If pivots pour progress, Luke Einsel’s glass is full, the entrepreneur said, announcing a rebrand for Thirsty Coconut and new partnerships that could drive revenue through the roof for the frozen and chilled beverage distributor.
“We’ve really gone through and got our processes right and we have a repeatable, scalable model that works in Kansas City or L.A. or New York,” said Einsel, founder and CEO of the KCMO company — recently rebranded as Smart Beverage.
A year after its move from Johnson County to a Kansas City opportunity zone — the result of a major acquisition of equipment with Mexico-based 7-Eleven stores — business couldn’t be better, Einsel added, noting a new deal between the company and publicly-traded, Los Angeles-based Barfresh Food Group.
“It’s pretty unusual for a company of our size to be able to directly partner with a publicly traded company,” said Einsel. “They really see the value in what we’re doing in sales, service and distribution.”
The deal will see Smart Beverage offer its customers Barfresh products and is expected to ultimately generate between $2 million and $3 million in annual revenue, he told Startland News.
“I think it’s going to open up a lot of doors as we continue and scale and implement IoT across all our machines,” he said, referencing the company’s commitment to disrupting the beverage industry through IoT and products that can predict and prevent such costly interruptions as machine breakage.”
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“[The Mexico deal] allowed us to grow very, very lean and get to a point where we can take a shot at much bigger projects and realize the vision we have,” he explained.
“We have to look down the road of what this industry is going to look like in five or 10 years. And if you’re not embracing technology you really don’t have much of a future,” Einsel continued. “When I look at the customer experience, there’s no data being collected, there’s no transparency and there’s a lot of inefficiency.”
A move into the IoT space creates plenty of opportunities for disruption, he added.
“We’re to [build our own tech] and connect our machines and be able to see data — like how many servings are being served,” Einsel said. “We’re able to share that with our customers and it gives them tools.”
Einsel’s team has also doubled as a result of the growth, preparing Smart Beverage to handle a massive injection of accounts amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
“I look at it as an opportunity to grab more accounts. It also allows us time to solve problems no one’s ever thought about — about safety and trying to prevent [the spread of] COVID through automated processes.”
The company has seen a substantial increase in interest from schools, hospitals, and nursing homes since June, Einsel said.
Smart Beverage is currently in business with 800 schools throughout the Midwest. Another 600 are expected to join the company’s client roster as districts across the nation prepare to reopen and develop innovative ways to feed students safely.
“Kids depend on these lunches as a part of their day and a lot of school districts have stepped up to bat and are feeding these kids — regardless of if they’re going to school right now,” Einsel said.
“We’ve found ways to include our products in these meals and they’re putting it in the paper sacks when the kids come to pick up their lunch. And I kind of feel like — at least for the short term — we’re going to continue to try to minimize contact and pivot to help them feed these kids.”
Einsel’s good fortune isn’t luck, he said, noting the company’s success amid uncertain economic times comes with a community assist.
“I want to give credit to somebody who’s really helped us through this time: AltCap. They are a tremendous Kansas City asset that a lot of people don’t understand,” Einsel said of the community development financial institution and how its Equity Squared fund helped Smart Beverage.
“Capital is obviously a huge part of growing a business and they’ve been a tremendous partner for us to have.”