By GREGORY ZELLER //
New blood and a new order-fulfillment deal are part of the growth formula for Rockin’ Wellness, a feel-good story dancing to its own tune.
Embracing a “business not as usual” campaign that recalls its offbeat roots, the Hauppauge health-drink maker has welcomed a new chief operating officer – David Finkelstein, who drank the Kool-Aid in May – and signed a core order-fulfillment contract with Just Nutra, stage name for Islandia-based dietary supplement manufacturer and distributor Nutra Group LLC.
The deal, signed in September, is especially interesting on two fronts, Finkelstein noted: Just Nutra’s sterling reputation for order fulfillment and the freedom it gives Rockin’ Wellness to focus on business development.
“Now we can grow and market and create and sell,” the COO said. “Everyone gets their product on time, and we have the freedom of not spending 20 hours a week on shipping.”
It’s a major advantage for a small company – just three full-time employees – with a roller-coaster history.
Rockin’ Wellness was founded by Seth Luker, a music-industry tour manager who was diagnosed in 2010 with a stomach cancer. Frustrated by the numerous supplements needed to keep his immune system strong and his energy levels high, Luker started tinkering – and after “a lot of trial and error,” according to Finkelstein, hit on a winning formula rich with omega acids and so-called superfoods.
It wasn’t perfect – “I got to try the first one, and it was pretty awful,” Finkelstein noted – but it did the trick: The concoction kept Luker energized until the cancer treatments kicked in and he went into remission.
Luker realized he was onto something and continued formulating, ultimately producing two powdered products – Chocolate Cacao and Vanilla Mocha Swirl – each packing powerful organic ingredients like goji berries, flax seeds and maca root.
He launched Rockin’ Wellness in 2011 and the company has grown over its five years, including a now-defunct regional deal with Whole Foods Market Inc. But it’s also experienced “ebbs and flows,” according to Finkelstein, who noted Luker’s creation generated “some real serious volume, and then ran into some bumps in the road.”
Among them: keeping up with its own success. With Commack-based Vitamix Laboratories handling private-label production, Rockin’ Wellness built its customer base just fine. But in-house order fulfillment became a bear, Finkelstein noted, until “inventory and cash flow issues” finally squelched the Whole Foods deal in October 2015.
All of that occurred before Finkelstein came on board. The Syosset native, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and finance from Bentley University in 2009, had built a retail résumé prior to joining Rockin’ Wellness, after spending three years as an equity trader for New York City-based Chimera Securities.
In 2012, Finkelstein joined the family business, Mink Enterprises, which was launched in 1982 by his grandfather, Jack Finkelstein, and run for years by his father, Richard Finkelstein. Formerly located in Hicksville, the now Bronx-based firm owns Sunoco-branded gas stations and convenience stores in Queens and the Bronx.
With his father semi-retired, Finkelstein now runs the Mink Enterprises show. But more than one generation of Finkelstein was interested when “a very chance encounter,” according to the youngest of the three, led them to Luker.
A friend of Richard Finkelstein also knew Luker, who was actively seeking business advice and new partners to keep his startup afloat. The mutual friend recommended the Finkelsteins, and even though their retail background was decidedly brick-and-mortar, Richard and David saw serious potential in Luker’s largely e-commerce enterprise.
“Hearing Seth’s passion and love for the product, we realized we could do more than just consult,” Finkelstein told Innovate LI. “Why not become partners?”
Due diligence revealed a “potentially great opportunity,” he added, and in May the family bought in, with Finkelstein sliding in as Rockin’ Wellness’ new COO.
Since then, his focus has been building the five-year-old startup’s distribution network, starting with the Just Nutra deal. Vitamix Laboratories still handles production – roughly 1,300 bags of chocolate and vanilla powders per month, each holding about 30 servings – while Just Nutra, which specializes in the small-batch production and shipping of dietary capsules, ensures “an operational base that can keep pace with the growing demand for our products,” Finkelstein said.
And with the company’s growing product line. An energy-replenishing tea called 4OnTheFloor is being re-formulated, while two new products are in the pipeline: a sugar-free version of the original powders and an energy bar offering the same pump-you-up benefits, both targeted for 2017 release.
They won’t cure cancer or anything else, and “superfood” is “absolutely a marketing buzzword,” Finkelstein admitted. But there’s no doubting the proprietary formula’s inherent benefits, according to the 29-year-old COO, who says he drinks the nutritional shakes daily.
“It will boost your immune system and help you fight off common cold-type stuff,” he said. “It will boost your energy level. In general, it will have you feeling younger and better.”
Getting back into Whole Foods is definitely a short-term goal. Not only does Rockin’ Wellness “fit their vibe,” according to Finkelstein, but Whole Foods store managers are allowed to buy independently – meaning “we could supply one or two stores and grow from there, without instantly having to supply 200 or 300.”
Meanwhile, Rockin’ Wellness is developing a niche among Long Island health food stores – and a couple in Luker’s native Texas – thanks largely to Luker’s legwork. The CEO, a self-described “life-threatening-disease fighter” who’s now beaten stomach cancer twice, “goes around with a map and pins trying to figure out the best route to take to hit the most customers each day,” Finkelstein noted.
But the meat of Rockin’ Wellness’ vegan-friendly business remains online, with sales directly through its website and a strong social media presence. That includes Facebook and Twitter accounts where the company interacts directly with customers, Finkelstein noted.
“Health and wellness is a real community-journey-type thing,” he said. “We want to work with our customers and take that journey with them, toward being well, being in a good state of mind and putting healthier things in your body.
“That’s our expansion plan.”
What’s It? Holistic energy drinks for mind and body
Brought To You By: Founder and CEO Seth Luker and new COO David Finkelstein
Status: New distribution deal, new blood, new plan