September 01, 2016
Zurvita: A Business on the Rise
by J.M. Emmert
Headquarters: Houston, Texas
Top Executives: Founders Mark and Tracy Jarvis
2015 Revenue: $81 million
Products: Health and wellness
|Mark and Tracy Jarvis|
When husband and wife team Mark and Tracy Jarvis set out to launch their own company, they had listened to numerous suggestions for the name until “zurvita” was proposed and immediately touched and won them over.
Its Latin roots mean “the risen life,” and this meaning behind the name embodied hope, the promise of a new life, and what they desired to bring to others. With their extensive experience in direct selling as field leaders, the Jarvises understood how the business model afforded financial opportunities to people from all walks of life.
The company name also embraced their faith. They had been involved in ministry for years, and as they considered their business venture, they realized they also could bring hope to those in need.
The Jarvises founded Houston-based Zurvita in 2008, fully committed to ministering hope to others and guided by three founding principles that they knew would serve them, and others, well.
Life is not without its trials and tribulations, and the Jarvises experienced both during the first few years of Zurvita. Starting a direct selling business is a daunting enough challenge even for those with network marketing backgrounds. But that did not deter the founders from their faith-based approach and first founding principle to build a company that honors and glorifies God, even if it could invite skepticism.
“We started the company because we felt it was a calling for us,” says Tracy Jarvis. “And to honor God in that comes natural to us.”
To the Jarvises, this means the act of serving others, of giving people hope no matter where they are in their lives. The Jarvises work to embody that principle in everything they do at Zurvita, whether it is making business decisions or interacting with employees, Independent Consultants and customers. “It starts at the top,” says Tracy. “It’s just who we are. The true spirit of the principle is about loving people where they are and not judging people. We have a lot of people who are not the same faith as us—or not believers at all—who feel very comfortable here. They feel loved and love the spirit and the culture we have created here.”
Part of that culture, notes Mark, is one of service and is firmly rooted in the second founding principle of developing a company with humble leadership. “Real leadership,” he says, “happens one person at a time.”
Hence, the principle has been fully embraced by leaders throughout the company who are devoted to spending countless hours with Independent Consultants, especially those new to the business, in order to better serve them. “Our Ambassadors support all ranks in the field and each other while setting amazing examples of a positive difference we can make in each other’s lives,” he says.
That support for each other was critical during the early stages of Zurvita when the company was trying to establish its identity. As the Jarvises’ earlier experience in direct selling had mostly been with service offerings, they naturally gravitated toward the same for Zurvita. Electricity, gas, and tech support were among the company’s first offerings, but consistent losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars a month forced them to reconsider their plans.
What saved the company and helped it to rise from the proverbial ashes was honesty, authenticity and, not surprisingly, faith.
“From a leadership standpoint, we have always been authentic,” says Mark. “Early in the business we let people know that we had never run a company. As we made mistakes, we were very quick to not try to justify them. We were honest and said, ‘We made a mistake. You know our hearts. It was never intentional. We are going to try to make it right.’ We were always truthful with our leaders about where we were at, even when it was uncomfortable.”
When the Jarvises made the decision to discontinue the staple product offerings in 2011 and turn their attention to nutritional products in the functional foods category, there was understandably some concern. However, many people in the company had been with the couple since their earlier days as field leaders for other direct sellers, and they knew that the decision to radically change gears had been carefully considered and thought through.
“They stayed with us even though they were skeptical,” says Mark. “I think people just knew our hearts. ... Because our core people had a long relationship with us, they knew that, no matter what, they were not going to get blindsided. I think that was the biggest difference.”
Tracy admits that those dark days were a scary time for all. “When you radically change, it can be quite scary,” she says. “You don’t know how your field is going to react. When we first rolled it out, we lost a few people. But our main people, those who had been with us for 15 years, now love it and can’t imagine representing anything else but a nutritional product that gives such great results.”
Creating a Winning Culture
The love for the new product, Zeal Wellness Blend, soon revitalized excitement among the company. Independent Consultants were quick to see the nutritional benefits associated with the blend of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and customer interest in the product grew substantially.
With the new focus on nutrition and improving health, company leaders worked on creating an environment where people could win at every level. Previous experience left a strong impression on Mark and Tracy about the vital importance that recognition plays in direct selling and building a company culture that is second to none.
“What we learned was how to celebrate the small successes,” Mark says. “I believe that was the reason we were so successful in the field. We never got away from the small successes. We have built a culture of customer support inside the company today that gets excited about the small successes, which is aligned with our third principle—create an environment where people can win at every level. We vowed to never get away from what is really important, and that is very important to us.”
|Zurvita headquarters in Houston, Texas.|
It is that concept, that every person matters, that also sets Zurvita apart today and shines bright in the thousands of people who make up its culture. “It boiled down to this,” says Co-CEO Jay Shafer, who has been with the company since its inception. “When it was all said and done, we concluded that Zurvita and the people within Zurvita are in business because we feel that every single person needs to believe that they matter. It wasn’t a tagline; it wasn’t some marketing ploy we came up with. It was simply that each person needs to believe that they matter. And it resonated so well with all of us. That’s exactly who we are. Everybody is important to us.”
