November 01, 2012
TriVita and Amazon Herb Co.: Driven by Mission
by Barbara Seale
The mission is the magic. Mission is what inspired the creation of unique direct seller TriVita, and mission is what led it to welcome the newest member of its family, the mission-driven Amazon Herb Co. The combined company now can reach even more people with its message of wellness and sustainability as well as the opportunity they create.
The two companies have much in common. Each looks to plants for the ingredients of their products, and both founders created their companies in response to their recovery from a health crisis. But first and foremost, their mission is at the heart of their business. It’s even what typically attracts and retains their distributors.
It started with the man who came to be known as Amazon John Easterling. After he finished college, he trekked to Peru. He describes himself as a treasure hunter. He spent years trading in exotic South American artifacts and gemstones. But the ultimate treasure he found was a solution to his health crisis.
Easterling’s health had been compromised years before by hepatitis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. As a residual of that, he began running fevers in the Amazon jungle. The indigenous people introduced him to rainforest botanicals, and it changed his life forever.
“It was an awakening for me,” he recalls. “Those botanicals are the greatest treasures of the Amazon.”
He worked with health practitioners to craft the botanicals into wellness-supporting formulas. In 1990 he started marketing them to physicians, chiropractors, acupuncturists and other healthcare providers under the name Amazon Herb Co. Before long the formulas developed a following, and patients began calling him directly to acquire the products without having to go to their doctors for them. So Easterling changed his business model. He started selling directly to consumers and sent their healthcare providers a commission on each sale. By 1992, his business developed into a full-scale direct selling company. Its mission: to bring the healing potential of the Amazon rainforest to millions and thereby supporting a sustainable future for the Amazon.
As Amazon Herb Co. grew, more and more people used the company’s herbal supplements, skincare products and teas; and through those sales, the company made life-changing differences to Amazonians. At the same time, it paid millions of dollars in commissions to its distributors.
Trivita Founder and CEO Michael Ellison with his wife, Susan, and Amazon Herb Company Founder John Easterling with his wife, Olivia Newton-John.
From Illness to Illumination
The use of media is the visible tool that makes TriVita different from most direct sellers. Its distributors, called Independent TriVita Business Owners, or ITBOs, can operate their business in a traditional direct selling manner by recommending products and introducing the business opportunity to friends, family and acquaintances. But TriVita offers a second avenue to gain customers outside their warm market. They can participate in the company’s co-op advertising program. It leverages the power of media, such as television, radio, Internet and print, to reach more customers.
“Media is a very powerful way of connecting to a lot of people,” TriVita CEO and Founder Michael Ellison explains. “Our mission is to help people experience wellness. So when we reach a customer through that first media connection, the person comes through a series of communications to help them have a complete wellness experience. They’re buying products from the company, but they’re also getting a lot of information. On the other side, our ITBOs follow up with those people who are becoming customers because they respond to media. It’s a way of driving our mission around the world.”
When an ITBO participates in co-op advertising, they help fund the cost of, for example, television advertising of TriVita products such as Nopalea, TriVita’s flagship wellness drink made primarily from the Nopal cactus. They’re not buying leads. They’re acquiring customers. When customers respond to media and place orders, TriVita puts them into the pool of advertising-generated customers. The co-op advertising option lets an ITBO buy the compensation rights to these customers, letting the ITBO earn income generated from specific customers’ product purchases for life.
Then a more traditional direct selling relationship begins. But even it is driven by the company’s mission of helping people experience wellness; the products open the door. The ITBO follows up with the customer to ensure their satisfaction, learn their needs and answer questions. When and if conditions are right, the ITBO may introduce the TriVita income opportunity. But some 90 percent of TriVita sales are to customers who don’t know about the opportunity.
The customer also becomes part of the TriVita database so that it can provide wellness information—a way of driving its mission. The company offers information through several media, such as email, its monthly publication VitaJournal, and even through employees in its call center, which TriVita named its call care center.
While Amazon John was seeking treasure, Michael Ellison—CEO and Founder of TriVita—was running an international media company, Ellison Media and GDF Fulfillment Solutions/Media Productions. He was an energetic entrepreneur who literally thought that sleep was a waste of time. Why spend time sleeping, he reasoned, when he could be doing so many more interesting things? But it caught up with him. At age 50 he lost his health.
