Steve Schulze on Learning From Industry Competition

Hosted By

Alana Muller

CEO & Founder
Coffee Lunch Coffee

Podcast Guest

Steve Schulze

Nekter Juice Bar

Episode Summary

Steve Schulze, CEO, president and cofounder of Nekter Juice Bar, shares how connecting with industry peers — and sharing stories and perspectives — can help both parties succeed.

“When I hear their story, there's always something that I learn that allows me to sometimes think differently. Maybe there's ways I can help them. Maybe there's ways they can help me, or if nothing else, they walk away and I had a nice cup of coffee and I hope they did too.”



Alana Muller:    Welcome to, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire, and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning into another episode.

Hello listeners. Welcome back to Podcast. I hope you are ready for one of our most delicious episodes as we welcome today's guest, Steve Schulze. Steve is CEO, president and co-founder of Nekter Juice Bar. Now with more than 170 locations across the country and another 150 in development and more than a hundred million dollars in system wide sales, Steve has grown the company into the clear leader and pioneering champion of the elevated juice bar experience in the $2 billion juice bar category. Please join me in welcoming Steve Schulze to Podcast. Steve. Welcome.

Steve Schulze:    Hey, it's great to be here and thanks for having me on.

Alana Muller:    I'd love for you to tell our listeners a little bit about Nekter Juice Bars, including what your inspiration was behind launching the company.

Steve Schulze:    We started Nekter in 2010 and the motivation behind it really was to reinvent the juice category, similar to the way the coffee experience was reinvented in the early nineties with Starbucks and the third place and things of that nature. It seemed to me that there was a proliferation of really a shift, a seismic shift, in the way people were viewing food. Food as medicine. You saw Whole Foods, you saw Sprouts, you saw Trader Joe's, you saw those start coming to fruition. And at the same time, if you went back to the legacy in the original juice bar brands that started back in the early nineties, I think they unfortunately went down a slippery slope and really became more treat brands, more of a glorified Dairy Queen if you will, and had too much filler and sugar and yogurts and all this kind of junk in there.

And my belief was that people desire to live a healthy lifestyle. And when Alexis and I had the idea, our idea was to come up with something that was affordable, accessible, tasted good and was unprocessed and authentic. And so when we developed the menu, the goal was- Part of the trick was one is we didn't want it to be intimidating in the sense of you go into a organic juice bar at that time, and you're choking down say a carrot juice or a wheat grass shot or things like that, so you had to make it taste good. So we wanted to make that part of it. We wanted to make the menu simple so you understood it and Alexa and I both like simple menus. We're more In-N-Out, very simplistic menu. So we had six juices, six smoothies, and four acai bowls. And so obviously the juices were parsley, kale, spinach, apple, things of that nature.

The smoothies were all fruits and vegetables with the only filler being coconut water or housemade nut milk that we make in the store each day. And then we have organic acai. We have a mix of acai, fruits, vegetables, and nut milk as well. And so it was really just a one off idea that we took over an old Starbucks location on 17th Street that had closed and they'd moved to a bigger location down the street. And we saw an opportunity and we started with, I think it was maybe $50,000 to open up the first location. And this year we'll probably exceed a hundred and I don't know, 25, 30 million dollars in sales give or take. That was never our goal, it just sort of turned out that way, I guess.

Alana Muller:    Yeah. I love that story. Love that story. Well, and I thought that you might be interested to know that I'm a regular at my local Nekter and I'm partial to the acai banana berry bowl with the guava, of course. And it strikes me that networking and relationship building are a little similar to your Nekter Juice Bar menu. Just as you have a variety of formats and flavors to accommodate your customer's varying tastes, so too it goes with relationship building, where it's important to know your audience and meet them where they are. Do you find that you have a tendency to alter your approach to connecting with others based on their preferences?

Steve Schulze:    I do. And it varies on both from a professional standpoint and also from a guest standpoint. In the sense of when you're trying to build a brand, people believe they're building the brand that they are the brand and that's just simply not the case because if it were the case then all of us would sign up and say, Hey, I'm starting a brand and here it is. But people know what the “swoosh'' is. People know the apple and Apple logo and what they're all about. And what they're really doing is they're listening to the consumer, they're listening to the guest, they're echoing their opinion, and everybody likes to hear themselves talk to a certain degree. So what you do is you absorb the people's word, the guest’s words, you reformat them and repeat them back in a marketing message to themselves and they think, “Hey, that's a great idea.”

