November 01, 2014
It Works!: Taking It to a Whole ‘Notha Level
by Jeremy Gregg
Photo above: The official ribbon-cutting at the new It Works! headquarters in Palmetto, Florida.
Headquarters: Palmetto, Florida
Executives: Mark Pentecost, CEO; Pam Sowder, Chief Networking Officer; Mike Potillo, Chief Sales Officer; Doug Nooney, CFO; Chris Burns, CIO; Don Klein, COO; Janne Heimonen, President of International Operations; Don Hamilton, Senior Director of Operations.
Products: Skincare and Nutrition
Founded in 2001, It Works! is one of world’s fastest-growing skincare and nutrition direct sales companies. Ranked at No. 290 on the Inc. 500 list for 2014, the company has enjoyed an impressive 1,565 percent growth rate over the past three years.
Originally based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, It Works! recently invested over $10 million to build a new global headquarters in Palmetto, Florida. Reaching across the U.S. and into at least 17 other countries, the company has amassed 90,000 active independent distributors, supported by the 100 full-time employees of It Works!.
Of the company’s 32 different products, the largest seller remains its first offering: the Ultimate Body Applicator, a non-woven cloth wrap that is infused with a powerful, botanically based formula. The company’s distributors—called “Wrapreneurs”—primarily market this product through home parties that offer their friends and families a way to achieve a tightened, toned and firm body in as little as 45 minutes.
Before It Works!, Mark Pentecost was a high school teacher and basketball coach living in the small town of Allegan, Mich., with his wife, Cindy, and their three children. Around 1995, the Pentecosts had joined a home-based business in the telecommunications industry, through which Mark Pentecost had become a top-10 earner. While they did not know it at the time, the Pentecosts’ success in direct selling had given them a vision for the future of It Works!.
In 2001, It Works! was founded on Pentecost’s belief in the impact of operating “debt-free” as an individual, but also as a company. He embraced the opportunity to share this message with the company’s distributors. “Debt Free Is the New Sexy” then became the mantra to align the field with the corporate philosophy of debt freedom.
Growing through a Tough Economy
It Works! was entering a major growth period when the economy began to fall off the cliff in 2008 and 2009. Catastrophic economic events were leading many other businesses to retreat in their expansion plans, take on enormous debt to maintain existing operations, or both. Despite these trends, Pentecost and the leadership team at It Works! were inspired to go against the grain: Pursue rapid growth while becoming debt-free.
The move paid off. Unencumbered by debt, the company grabbed a new vision for its future. It Works! achieved a 1,565 percent three-year growth from 2010 to 2013, placing it at No. 290 on Inc. magazine’s annual list of the 500 fastest-growing privately held companies in America.
“I truly believe we have a great team in our field leaders and corporate,” Pentecost says. “I’m confident in our strategic plans to grow both our U.S. and international markets. It Works! will be a recognizable force around the globe.”
Offering a Different Kind of Incentive
In January 2012, It Works! formalized its debt-free concept with the launch of the G.O.O.D. Bonus, which stands for “Get Out of Debt.” Based on performance, the bonuses have ranged from $10,000 to $75,000 on top of commission. Qualifiers are encouraged to use the money to pay off student loans, mortgages, credit cards and other debts.
Pentecost states: “The world today needs to hear about fiscal responsibility. At It Works!, we put a stake into the ground and decided to mentor our team on why getting out of debt is a good thing. It gives you freedom. We’re going to model that in everything we do.”
It Works! Gives Back Foundation
In 2014, It Works! launched the It Works! Gives Back Foundation to support charities that align with its values. The foundation also supports victims of natural disasters and humanitarian crises in America and around the world. CEO Mark Pentecost describes the foundation as “the heart of our company.”
“We encourage everyone to start giving back, whether it is through financial, practical or emotional support,” he says. “Our goal is to make a lasting difference in our communities locally and globally. Both our field and corporate team participate in various give-back events throughout the year. We believe that if everyone does a little, it will add up to make a huge impact.”
The foundation has supported efforts such as The V Foundation for Cancer Research, Selah Freedom, the National MPS Society, and the Children’s Cup.
Sunnier Days Ahead
In 2011, It Works! moved its global headquarters from its birthplace in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to a new home in Florida. The new corporate headquarters was located just 20 minutes away from multiple world-class beaches.
“I’m always looking for an adventure,” Pentecost says. “I knew that if we were in a warm climate, people would want to visit us more often. It’s easier to get people to Florida during the winter than it is to Michigan!”
Pentecost also shares that Florida offered some “very helpful” tax incentives that made the decision to move his company that much easier. The move even allowed him to achieve a long-time dream: owning his own golf course, the Stoneybrook Golf Club of Bradenton (down the road from the It Works! headquarters).
“Here in Florida, we could have it all: a waterfront property, a golf course, and a ranch to let out your inner cowboy. It’s all part of the experience. It is a great place to entertain.”
The facility became a major draw for leadership meetings, which always included trips to the beach and games at Stoneybrook. The new location also became home to companywide “Green Carpet Experiences,” which treated distributors from all over the world to fun and fellowship with the corporate leadership. In fact, Pentecost saw such great returns from the move that he began to dream even bigger.
