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!
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."