Retreating to his ranch under doctors’ orders, he had to learn to sleep and embrace wellness. As his health slowly improved, he began to ask himself, “What are the essentials in the physical, emotional and spiritual world that would give me a sense of well-being?” The answers took years to find, but when his vigor returned, Ellison wanted to share what he had learned with the world. Using his expertise in business and media, he founded TriVita in 1999 to help people experience wellness and create wealth that would support their life’s purpose.
Ellison’s first step in starting the company: hire a leadership team. Then for three days, the team fleshed out the company’s mission and guiding principles. That carefully crafted calling still guides every action it takes, every product it develops and every decision the company makes.
Their companies’ missions and principles were front and center for both Ellison and Easterling when they met to consider uniting their companies.
“When we sat down with John and Olivia [Easterling’s wife, Olivia Newton-John], the first thing that became very evident among us was that we had common mission, vision and values,” Ellison says. “When those three things came together, we knew that there was an opportunity for a relationship and synergy among ourselves. We can be more effective together than apart.”
Ellison says that throughout the merger discussions, there never was a strained moment. Easterling describes the process as “like destiny.”
The first thing Easterling wanted to ensure was that his rainforest missions would continue. Ellison was in complete alignment.
“That was absolutely critical to me,” Easterling says. “It’s my life’s purpose. So I wanted to be certain that they had a sincere interest—not just ‘yes, we’ll donate money,’ but a sincere, authentic heart space for the value of the living rainforest. It’s actually written on the front page of our deal. Everything else follows.”
Ellison saw the possibilities, too.
“The more we learned about the herbs and their products and how they provided an opportunity for people to experience wellness, the more we knew that it fit in with our mission,” Ellison recalls. “Then we looked at the story and the experiences. John has spent a lot of time making people aware of the Amazon’s richness and its importance to mankind—oxygen, nutrients in its plants, the indigenous people. We knew he had a story to tell that was bigger than just putting it through a traditional distributor model. We knew it fit our media model. Then when you take Olivia’s personal brand and connect her belief in the products, we knew we had tremendous synergy between the two companies.”
“The more we learned about the herbs and their products and how they provided an opportunity for people to experience wellness, the more we knew that it fit in with our mission.”
—Michael Ellison, CEO and Founder, TriVita Inc.
The opportunity to advance his company’s mission more quickly through TriVita’s media model was irresistible to Easterling. Growth had been flat at Amazon Herb, which meant that the number of people experiencing the Amazon’s healing powers was stagnant, too. He had already told the Amazon Herb distributors that he was seeking the company’s next evolution, and they were behind him. TriVita was the ideal match.
“The more I got to know Michael Ellison as a man of integrity, the more interesting the possibility became for our distributors,” Easterling says. “We wanted to take Amazon Herb to the next evolution, to get the Amazon’s healing properties to more people faster. TriVita has a platform that reaches millions with its story and products.”
Ellison continues as the combined companies’ CEO, with Easterling focusing on his two passions: formulation of new products, which he’ll do in collaboration with TriVita’s Chief Science Officer Brazos Minshew, and telling the story of the Amazon to as many people as possible—now, in part, through TriVita’s extensive media resources.
The companies will completely combine forces in January 2013, when TriVita’s full product line and select Amazon Herb products will be available to all distributors. Amazon Herb will become a product line within TriVita, and a new product catalog including Amazon Herb’s products is already in production. The Jupiter, Fla., call center that has served Amazon Herb will continue to serve the company’s distributors, while most operational functions will be handled by the TriVita corporate staff. TriVita has already begun contacting Amazon Herb’s previous and current customers and is integrating them into the database used to provide wellness information to clients. Meanwhile, the Amazon Herb Distributor Summit already scheduled for October became the TriVita Summit. The annual gathering presented a premier platform for the passing of the Amazon Herb’s torch to TriVita and for distributors to learn the ropes of their new company. It also let distributors see firsthand the TriVita commitment to the Amazon, along with how its media platform can support that mission and create a greater business opportunity.
IPO—Initial Product Offering
Attendees also scored an exclusive preview of the first product created from the combined companies’ joint resources. The immune system-building product is formulated from several active ingredients from the Amazon, including camu camu and the agaricus mushroom. Both Ellison and Easterling are so optimistic about the product that they believe it could be as popular as TriVita’s top seller, Nopalea. And it will have the magic of media and celebrity behind it.
“Olivia Newton-John along with her husband Amazon John Easterling will be the primary promoters of the product on television and other media, along with Brazos Minshew,” Ellison notes. “It will be released next year.”
