September 01, 2017
Zija International: Building a Brand, Community and Natural Health Revolution
by Heather Martin
Headquarters: Lehi, Utah
Top Executive: Ryan Palmer, President and CEO
Products: health and wellness
As it often is for serial entrepreneurs, Ken Brailsford’s retirement was temporary.
Eight years after he closed the books on a 35-year network marketing career—during which he founded two direct selling companies and invested in countless other ventures—Brailsford re-emerged in 2005 to launch Zija International, a Lehi, Utah-based supplements company.
In one sense, then, Zija’s story feels familiar: Veteran direct seller leverages years of experience and success to build another winning brand. But Zija has departed from industry norms in ways that are driving it to its goal of becoming a billion-dollar powerhouse by 2027, executives say. From how it approaches operations and corporate culture to the method it uses to process the raw ingredient in its flagship product, Zija does things differently.
The company’s strategies have fueled quick growth in the past, landing it on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private domestic companies three times and among Direct Selling News’ North America 50 list based on 2015 sales. The company did lose some momentum in 2015, when it reported $129 million in revenue compared with $144 million two years before. However, Zija is again poised for big gains, executives say. It’s on track to double its revenue growth rate this year and has acquired two competitors, a move that’s broadening its geographic reach in high-potential international markets.
“I’m so excited about where we are right now and where we’re going,” says Vice President of Marketing Kyle Casteel. “It’s a great time to be with Zija, and we’re just really looking forward to the future of the company.”
In House and Hands On
From the beginning, Brailsford knew he was going to take a road less traveled when it came to operations. While many direct sellers often outsource such functions as manufacturing, shipping and back-office business, Zija has spent millions of dollars to develop a proprietary operational infrastructure that can support exponential growth.
Controlling its facilities and processes is the best way for Zija to control its destiny, says Dr. Josh Plant, Chief Operating Officer and Chair of Zija’s Product Advisory Council. “It allows us to grow and be adaptive in an ever-changing network marketing environment. We don’t have to wait for Partners to evolve for us to evolve.”
Having an internal production and Distributor payment infrastructure put Zija in a strong position to acquire health and wellness companies Qivana and XANGO earlier this year. Both organizations “wanted to take things to the next level,” says President and CEO Ryan Palmer, but they didn’t have the resources they needed to make that happen. Zija does, which will benefit stakeholders from all three companies in the long run, executives say.
A critical phase of Zija’s production process is also about as hands-on as you can get. The Moringa oleifera tree provides the raw ingredients for the company’s top-selling Core Moringa products. In shade dry houses near the fields in India where all of Zija’s trees grow, workers turn the Moringa leaves manually—“almost like a chicken would turn its egg,” Plant says—as the leaves dry slowly on smooth rocks that create a convection-oven effect.
Other companies dehydrate their moringa in a couple of hours in the sun, continues Plant (who may be the most appropriately named executive in the natural supplements business). Zija’s process can take from five days to two weeks and produces a more nutrient-dense product because the leaves aren’t exposed to harmful ultraviolet rays. As a result, Plant explains, it would take 250 capsules of Moringa dried in the conventional way to equal one sachet of the Core Moringa SuperMix.
In the Field
While Zija’s Moringa farmers are tending carefully to the tree leaves, Zija’s executives are nurturing a more modern corporate culture.
When Palmer became President and CEO, he literally knocked down walls between the executive suites and the rest of the team. He dispersed his executives so that they would be physically closer to their team members and not squirreled away in silos. He even turned the executive lounge into an employee break room.
It’s all about making sure that the 160 corporate employees have an opportunity to be heard and to contribute to the overall success of the company, Palmer says.
Palmer explains that he made these decisions because he has held practically every position he could have at Zija—from Distributor to director of business development to senior vice president of sales to CEO. He understands the company from many perspectives and sees value in tapping into many minds. “Having grown up through the ranks here, I felt like there was a greater demand for an inclusive environment,” he says.
Casteel agrees. “Under Ryan, we’ve gone from a top-down culture to a bottom-up culture,” he says. “Ryan has set the goals and expectations for the company but has allowed all levels of the company to make decisions. I really feel like that’s a major contributor to the success that we’re seeing.”