And you're authentic about it because that's what you're trying to achieve because I think that in our case, I think that you don't hear a lot of people saying, you know what? I want to be in worse shape, I don't want to eat healthier, I want to eat worse. So I think people aspire to buy a healthier lifestyle. So I think the messaging, depending on who your audience is, I think varies a great deal. And I think the networking is interesting. Early on, I got invited by a woman who was a recruiter in the restaurant industry, Alice Elliott, to do an underground tour of restaurants. And it was 24 hours straight throughout New York. And she was introduced to me just through a local real estate program. And she ended up being the who's who of placement people around the country. And there's 12 of us on the little sprinter we drove around in and today they're leading some of the iconic brands.

The CEO of Habit Burger was on the thing, Cooper's Hawk Restaurants was on there, Bill [inaudible 00:06:01]. But at the time, a lot of these restaurants just had two or three or four and what her goal was to find young emerging people and put them together. And actually one of the fellows, Dave Pace, who's a friend of mine, went on to become CEO of Jamba Juice, of all things. And so he and I would play golf and go out to dinner and such and share stories and insights and it was through literally just a friend of mine that was showing me some real estate and said, "Hey, you might want be interested in meeting so-and-so" and I met her and she said, "you might be interested in coming to this thing". And one thing led to another and it was all organic and it was all authentic and just started a network that has grown over the years.

Alana Muller:    What a cool story, what fun experience too. That's neat. And I love it that you had an experience together. You all were interested in some restaurant related concept and bonded over that. So, great example, great example. For you, how do you actively manage your network?

Steve Schulze:    Well, there's two things. One is as far as expanding my- Again, I expand my network and what I mean by that is that when I see a brand that I think, or a business that I think is interesting or emerging or whatever, and it might be... Recently, I met with a coffee concept, not too long ago I met with Sidecar Doughnuts, which make those very exotic type donuts. There's just an endless number of companies and so what I'll do is, especially where we're here in Orange County quite a few people have heard of Nekter, so a lot of times I'll get a response. So I'll frequently just send an email out and say, "Hey, would you be interested in meeting for a cup of coffee?" And usually the goal is just to meet for a cup of coffee and hear their story.

Alana Muller:    Great.

Steve Schulze:    And when I hear their story, there's always something that I learn that allows me to sometimes think differently. Maybe there's ways I can help them. Maybe there's ways they can help me, or if nothing else, they walk away and I had a nice cup of coffee and I hope they did too.

Alana Muller:    Well and it sounds like you've put an emphasis on the mutually beneficial nature of these kinds of interactions, and that you kind of put a premium on that. Where you are willing to share and give information to your contact and always looking for that nugget of goodness that you can take away as well.

Steve Schulze:    And I think that's the way it ought to be. I was at a conference not too long ago. And chief development officer, who's now the CEO of Tropical Smoothie, obviously in the same space, he was more than happy and willing to share his insights on franchise, franchise relationships, franchise advisory councils, we were debating on whether we should have a conference or not. Here we are direct competitor, well, not a direct competitor, but to a certain degree, a competitor. And again, I've mentioned Dave Pace. Dave Pace and I go up, play golf and then go out to dinner and share the same stories. And there's not a lot of secrets to it because you have your own magic sauce so to speak, everyone has their own brain that they have to manage. So I think that sharing and giving back and paying it forward, comes back to you tenfold.

Alana Muller:    Well, and you've made it expansive. That's an exciting space to be in where you don't view your competitors necessarily as competitors, but appreciate them and respect them for who they are and expect the same from them. So I think that's really nice. What advice would you share with someone who wants to cultivate or grow their own network?

Steve Schulze:    I think that you got to kind of like the old thing goes is “show me your friends and I'll show you who you are,” so to speak. And I think the same thing holds true here. I think it's got to come from an authentic place. I think that on occasion I'll get a call from somebody when it comes off as they're looking to take, take, take, and it's from a manipulative standpoint. I don't think that's healthy for anybody. But I think that for me, whether sometimes I'll look somebody up in LinkedIn and reach out to them or I'll keep in contact with them through...