Distributors also learned about yet another commonality among the blended companies: wellness centers. The Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre opened in Melbourne, Australia, in July. TriVita will open its first wellness center in Scottsdale, Ariz., in November, incorporating medical treatments, cutting-edge telemedicine and wellness education programs. An additional center will open next year in Hong Kong that will work closely with the Scottsdale facility, taking advantage of telemedicine capabilities to expand services such as lifestyle coaching to TriVita clients internationally—a new revenue option for TriVita’s wellness entrepreneurs, called Independent TriVita Business Owners, or ITBOs. For interested people who can’t visit one of the physical centers or who want to sample TriVita’s expertise first, the company website features an online wellness center filled with information produced by experts. ITBOs will learn to leverage wellness center capabilities at TriVita’s Wellness Entrepreneur Academy, the company’s extensive training program.
That kind of innovative, mission-oriented thinking has given the company consistent organic growth over the last 13 years. TriVita ranked No. 70 on the Direct Selling News 2012 Global 100 list—leaping from No. 92 in 2011—with $102 million in net sales. The merger with Amazon Herb obviously makes the company larger, but for Ellison and Easterling, size is just a tool. For both of them, it’s all about advancing the mission. They’re simply stronger together.
“We are moving into a world that is an online, connected world. We don’t need offices in 100 countries. We need people doing the mission in 100 countries.”
TriVita has offices in the United States, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong that serve 14 countries. Ellison says that the power of technology will allow the company to do business in 100 countries in 10 years, expanding its mission around the world.
“We are moving into a world that is an online, connected world,” Ellison says. “We don’t need offices in 100 countries. We need people doing the mission in 100 countries—people who have been equipped with the technology needed to make presentations so that people can experience wellness and get products into 100 countries. Our goal is to expand TriVita globally to help people everywhere experience wellness.”
Giving on Principle
Even before they had sold their first product, the corporate leaders of TriVita determined that one of the startup company’s principles would be to give to those less fortunate. Its charitable organization, House of Giving, funnels donations directly to needs selected by a board of its Independent TriVita Business Owners (ITBOs).
“We knew that people would make significant revenue with TriVita in the future, so from the beginning we wanted to be prepared to give back,” says TriVita CEO and Founder Michael Ellison. “We tried donating directly to nonprofit organizations, but we couldn’t be sure that our donations went directly to where we designated them. Our people wanted to be more specific regarding where the money went, so in 2001 we formed the nonprofit organization.”
The House of Giving raises funds through the company’s ITBOs and channels 100 percent of every dollar raised to a specific cause. Any expenses are covered by Ellison himself, Ellison Media Company, or TriVita.
With so many of its product ingredients coming from desert plants, the board keenly understood the value of water—not just in the Sonoran Desert (in the Southwestern United States), but around the world. In fact, drinking water is the second of its “10 Essentials for Healthy Living.” It has an ongoing water well initiative that brings clean, safe drinking water to poor areas throughout the world. It also supports food programs in Africa, helps victims of domestic violence, and has provided emergency relief during crises such as the Haitian earthquake and the Australian flood. When it merged with Amazon Herb Co., it immediately expanded its reach, taking over ongoing support of that company’s existing programs in the Amazon rainforest. Amazon Herb had partnered with the Amazon Center for Environmental Education & Research (ACEER) on many of its projects, including providing scholarships, helping obtain land titles and deeds, enhancing communications with solar-powered radios, and securing the future of the Peruvian rainforest. TriVita will continue that partnership.
“We are committed to giving back to the regions where we find value in the plants for our products,” Ellison says. “Through donations to ACEER to specific projects, we can track the impact we’re making on those projects. John [John Easterling, Amazon Herb’s founder] has developed relationships with the indigenous tribes, so we’ll be able to work with them to identify specific projects to support. We hope to support the all-around sustainability of the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people. The area has lost approximately 90 tribes in the last 100 years. It’s important that they can co-exist in our world and be a part of the Amazon. We’re about sustainability.”
Easterling is enthusiastic about the expansion of support that TriVita can offer to his beloved rainforest.
“We get the plants of the Amazon into people’s bodies and provide them with a new life experience of wellness,” he says. “That generates resources to do sustainable activities in the Amazon and to continue the projects we’ve been working on there. It completes a circle of healing. That’s what drives me.”