A Team from Rivals
The acquisitions of XANGO and Qivana also have changed the game at Zija, executives say. Acquisition wasn’t part of the company’s original growth plan this year, but when the opportunities arose this past spring to bring the two companies under the Zija umbrella, Palmer says, the deals made sense. Their values aligned with Zija’s values. Their compensation plans were similar to Zija’s plan, and their products and messaging were consistent with Zija’s as well. Both companies had built brands around the idea of a “natural health revolution,” Palmer says.
Now, Zija has the opportunity to put its products in front of a much wider group of Distributors and retail customers. In 2017, the amount of members consuming and sharing Zija’s world-class products has nearly doubled, moving from 55,000 in 2015 to more than 100,000 today, says Vice President of Sales Jarom Dastrup.
This expanded field represents a larger swath of the international market than what Zija had penetrated prior to the mergers, giving it a firmer foothold in Southeast Asia and South Africa, in particular. In Asia, the company has seen a 700 percent increase in sales already this year, Dastrup says. “Historically the ratio of North American revenue to overseas revenue was 80 to 20; now it’s transformed into a ratio of 60 to 40. The international growth that we’ve seen so far this year has truly balanced and stabilized the opportunity here at Zija International,” he says.
|Zija International headquarters in Lehi, Utah.|
Indeed, China is a sweet spot for many direct sellers, even as that market becomes more tightly regulated and the country’s gross domestic product declines. But the changing conditions in China aren’t scaring direct sellers as much as they’re reminding them to be diligent about how they operate there.
To ensure Zija’s international expansion goes smoothly, Dastrup has been working closely with its transplanted Distributors over the past several months to help them feel part of the Zija family. As Zija’s product and marketing teams integrate the existing Qivana and XANGO products, Dastrup is focusing on training and educating the new members and giving them the foundation to be successful.
“We need to create an atmosphere in which three distinct cultures can become one,” he says. “So we began the dating process. I don’t want to force them to love Zija, but I do want to do the necessary things to help them fall in love with Zija.”
Dastrup hopes that everyone in the field will fall for the newest products in Zija’s personal care category, which he believes holds one of the company’s biggest product growth opportunities. Zija recently added shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and toothpaste to the lineup and expects that the higher consumption rates of these products will generate strong sales.
Casteel says he sees continued strong sales potential for the Core Moringa line, “the botanical that really started it all.” Zija consumers are using Core Moringa as the base of a health regimen and are adding other Zija products—such as essential oils and fitness supplements—to the Moringa products. The way the products complement each other allows users to create custom mixes that suit specific needs and tastes, making Zija an indispensable part of their overall health plan.
The executives say they are fiercely loyal to their own Zija mixes and are feeling better than they ever have. “Since incorporating Moringa into my diet,” Dastrup says, “I’m in the best shape and the healthiest I’ve been in my life. I’ve competed in marathons and spent more than 250 hours on airplanes this year without getting sick.” Casteel says that even his young children are on board with the way Zija inspires a healthier lifestyle: “My kids have replaced sodas and other drinks high in sugar with Zija products because of their low sugar content—and they love the taste.”
Zija has been following the beat of its own drum for one overarching reason, Palmer says: It wants to be “a legacy company,” one that lasts because it’s more about people than profits. That mindset “really begins with our founder,” he continues. “He’s a man who’s not only very astute when it comes to business, but he’s also very wise in his decisions consistent with the long-term objective. You want to be a legacy company? You make decisions with that in mind.”
So while Zija seems headed for considerable growth in the next 10 years, Palmer cautions that it’s important not to get too wrapped up in financial gains. “When I talk about a $1 billion brand, it’s important, and a part of our culture, that a $1 billion brand is just a byproduct of people and how many lives you’ve been able to touch.”
For example, instead of aggressively pursuing more short-term growth through mergers, Palmer says he wants to “stabilize” the organization. “Knowing that the XANGO and Qivana Distributors are going through a big change, I don’t want to take on another major acquisition before we have completed what we’ve taken on.” He won’t rule out another purchase, he continues, “but there would need to be some variables in place for us to continue down the acquisition path.”
Palmer and his team know the potential for missteps in the channel. Indeed, last year’s Federal Trade Commission settlements with Vemma and Herbalife were blunt reminders of how important it is for direct sellers to make accurate income claims, have a robust retail base and ensure that the majority of a distributor’s volume comes from customers outside the compensation plan.
Zija wants to be an example of positive influence in the channel with beneficial products, an inclusive culture, and clear focus on the end customer. Palmer says, “We’re in a position to make a major impact on network marketing and to shine a spotlight on all of the things that are great about the industry.”