Among the many wonders and beautiful experiences of becoming a mother, there’s one that - well, frankly - is kind of a drag: you have to be booze-free for those very long nine months. It was while building her family that Sharelle Klaus got the magic idea to also build a company. “I’m a mother of four, and during those years when I had to skip wine and cocktails, I realized there was a real lack of sophisticated, non-alcoholic beverages out there. Everything at that time was either cloyingly sweet, highly-artificial or lacking imagination,” she shared with SWAAY.
Without any mocktail that lived up to her palette’s preferences, Klaus came up with the idea of what is today DRY Sparkling. “I wanted a flavor-forward, non-alcoholic beverage that could compete with a great glass of wine or a premium cocktail and could also pair with my Thai food or a nice cut of steak,” she said. “When I realized that the ultra-competitive beverage market lacked one, I decided to make it myself— starting in my own kitchen.”
Today, DRY is sold in more than 4,500 stores nationwide, including Target and Kroger. With dozens of flavors and plenty of recipes ideas if you’re currently sans-booze or pregnant, the company continues to grow and feed the health-conscious in everyone. In addition to being at the helm of her company, Seattle-based Klaus is a busy mom of four kiddos (and one pup, a german shepherd named Lennox). Luckily for us, she took the time to sit down with SWAAY to talk about her humble beginnings and what’s next for this sparkling-beverage mega player:
Have you always been interested in your own company? What brought you to where you are today?
From an early age, I had a strong entrepreneurial curiosity and started several little businesses while still in grade school. I did things like make and sell Christmas wreaths around the holidays and sold a community newspaper in Bend, Oregon, where I grew up. I always thought I would create my own company someday. And I have this crazy habit of thinking about how to make “normal” things better or different.
Prior to founding DRY, I worked as a consultant Price Waterhouse. I also served as President of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, driving development of programs, events and fundraising for the organization’s 250+ Seattle-area members.
How is the company growing? How was the past year?
The year 2016 was an exhilarating one for us as we continue to see major year-over-year success! The Craft Soda category experienced a boom in 2016 fueled by greater consumer demand for better-for-you options, and DRY is growing four times faster than the category as a whole. We grew our placements, retail partners and on-shelf offerings with many of our existing retail partners, but also covered new territory in channels like Drug, Club, Grocery, and Convenience & Gas.
Our team is also growing – we just hired a new VP of Operations who will join us at DRY HQ, which is now located in Seattle’s historic Smith Tower. Every day, I’m impressed by the people I get to work with.
Everyone is so passionate about our brand and so driven. Our office has a very entrepreneurial spirit – the whole team works very hard and is super competitive.
For the first time, we saw retailers like Target and 7-Eleven make a commitment to our beautiful culinary sodas, and we’re thrilled to see fans respond positively. We can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store for us.
What was the hardest part about starting your company?
When I started DRY, I understood I was creating a whole new category of soda. I wanted DRY to be more delicious, elegant and sophisticated than any non-alcoholic beverage out there, so I had to challenge the notion that sodas are overly sweet and limited in flavors. I knew if DRY was truly going to be a worthy accompaniment to meals at top restaurants in the U.S., we were going to have to procure the very best ingredients, and then create recipes that made those flavors shine. Our flavors are probably our biggest differentiator. Our ingredients are clean and simple as each of our varieties are dedicated to a single flavor (vs. a mix), so they are immediately recognizable from the first sip.
Speaking of which, where did you get the idea for the soda flavors?
When I first started DRY, some of my favorite foods and herbs served as inspiration for flavors. Lavender was my first idea - it came to me when I was out in my garden and thinking about how great it would taste when paired with chocolate. Rhubarb was inspired by my grandmother, who made me rhubarb pies every summer from the rhubarb growing in her yard.
What your favorite cocktail using DRY Sparkling?
My favorite DRY flavor used to be Lavender DRY, but since the launch of Fuji Apple, it’s really tough to say. Some of my favorite cocktail recipes include creations from Cochon 555 Punch Kings, as well as The Staci, Miami Nice and L&L cocktails from our Cocktail Generator.
What was the moment when you knew you were onto something?
I launched DRY in 2005 after several experiments with extracts, syrups, home carbonators, and help from a few chefs and friends in F&B. The first flavors were nostalgic and surprisingly interesting: Lavender, Lemongrass, Rhubarb and Kumquat. I knew we were on to something when not far out of the gate, DRY became available in some of the nation’s finest restaurants.
When The French Laundry starting carrying DRY, it was a foodie’s dream come true. Through a large community of supporters, former connections, and the wholehearted belief in the need for DRY, we expanded into retail distribution not long after.
What do you wish you knew about being an entrepreneur before you became one?
The funny thing is that I had no experience in the beverage industry before starting my company, and so was blissfully unaware of all the “rules” that come along with being a part of it. Since I didn’t know they existed, I didn’t follow them, which was mostly a good thing. I wasn’t afraid to be headstrong and ask for more. For example, I’d ask for bigger in-store promotions and displays, and probably wouldn’t have if I knew this was something I wasn’t necessarily supposed to do.
In the last 10 years as an entrepreneur, I have learned a lot. I can admit I was not prepared for how much work it would take to trailblaze a new beverage brand, and truly a whole new elevated category of soda. Being the first comes with many road bumps, but being first also allows you to creatively change an industry. We love being innovative at DRY, so while no one may have ever had a Lavender soda before, we knew our target audience would want it. And being innovative allows us to be very creative in our marketing approach, in our distribution model, and even in our company culture.
What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs?
I’ve learned that it’s important to be fearless and creative in your approach, especially in such a competitive industry. My top piece of advice for budding female entrepreneurs would be to always listen to your instincts and never hold back.
What's next for DRY Sparkling? What about for you?
We are always focused on innovation in flavor and design so we can stay one step ahead of what’s happening in the industry. We are launching a couple new products to our core line this year, which is quite exciting! And we are always looking to bring DRY to more stores and more consumers. We are growing quickly, but we are not everywhere yet!
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.