Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

Starting a small business can be incredibly stressful… unless your small business develops products that actually reduce stress.

Along with his partners Sonja and Jasminka, Kenneth O’Connor had worked in the food industry for about twenty years. “The problem was as executives for many corporations we created formulations, built manufacturing plants… but we were always small cogs in a big wheel. Two of us went to work for one company and created a number of formulations and made them a lot of money – and then when they were finished with us they let us go. So we decided not to put up with that again and went out on our own.”

Together they founded Emerald Star International ( to develop and manufacturing fine foods and supplements. Their first compound was Accord, a beverage designed to work with brain chemistry to reduce stress, and improve clarity, focus, and memory. They tested the product, launched into the retail market, developed distributor relationships – and just last week launched nationwide.

How did they find success so quickly? “We have done this for other companies,” Kenneth says. “And we made them into very large companies. By education we’re not only food scientists; for example, Sonja is a machine engineer and a pharmacist. We have a lot of skills in doing a lot of different things. I don’t recommend people starting a business in something that they don’t know, if you’ve never made donuts don’t open a donut shop. If you’ve never groomed dogs before or don’t like animals don’t open a dog grooming place. What we know is the food industry and especially about food supplements.”

Their goal was to find a new product in a developing category. They also wanted to own their own business without outside investment or interference. After investigating a number of possibilities, Kenneth turned to Guidant Financial Group for small business financing advice. “I talked to a few companies and I just wasn’t happy with what they offered. I loved the thought I could actually take a 401(k) and use it to invest in the business. After all, my 401(k) hadn’t done well for many years. So we all pulled our money out of our 401(k)s and as a result we own the business ourselves. Just make sure you get professional guidance,” Kenneth continues.

In the early stages Emerald Star focused on developing a product with a broad appeal. Instead of competing in the energy drink market, they took the opposite approach. “We decided most people could use stress reduction and a way to eliminate some anxiety. We know a lot about herbs and supplements and we combined that knowledge with scientific results. Then we started testing, and 87% of the people who tried the product said they could feel the effects. We even tested our product with paratroopers – who feels more stress than someone jumping out of an airplane?”

Along the way they noticed an interesting phenomenon. 20% of the people that took their products felt a “runner’s high” after about ten minutes. After some research he determined that some of the product was absorbed through the tongue, bypassing the normal digestive process and entering the bloodstream quickly.

Early results were encouraging, but they didn’t stop there. Over time they tested their products with army rangers, teachers, firemen, policemen, salespersons, and students. In fact, the company actively evaluated their product using high-stress, high-risk professions to ensure they were on the right track.

In each case they experienced great results. And since the people who tried the Accord tended to love it, Kenneth and his partners realized that demonstrations and samplings were a great marketing tool. They started servicing smaller independent stores, built up a solid base of sales and experience, and eventually moved into large chains like Whole Foods and Henrys.

“Now our problem is being able to service all the stores we’ve landed,” Kenneth says. “I just got word we’re going into 15 new stores in New York. Once again we need to organize demo people and ramp up quickly.”

Kenneth feels part of Emerald Star International’s success is due to his having a marketing and advertising background; his first job out of college was in sales and marketing. When they started the business, he and his partners developed a strong business plan and extensive marketing model. “A business plan is not something you write and put away, it’s something you follow,” he says. “Evaluate what is working and what is not working. Measure everything, especially marketing. I look at marketing as a profit center. Every piece of literature I put out I expect a return on.”

But while he keeps a close eye on how the business operates, and is conservative in how he allocates funds to different projects, Kenneth is not conservative is when it comes to projecting growth. “In five years we are going to out-perform products like 5-Hour Energy and be a serious contender in a new category of foods. I think we will hit $150 million in sales.”

And due to the nature of his product, he and his partners will probably experience a lot less stress along the way.


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