In his more than three decades as a CPA, Walter Monroe made a few business contacts.
So when he became involved with a startup company working to bring to market a new product that treats bad breath, or halitosis, he turned to that business network for help. Those contacts enabled the company, Breath Arrest LLC, to find a bottler and sign a distributor, Kent Beverage Co., for the 2-ounce drink that is now sold at about 100 convenience and party stores in West Michigan “and growing.”
“We were actually dead in the water until I started examining my network group and people I’ve known in 34 years as a CPA and came up with a couple of names,” said Monroe, the CEO and a partner in the Kentwood-based company.
Those two acquaintances he contacted, Steve Basinski and Darin Arnett, had once brought a dietary supplement to market and had the connections that got Breath Arrest moving in the right direction, including contracting with a bottler in Tampa, Fla. Both are now partners in Breath Arrest. Arnett serves as chief operating officer.
The company is now talking to potential distributors in southeast Michigan and is “deep in the conversation” with a major food chain in the south to sell the product, which neutralizes the bacteria that can cause bad breath.
Breath Arrest’s goal is to eventually get on the shelves in 10,000 stores, Monroe said.
Monroe, who retired as a CPA six years ago and “re-careered” with Breast Arrest, credits his years in business with giving him the ability to know what he doesn’t know and the willingness to seek help. He spoke with MiBiz about the product and the lessons learned along the pathway to market.
What was the single biggest obstacle to get your product to market?
Having never done it, you feel like you’re in a dark cave. You have this product, tested it and tested it, and now you have faith in it. What do you do with it? Where do you go? Without my years as a CPA and the people you meet, I don’t know what we would have done. We probably would still be in the inventor’s kitchen playing with the formula. But within eight months of meeting with Darin and Steve, we had product in stories.
What was the basic lesson learned?
It’s just keep climbing over rocks and talking to people that you know within your network and that you trust — and listening. Then one thing leads to another. In talking to Steve and Darin, they were already doing what the inventor and I needed to get done. So we brought them on and their sweat equity and knowhow probably saved us a couple hundred thousand dollars that we didn’t have to spend on researching the business.
What kind of compromises did you have to make to get to market?
You really have to team with one distributor. They have the territory and you agree to allow them to distribute the product to the retailer. You can’t run around their back and sell the product to stores one on one.
What advice do you have for someone who’s trying to bring a product to market?
I would say look around. Who do you know? Who do you trust? Who’s done it already? Do you know anybody? Just start talking to them. You have to put a budget together and have a game plan. … You have to have enough fuel in the ship to get across the ocean, and you have to plan for that, and don’t jump before you look. Step back and look at the situation and say, ‘How do I get from A to B?’
At some point, you realized you couldn’t do this alone.
Absolutely. That’s where you have to start brainstorming and making phone calls.
Is it difficult to come to that conclusion, to admit that you don’t have all the answers?
No. I’m 64 and the inventor is 62. When you’ve been around the block and been successful, intelligent decisions are based on (asking) ‘What do I know? What don’t I know?’ It’s research. When you’re younger, perhaps, you don’t make those decisions as intelligently as an older guy. You just don’t have the experience. You have to look in the mirror and say, ‘You don’t know how to do that.’ I wouldn’t build my own home, either. You hire it done.