December 01, 2016
It Works!: Friendships, Fun, Freedom: A Culture That Works
by Courtney Roush
Photo: It Works! headquarters in Palmetto, Florida.
Headquarters: Palmetto, Florida
Top Executive: Founder and CEO Mark Pentecost
2015 Revenue: $748 million
Products: Body care, skin care, nutrition and lifestyle
A visit to the Palmetto, Florida, headquarters of It Works! proves this isn’t a typical direct selling company. As you walk the halls, you’ll be struck by the palpable energy. At exactly 3:05 p.m. each day, employees stop whatever they happen to be doing and high-five the nearest team member. There’s a putting green on the top floor and a slide between the second and third floors. The building is situated on the waterfront and within a short distance of several beaches. Employees can squeeze in a few holes from time to time at It Works!’ sister company, Stoneybrook Golf Club of Bradenton, or relax at the nearby Pentecost cattle ranch.
The piece de resistance is Little Bokeelia Island, once home to the great battery inventor Charles Burgess (whose company ultimately became part of Duracell), and where Thomas Edison would frequently visit for brainstorming sessions with Burgess. It Works! Founder and CEO Mark Pentecost purchased the 100-acre private island in 2012 for $14.5 million to provide his family a place to spend time together and as an incentive trip destination to be earned by his company’s independent salesforce of more than 140,000.
Within this fun, enthusiastic and laid-back coastal setting thrives a culture often described as “team-focused,” but that term doesn’t tell the whole story. This compound was inspired largely by Mark Pentecost’s own remarkable rise from time-pressed high school teacher and basketball coach to direct sales leader to CEO and founder of a sustainable company built around friendships, fun and freedom. The message to the salesforce isn’t that they should strive to afford their own private island—although one has to admit that Little Bokeelia sounds mighty nice—but rather that barriers to their achievement no longer exist.
Pentecost could only dream about this kind of life back in the mid-1990s, when he was a high school teacher, basketball coach and father of three in the small town of Allegan, Michigan. His wife, Cindy, was a stay-at-home mom. And they were struggling to pay their bills. Mark decided to give direct selling a shot, and Cindy joined him. They were surprised at what they found. “I’ve always been a dreamer, and I was always trying to get ahead,” he says. “When we got in [to the direct selling channel], I found that it was everything people said the American Dream was all about. The most impactful thing to me was that there were no ceilings. Hard work was rewarded. You could enjoy the freedom of time. As a teacher, I’d been answering to a bell all of those years. When I first got started in this industry, I saw the big houses, the cars, but then I learned that what people really want most is time.”
It took dogged perseverance for the couple to hit their stride, but once they did, their business soared. After a few years, the couple became top-10 earners in the company. Their financial challenges were behind them. And, as he began to think of the industry’s potential to transform lives, Mark began to tell friends that he wanted to start his own direct selling company.
In 2001, his friend, Pam Sowder (who’s now It Works! Chief Networking Officer) called Mark to tell him about what ultimately would become the first product offered by It Works!: the Ultimate Body Applicator. This unconventional product was creating buzz in celebrity circles for its ability to contour specific areas of the body, and without drastic measures like cosmetic surgery. Intrigued, the Pentecosts arranged a meeting with Luis Mijares, creator of the Ultimate Body Applicator, and when Cindy tried the product, she couldn’t believe the results. Mijares, an expert in the skin care, nutritional, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, is the former CEO of a pharmaceutical company, an herbalist and university professor of phytotherapy, or the use of plants for medicinal purposes. He ultimately would become It Works! Product Development Specialist. Pentecost negotiated the rights to sell the product, making the deal with Mijares official with a simple handshake. It Works! was born—though the company name didn’t come until later, when, during consumer product tests with the Ultimate Body Applicator, the most frequently asked question was, “Does it work?” which was almost invariably followed by a declaration of “It works!”
With their home base in Michigan, they lived in the backyard of industry giant Amway, but the Pentecosts knew they were onto something with their new business. There were no other players in the body-wrap space. “We didn’t want a ‘me-too’ product,” Mark says. Despite his earlier experience running his own direct selling business, starting a company presented an entirely new set of challenges. Growth was slow, deliberate and, to some extent, self-funded. At first, “I was probably a little naïve,” he says. “We bootstrapped it, and it cost us time those first five years. But we didn’t want what we refer to in the cattle ranch as ‘big hat, no cattle’ syndrome.” At one point, Mark’s chief financial officer urged him to quit funding his company, or it would bury him. Mark refused. “I told him, ‘We’re getting closer—just keep believing.’ ”
The It Works! corporate staff at its Palmetto, Florida headquarters.
Where Dreams Take Flight
His faith proved to be well founded, as it quickly grew into so much more. It Works! started to pick up steam, and, as news of that “crazy wrap thing” went viral, the company added more products to its portfolio: skin care, a premium supplements line and lifestyle products. In 2011, the Pentecosts decided to move their headquarters from Michigan to Florida, for the simple reason that the state’s friendlier climate would attract more employees and, during events, more independent representatives, whom they dub “Wrapreneurs.” While the move was a big change, it wasn’t a tough sell for employees; 25 families packed up their lives and accompanied the Pentecosts to the Sunshine State.