The Office That the Team Won’t Leave
Within three years, Pentecost moved his growing company into even fancier digs: a 50,000-square-foot building in Palmetto, Florida, right along the Manatee River that leads out to the Gulf of Mexico. Opened in 2014, the building “stands out among all others,” according to the local Herald-Tribune as a “five-story corporate palace, fronted with a cascading waterfall and the [It Works!] logo.”
Each floor has a different feature that has been designed to encourage a fun, team-focused atmosphere. Some examples include a coffee bar on each floor, an in-house sports bar, a rooftop fire pit, a putting green, three bistros, bumper pool table… and a remarkable, 50-foot slide that carries people from the third floor to the second. The Tampa Bay Business Journal recently listed the building on its top five “Coolest Office Spaces” in Tampa Bay as well as its Reader’s Choice winner.
The building cost over $10 million to purchase and renovate. For Pentecost, the investment was small compared to the long-term value that it will produce: “The It Works! culture is friendships, fun and freedom, not only in the field, but also with our corporate team. It’s who we are—what we call the It Works! Way. Our office had to be an experience that makes life fun. We like to enjoy the journey!”
Pentecost goes on to say, “Our long-term vision is to continue expanding, and the office was certainly built for growth. I see us entertaining here for years to come, whether it is our top leaders, strategic partners or corporate team. It was my goal to build an office where I’d have to kick the team out at night and say ‘You have to go home!’ because they don’t want to leave. When you walk into the building, I want you to feel the energy and passion of our team.”
The approach is certainly a major differentiator for his company in the Palmetto area, but Pentecost believes that other direct selling companies should look toward including these kinds of “wow” factors more often within the physical spaces where they operate. He states: “In the direct sales industry, your salesforce has such a direct impact on your bottom line. We definitely considered how we could add an entertainment value and connection value to the space [along with] a reflection of our mindset and culture.”
The new facility also contains plenty of room for growth, including enough office space for It Works! to add another 50 employees to its quickly growing team of 100.
The Rapid Growth of It Works!
It Works! began to hit its stride in 2010, when the company was first recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the 5,000 fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S. The company has improved its ranking each year.
It Works! has been expanding internationally since 2010, when it first launched in Australia and select areas of Europe. Today, the company has distributors in 18 countries outside of the U.S. These distributors are supported by a growing It Works! team throughout Europe that can provide dedicated support to these international markets.
Pentecost foresees significant growth for his company in these new markets. To capitalize on this opportunity, the company has adopted several important new initiatives:
- Trading in multiple currencies
- Adding local warehouses and manufacturing centers in other countries
- Expanding customer service to optimize support for different languages, cultures and hours of operation
- Launching corporate-hosted events around the globe
- Localizing its marketing tools and websites to further support international markets
The company also recently announced the hiring of Janne Heimonen as President of International Operations. With over 20 years in the direct sales industry, he will oversee operations and field management in all markets outside of the United States where It Works! currently operates. Heimonen is excited to pursue expansion.
“At It Works!, we are making it our mission to go out and build an international dream team,” Heimonen says. “We will continue to build a solid foundation when it comes to our international operations and communication.”
That level of disciplined focus is part of the reason why Pentecost believes Heimonen is the right fit to help spread the “It Works! Way” globally.
The Keys to Growth
As It Works! expands both domestically and abroad, Pentecost sees several common elements that his company needs in order to succeed in every market: “innovative mobile technology, staying ahead of the curve, and building a strong foundation by adding the right people to the team.”
One person whom Pentecost has tasked with all three of those key elements is Chris Burns, the company’s Chief Information Officer. Burns states that the company has invested “substantial” resources in expanding its IT department, including a “world-class architect and development team who deliver solutions lightning fast.”
When he was building his team, Burns truly wanted to hire people “who ‘get’ our industry and not just a group of developers that produce software. Every line of code that is written has heart behind it, knowing it plays a part in changing someone’s life.”
To achieve this, It Works! created its own custom solutions for its global ecommerce website and back office tools. Rather than rely on off-the-shelf solutions, Burns believes that this approach will position the company for scalability and performance.
He says, “Enrollment and shopping experiences need to be flawless and accurate. We’ve accomplished that by developing a solid technical design. Our entire IT team is cross-trained to functionally support whatever is put in front of them.”
The strength of that infrastructure is now helping It Works! on its quest to become a billion-dollar brand.
A Bright Future for the Industry
“We have been blessed with not only products and an opportunity that withstood the financial market of recent years, but sales that have skyrocketed from 2009 onward,” Pentecost says. “We want to pour hope and goodness into people’s lives through our product solutions and the It Works! opportunity, and we are honored to be able to touch more and more lives every year.”
Pentecost sees opportunities for similar success across the direct selling industry. “I believe we’ll see tremendous growth over the coming years in direct selling; it is one of the greatest industries,” he says. “It shows you that the American Dream is still alive and well. Someone can earn freedom of time or finances through hard work and innovation. That is what we built this country on. That’s what our industry does—it gives people that opportunity. With international growth, I think we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg right now. As people see the good our industry does—whether in personal development, financial freedom or giving back in the world—direct sales will only grow.”