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!
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.