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!
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.