

Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore.

Guzzle Buddy burst out of the gate in 2016, selling 62,000 units and grossing $1.5 million.

Appearances on the Ellen DeGeneres and Kelly Ripa television shows followed for the creators of the screw-on glass allowing direct consumption from wine and beer bottles. Final 2017 figures aren’t in yet, but 2017 was even bigger for the fledgling Medford company.

So why would Guzzle Buddy founders Randy Rothfus and Jennifer Sullivan want to risk swimming in ABC television network’s “Shark Tank”?

“To be honest,” Rothfus said, “where else can you go to get in front of 9 million people?”

The erstwhile dentist and his sister-in-law took their shot, navigating the obstacles to simply get on the studio set for a filming session that aired Sunday.

“We applied and they contacted us,” Rothfus said. “That’s just opening the door, there are a lot of stages when they winnow people out, before you make the final thing.”

Even after the shoot, five months ago, there was no guarantee of a few minutes of fame.

“Just because you’re filmed doesn’t mean it will go on,” said Rothfus, who was notified last Friday that the duo’s appearance was scheduled for Jan. 21.

They faced a panel of four investors, who grilled them with impunity.

“You deal with sharks, sometimes multiple sharks if there is blood in the water,” Rothfus said. “If you don’t know your product and numbers, they can rip you apart.”

There might be an advantage to having a physical object to pitch versus a concept or vision. But you best have proof of sales and how the market responded.

“It was stressful, scary and exciting,” Rothfus said. “If it were a pleasant stroll in the park, they’d have to call it ‘Guppy Tank.’ ”

The episode was part of a “15-month trial by fire,” Rothfus said. “Effectively, we earned a master’s degree in import, export, logistics and e-commerce.”

It was an unexpected continuum of a transition that began when Rothfus had hand surgery in 2012. He retired from practice with his dentist wife, Karla, and began writing children’s books, including three titles selling on Amazon.

In one of those life-changing moments no one can really explain, Rothfus and Sullivan were watching television three years ago when opportunity knocked.

“We were watching an old sitcom, showing someone drinking from a glass attached to a wine bottle,” he recalled.

“Being wine enthusiasts, we thought, ‘Hey, we’ve got to find this thing.’ We searched the Internet, we looked everywhere, there was no such product on the market.”

The entrepreneurial spirit awakened.

Through trial and error, family members came up with a borosilicate glass. They had a prototype product. The next of many steps was mass production.

“We called up a Chinese manufacturer,” Sullivan said. “We really loved this glass they were producing, so we thought this is our person. We went back and forth on a design, and they started manufacturing for us.”

In fall 2016, they posted Guzzle Buddy on Amazon.

“Somebody got a hold of some of our videos and pictures somewhere around October 2016 and put together a compilation on YouTube,” Rothfus said. “It went completely viral.”

To the tune of more than 100 million views.

Not only did the YouTube exposure generate enormous demand, it created a gigantic logistics challenge.

“We were super green at that point and didn’t know how to negotiate with our supplier to get the products faster,” Rothfus said. “It was the week of Black Friday, and that’s a terrible time of the year, so we had to pay 10 times what it would’ve been to ship 20,000 glasses by air. But we were preselling rapidly, and it turned out to be super smart, smartest thing we’ve done, because it funded the rest of the business. We really rode that wave through 2017,” he said.

For much of last year, Rothfus and Sullivan revisited business fundamentals.

“As fast as we were growing, it was hard to keep up with what we needed to be learning,” he said. “The second-smartest we did was to take 2017 and build a foundation for the business. The first part of the year is slower, so we were able to bring in a new line (a beer glass) and repackage for retail.”

The design and utility patents, along with trademarks, were almost afterthoughts, Rothfus said.
“We were going 100 mph and went back to fill in that blank,” he said. “It was just another piece of the puzzle during 2017.”

Beer drinkers, of course, wanted in on the action, Sullivan said. So a beer glass soon followed.

Guzzle Buddy glasses sell for $24.99 on Amazon, and a new unbreakable plastic version made in Colorado is ready to hit the market, priced at $14.99. To go with the 120,000 glass units that have been manufactured, 40,000 plastic Guzzle Buddy units were ordered or pre-ordered within two weeks.

“It’s completely BPA-free, it won’t crack, it won’t yellow, it’s freezer-safe and dishwasher-safe,” Sullivan said.
While it might not be for the purists, it’s definitely got mass appeal.

“We have had people — the wine connoisseurs, sniffers, the swirlers — object, but we find the majority of wine drinkers in America have fun,” Rothfus said. “They want to experience it, they want to be the center of attention, because everybody likes to be the center of attention. So you put a glass on top of a wine bottle, and they just go crazy.”

One connoisseur admitted it was to his liking, even if he wouldn’t use it during wine tasting.

From a practical perspective, the Guzzle Buddy serves as an aerator. It’s also an affordable option when buying for someone who has everything.

“Everyone is looking for a gift,” Sullivan said. “Even if you got the wine lover, it’s the gag gift you give them.”
The entrepreneurs hit their first trade show earlier this month, the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market. It’s the largest of its kind in North America, spread over three buildings and 15 floors.

The event attracts buyers from the likes of Ace Hardware, grocery chains, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Nordstrom, breweries, wineries, flower shops, gift shops, hair salons and boutiques.

“You talk to all these people, some buy right there, and others you get their card and negotiate later,” Rothfus said. “Places like 7-Eleven and Love’s Truck stops will pick out inventory for the rest of the year.”

They expect to hear from breweries, bars and cruise lines in coming weeks.

“We want to sell as many as we can, but we also make the right business decisions,” Rothfus said. “We want to build a brand, we don’t just want to be a one-hit wonder.”

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