by Matt Weik
Ask this question to Mr. Olympia, Ronnie Coleman, and he might tell you “yeah buddy!” However, I believe every competitor who starts their own supplement company feels the pressure from day one. Not everyone is cut out to be a businessman—and that’s ok. But trying to start a business in an industry that is already oversaturated by trying to leverage your name hasn’t seemed to go over too well. But that’s not to say it can’t happen with a lot of work and a little luck.
The industry of over-saturation and thin margins
The supplement industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Everyone and their brother gets into it hoping they can hit the jackpot and sell a ton of product. However, the bulk of the industry is probably coming from around 10 brands. Of these said 10 brands, are any of them owned by a competitor such as a bodybuilder? Nope. Not even close. You have guys like Kevin Levrone who’s doing amazing overseas with his brand, but has zero presence over here in the states (he’s looking to change that though). Taking your line overseas (or starting it there) in my opinion is the best thing you could do at this point. The US is pretty much tapped out at this point. Only a small percentage of new start-up supplement companies last past 3 years.
Everyone is working off of extremely small margins in hopes that they can show profits at the end of the year. The protein market is the worst it’s ever been with brands making the smallest margins off of one of the bestselling items out there. They continue to push their proteins hoping that they can make up their lost margins through their other pills and powders.
A name that means nothing in today’s business
Here in the states you have guys like Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman, Kai Greene, Lee Labrada, Phil Heath, Rich Gaspari, Dorian Yates, Flex Wheeler, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (just to name a few) all fighting for placement on retail shelves and ecommerce websites. The problem is, none of these brands are doing exceptionally well, despite these athletes traveling all over the place making appearances to promote their respective lines. Gaspari was extremely large for quite a while and then took a nose dive and was eventually purchased by another supplement company hoping to give it CPR and bring it back to life. The Arnold Series (produced by MusclePharm) did ok when it launched (probably due to his name), especially on Bodybuilding.com, but they too eventually went downhill and Arnold himself even left the company after feeling embarrassed with how things were handled with the line. Most recently, Phil Health decided to leave Gifted Nutrition after saying they aren’t making any money.
Give a turd a name
I understand the reasoning behind wanting to start a supplement company if you are a top competitor or a legend from back in the day. But your name alone won’t make the brand successful. Look at Phil Heath, even after winning title after title, he couldn’t deny the fact that they weren’t making any money despite all their efforts to get the brand off the ground. While the name might entice people to try the products to see how they are, ultimately the name won’t sell the product—results will. If the product is great, you’ll have people coming back to buy again and again. They’ll tell all their friends about the product and recommend they too purchase it and give it a shot. But on the other hand, if your product is a turd, they’ll flush it and never go back to the line ever again—ultimately sealing your fate. And, please, let’s stop the nonsense where these athletes want people to believe they used their own products to look the way they do—we aren’t dumb.
Six-figures to ultimately do nothing vs. work hard for little to no return
To be honest, it’s my opinion that some athletes get greedy. Phil was making a healthy six-figure salary by being a sponsored athlete. What did he expect to do after walking away from guaranteed money? Think that starting his own brand would instantly change that number to seven-figures overnight because he’s “The Gift”? Get out of here. Not going to happen.
Athletes should stick to their sponsorships for as long as they can. Allow a brand to pay you while also using their funds to market the heck out of you. Having an athlete start their own brand where nothing is guaranteed is a risk I feel they shouldn’t be taking along with having to spend time and money to also promote themselves in the industry to stay relevant. Why walk away from money on the table—especially if you are a top competitor in the industry where everyone is willing to sign big checks to have you represent and be the face of their brand?
You can’t do it all—and do it all well
It’s darn near impossible to run a supplement company if you are a current competitor. The bodybuilding lifestyle simply isn’t conducive to running a business such as a supplement company. Running a business takes time—to be more specific, all of your time. You’re going to need to go see customers. When you’re not seeing customers, you need to be in the office. You’re going to need to be on the phone and have access to email nearly around the clock. You’re going to need to work late. All of which doesn’t give you a ton of time to eat, sleep, and train. I’m not saying it’s totally impossible, some people may be able to pull it off, but for most it will never work.
Closing thoughts and checkbooks
So in case you were on the fence on how I feel about this topic, I wish those who decide to start their own line nothing but the best of luck, because they’re going to need it. Starting your own brand is in my opinion, and my opinion only, a terrible idea. No bodybuilder out there other than Arnold is a household name. If you think for one minute that your name will blow up your brand, just take all of your money, put it into a pile, and light it on fire. Or, I have a better idea. Simply write me a check for everything you have in your account, and I’ll at least go spend it on something worthwhile rather than seeing you waste it all.