Today, It Works! Global headquarters sits in what was once a 34,000-square-foot waterfront retail space. The Pentecosts gutted the building and added a fifth floor and an additional 17,000 square feet. The company’s grand vision was to create a place where everyone could find their place. Pam Sowder says, “We convey to the public that anyone—no matter who they are or where they are from—can be a part of our family.”
The company opened the doors to its new Florida base with a “Green Carpet” event (The official colors and brand identity of It Works! are based on “black, green and bling”), starting with 30 Wrapreneurs at the company’s Stoneybrook Golf Course. Within a year, the golf course wasn’t big enough, so they moved to the local convention center. Eventually, Wrapreneurs were selling out the convention center in less than 48 hours, so the company expanded the event into a weeklong celebration to accommodate its growing salesforce. The “It Works! Week” of celebration, recognition and training can include anything from a kickball tournament, concert or cattle ranch hoedown to a swamp buggy ride, ’80s party, hanging out at the beach, relaxing by the fire pit at the golf course or taking a trip to Little Bokeelia Island. The vibe is one that Mark describes as “more Jimmy Buffett than Warren Buffett.” Everything is a family affair; kids and spouses are invited to take part. Everybody joins the party. “This is how we live and what we do, and that kind of energy attracts others,” Mark says. “If you’re around us very much, it’s contagious.”
Top-level distributors, Black Diamonds, celebrate life-changing announcements at the It Works! ONE Conference.
Living ‘On the Offense’
Always the coach, Mark (or “Coach Mark,” as he’s often called) hopes to teach Wrapreneurs about the critical importance of what he refers to as “living on the offense”—or, simply, taking success into your own hands.
“Most people live defensively, waiting for things to happen to them, but we aren’t most people,” he explains. “We tell our team to ‘Always move forward. Own your own life.’ If you’re living on the offense, you set goals like paying off your credit card, paying off a student loan, paying off your house. We all have ‘stuff,’ but we need to attack instead of seeing what life deals us. When you’re on the offense, you score and get to celebrate. If you’re living on the defensive, you’re just trying to prevent others from scoring.”
This kind of high-energy leadership, along with a fun and spirited culture, particularly appeals to a younger demographic—millennials who came of age during the financial crisis and know all too well the pain of student debt.
Dreaming is key to living on the offense, and Wrapreneurs are introduced to that concept from day one. The It Works! starter kit includes a dream board, which Wrapreneurs are encouraged to design with their families and share with their friends. The company’s young independent salesforce—who are generally internet-savvy and comfortable using social media to promote It Works! products and the business opportunity—post, share, and tweet their respective dream boards and talk about how they’re making their dreams come true with It Works!.
“We’re seeing people pay off credit card debt, pay off their student loans. Young families who thought it would take years to be able to afford their own homes are buying their dream homes—with cash,” says It Works! Chief Sales Officer Mike Potillo. “People are dreaming like they never thought they could—whether it’s the big dream of buying the house or staying home with the kids full-time, or smaller dreams like paying cash for Christmas this year.”
‘Debt-Free Is the New Sexy’
The freedom of living debt-free is another of the company’s core philosophies. Under the banner of the slogan “Debt Free Is the New Sexy,” It Works! has shared philosophies of financial experts such as Dave Ramsey to help teach Wrapreneurs about making short-term sacrifices for long-term goals.
It’s a practice that starts at the top. The company first became debt-free in 2009, during the economic recession; in fact, sales began to skyrocket that year and grew 690 percent by 2012. It Works! continues heavy investment in international markets, with an eye on reaching a $1 billion revenue milestone; its 2015 global revenue was $748 million. “Being debt-free, we didn’t have pressure on us, so we could continue to stay on the offense,” Mark adds.
And its debt-free status enables the company to live out another core philosophy: giving back. The company maintains a strong commitment to several philanthropic causes through the It Works! Give Back Foundation, established in 2014. The foundation partners with like-minded organizations who represent causes including homeless outreach, humanitarian aid, pediatric cancer research, international crisis response, anti-human trafficking and community support. The It Works! Annual Gives Back Week challenges teams around the globe to lend their support within their communities, and is intended to give an added push to the company’s continued philanthropic participation. “Giving Back is a family tradition. It’s our responsibility to make a difference,” says Cindy Pentecost, President of the It Works! Gives Back Foundation.
|Members of the It Works! corporate and field show off their “black, green, and bling” apparel on a recent cruise. Pictured (from left) are Pamela Mercado, VP of Marketing; Pam Sowder, Chief Networking Officer; Kami Dempsey, Top Income Earner; and Kindsey Pentecost, VP of Business Development and Brand Strategy.|
That family tradition runs deep. Daughter Kindsey Pentecost formerly presided over the Gives Back Foundation with Cindy, but now serves as It Works! Vice President of Business Development and Brand Strategy. The Pentecosts’ other two children, Kami and Kyler, are top income earners and leaders in the field.
The Long-Term Vision: No Limits
The magic of direct selling lies in the stories of transformation. Mark and Cindy Pentecost are the representation of the dream. Who would have imagined that a teacher and stay-at-home mom of three would one day own and run a global company in which they could inspire and motivate others through their own example? Indeed, as their own story proves, anything is possible with hope, persistence… and fun. One item remains central on this couple’s dream board, Mark says: “We want to change as many lives as possible.”