At the beginning of the year, Jack Schrupp was finally ready to launch his sports supplement business. He’d been perfecting his recipe since he was a two-sport athlete at Williams College, searching for a post-workout protein powder that had ingredients he could actually pronounce. After years of sampling products for friends and teammates, and later arranging a supply chain, Schrupp was ready to bring Drink Wholesome into the world. He had no idea how bad the timing was.
“We launched at the end of February 2020, which was objectively a terrible time to launch a business, but I had no idea,” said Schrupp, 24, of Gilford. “I immediately had to rethink my entire approach and scramble for a few months.
Schrupp had planned to promote his business through in-person marketing. At marathons, triathlons and other sports events he would give samples out to the competitors and crowds, hoping to convert customers to Drink Wholesome. But when the pandemic cancelled all sporting events, Schrupp knew he had to rethink what the first few years of his business would look like.
“These big sporting events are going to be the last things to come back,” Schrupp said.
Rather than connecting with potential customers in person, he found them online. He sent free samples to nearly anyone who requested them, and roughly 1 in 4 people who sampled became a paying customer. He targeted the communities that he was most familiar with, including rowers, skiers and other endurance athletes.
“This is very much a bootstrap business, so I didn’t have a lot of marketing dollars to throw around,” said Schrupp, who works remotely as a French teacher. “The sample program, sending product to people locally, got the ball rolling.”
Another challenge was global supply chain interruptions, especially during the first few months of the pandemic. Drink Wholesome is manufactured at a plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts, but uses ingredients sourced from around the world. When supply chains were taxed early during the pandemic, Schrupp couldn’t compete with large companies that could place an order for an entire shipping container of product. At the time, suppliers weren’t interested in or able to process smaller orders. To compete, Schrupp partnered with other small businesses that needed the same supplies he did.
“We pooled our resources to go in on those orders together,” Schrupp said.
Now, nine months after the launch of Drink Wholesome, the company is approaching profitability, Schrupp said. In the future, he plans to direct a portion of profits toward initiatives including the preservation of green spaces and supporting underfunded athletes.
Although the bulk of business will take place online, Schrupp hopes to get into retail locations in New England next year.
“Just sitting on a shelf is a form of marketing in and of itself,” he said, adding that he wasn’t comfortable approaching retailers about stocking the product during the pandemic. “I didn’t want to push when they’re struggling just to keep their doors open.”
The fact that he was launching a business when many others were being forced to shutter weighed on Schrupp.
“It was just tough emotionally to be investing in growth at a time when so many people were struggling, but this is the world in which we live,” he said.
Despite the challenges of launching a business during 2020, Schrupp said that he has benefited immensely from the kindness and support of the local community — both as customers and business mentors. He participates in a weekly forum for New Hampshire entrepreneurs, and has had lots of support from the local sports communities.
“New Hampshire is a small place, a small community. Word gets around and people are really supportive,” Schrupp said. “Some people will go out of their way to support you. You can’t build that into your business plan, but it’s instrumental.”
This story is part of the 50 Businesses; 50 Solutions series shared by partners in the Granite State News Collaborative. It has now grown beyond 50, as NH businesses continue step up to face the challenges posed by the pandemic and the Collaborative continues to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted in the hope others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.