And this is expressed in its branding, too. Two conventions ago, the company rolled out a new brand campaign to further enhance the personality of Zurvita and its products. “From a marketing standpoint, we did a total rebrand on the company,” says Mark. “We introduced a whole new look, a whole new feel, that reflected more of who we are as a company and culture.”
The Zurvita logo now consists of brighter colors representing the different Zeal flavors. Where a Z once stood solitary in the logo, now there is the Z image that represents moving forward. “It just seems to be working better,” Mark says. “Simplicity and excitement is what really works. So we repackaged the bottles to tell you exactly what to expect: focus, energy and health. Now, when somebody is presenting it, it is more of a confirmation that the bottle says what the product does.”
In addition to the rebranding initiatives, the company also recently presented the results of a clinical trial from independent third-party research firm KGK Synergize, which confirmed the positive benefits of Zeal, including improved mood, stronger vigor and vitality, and less anxiety and fatigue.
“That is big news, because our marketing campaign going forward will include the clinical trial results of this product affecting somebody’s mood,” says Mark. “We’ve produced some amazing-tasting drinks, and our marketing message says that getting valuable nutrition and vitality in your life is as simple as reaching for your favorite beverage.”
Connecting with New Markets
The Zurvita brand is currently in 16 markets, including Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and the U.K. While there are no plans for further expansion, perhaps the next success will be in Mexico.
The phenomenal growth of the Hispanic market has often led other direct selling executives to ask the secret to the company’s success. The answer is surprising to many. “I get this question asked a lot,” says Mark. “ ‘How are you attracting leaders in the Hispanic market?’ The truth is, we’re not in the way you might imagine. What has made that market thrive is that we share family and culture values that transcend business strategies. The family aspect is what has contributed to that success.”
Shafer agrees. “And our way of business and founding principles translate to this growing audience in many of the areas that remain the most important in their hearts and minds.”
“I think on the Hispanic side we had some people, some families, that grabbed hold of the product, loved it, and then it was another situation where it was word-of-mouth,” says Shafer. “And, because we treat each person like they are the most important thing on Earth, I think they felt at home, where they could build a business. Some people on the Hispanic side do have some network marketing experience, but one of the things I heard from them in the beginning was, ‘Wow, you guys pay attention to us.’ I think the reason we have done so well is that we have carried over our culture in the Hispanic market.”
Seeing New Patterns of Life
Paying attention to people and staying focused on who they are as a company has helped Zurvita experience tremendous revenue growth over the past few years. In 2011, the company reported just $3 million in sales. In 2015, that number had jumped to $81 million, landing Zurvita on the DSN Global 100 list of top direct selling companies in the world.
Mark Jarvis attributes the success to staying true to the principles that he and Tracy first discussed six months before the company was actually incorporated along with the culture it fosters today. “We really committed to staying true to who we are, staying true to our principles and building from a grassroots standpoint,” he says. “Most of our Independent Consultants have never been in other network marketing companies, so the steady growth is people come in here and they become part of a family. Our retention of consultants is very good.”
|Zurvita has been sending teams to build water wells in Nicaragua since 2014, an effort now at the core of the company’s social responsibility program.|
The company also has been able to build a strong customer base. “That is an important thing in our industry today,” Mark adds. “About 57 percent of our business is to customers who just love the product. And because it is customer-driven, it has been successful for our leaders—their income has been pretty solid because customers stay.”
Mark projects that in 2016 the company will reach another milestone: the $100 million mark. And while that may not seem like much in these days of billion-dollar direct selling companies, it is a milestone that makes him smile when thinking of how the company struggled in its early years. “We’re growing at a rate that, we believe, gives our leaders the opportunity to grow with us. A comfortable pace.”
And as Zurvita continues to grow, both Mark and Tracy look to expand their corporate responsibility initiatives here in the States and abroad. Since 2014, the company has sent teams to build water wells in Nicaragua. “2017 will be our fourth year in a row to go back to Nicaragua,” says Tracy.
Back home, the Jarvises will launch Z-TV, a live broadcast that will allow them to expand both the business and their ministry. “Among the field, we do a lot of counseling for marriage, based on what we’ve been through,” says Mark. “We minister the pattern of marriage a lot, and we relate the pattern of marriage to the pattern of leadership. I think that goes back to the culture of who we are as a company. We are not just building a business to make money, we are truly here because we care about the people and we want them to live fulfilled lives.”
Yet, even as he seeks to inspire others to live more meaningful and purpose-filled lives, Mark Jarvis is quick to remind that the first founding principle is ever-present in his life. “I always tell people, don’t ever follow me,” he says. “If you’re going to follow us, follow who we’re following.”