I'll be in the airport and I'll see a sign that happens to be something that they do that might be their company and I'll just text a picture to them say, "Hey, just thinking about you, hope all is well bud," or if I'm flying into Phoenix and somebody I haven't seen for a few years, I'll call up and say, "Hey, can you meet for coffee or drink just to catch up." So I think that just the intermittent communication, and then clearly when you have in my space anyway, in the restaurant and franchise space, there's conferences, which they've been slowed down quite a bit over the last couple years, but they're starting to pick up again. It's always fun to get together at the conferences and have dinners and groups and share various war stories and such.

Alana Muller:    That's terrific. That's great. That's great. Can you think of an interaction that you personally have had with somebody who's resulted in a breakthrough either personally or professionally?

Steve Schulze:    I don't know if this one applies, but I'll give you an example. One that I had an interaction with Mel Robins, who I think you've heard of, and in this particular case, I wanted to try and do something different as it related to physical fitness. And we were talking about the five second rule. And the five second rule is basically you have five seconds to decide to do something otherwise you'll procrastinate, you won't get around to it and so forth. Which makes perfect sense to me.

And so I wanted to change my workout routine and I decided I wanted to do a couple hundred pushups a day but again, if you wake up at seven in the morning and it's kind of cloudy outside, it's kind of cold, you're tired, you're not that motivated, 200 pushups seems a little bit overwhelming. But if I break it down to the five second rule and I'd say, "okay, tell you what I'm going to do 10 pushups, I can do- anybody can- not anybody, but I can do 10 pushups. And so I would do 10 and I'd set my alarm clock on or whatever you call it, the alarm on my phone, within probably a month or two, I was doing 300 pushups a day and continued to do that.

Alana Muller:    That's great. That's great. I love that. I love that the five second rule, I guess, is different than dropping a piece of food on the floor and deciding if you're going to eat it or not, right?

Steve Schulze:    Exactly.

Alana Muller:    I think that's great. And I love that idea of breaking down a goal so that it's achievable. It really makes sense for all of us. So whether it's pushups or anything else that if we break it down into its component parts, really anything is possible. So that's very cool that you do that.

Steve Schulze:    Well. I think sometimes that mistakes that a lot of entrepreneurs make, I think is they don't break it down. I think that they look too far ahead. They try and go too fast and they don't understand or fall in love with the process. They fall in love with sometimes the end game, not the process that they're going through. So a lot of times when giving somebody advice, it's more of not what the end result is, but if you're not in love with what you do every day and in love with the process, are you going to give those barbecues, the weekends, the vacations, your son's or daughter's soccer game, and therefore you're not ultimately going to get there. So you really got to have to love the journey that you're on, embrace it and embrace it from a pure, authentic standpoint. And I think that if you look at any successful entrepreneur in the world, that's where they come from.

Alana Muller:    Agreed, agreed. Very true words. Very true words. On a little bit of a different note, just a fun question, if you could meet with anyone, one person for a cup of coffee, or maybe a smoothie from Nekter, who would it be and why? And who would you want to meet? Living, not living, fictional, non nonfictional? Who would you want to meet?

Steve Schulze:    For me? It'd probably be Howard Schultz at Starbucks in the sense of I've always modeled the company after him. I've read his books, I've listened to his podcasts, his interviews. I think he's progressive in the way he thinks about business and the evolution of business and team members and partners and things of that nature. So I think that obviously you could look at the larger question and pick somebody from a thousand years ago, but I'm giving you a practical answer of somebody that would make sense that I say, Hey, if I could have lunch tomorrow with somebody, I think that's probably who I would choose.

Alana Muller:    That's a good one. That's a good one. I remember years ago, he wrote an open letter in the New York Times. He used the word amplify. It was about amplifying and about amplifying your values, amplifying the things that are important to you. And I remember to me that stuck with me and it was really important. And so of course the practical nature of your meeting with him, just in terms of being a restaurateur and a similar sort of space. But I just think from an inspirational perspective, he has a lot to offer as well. So that's a great choice, a great choice. I've loved our conversation. I think what you're doing it makes so much sense and is exciting. And as I said, I'm a big fan girl of Nekter, so delighted to have you on Podcast. If people want to go learn more about you and about Nekter Juice Bar, where would you send them?

Steve Schulze:    So you can follow me on Instagram. We're just launching the site and working on a book as we speak. But Steve Schulze Official on Instagram, or obviously go to Nekter Juice and you can learn more about myself or Nekter, whatever it may be. And if anybody wants to reach out, just reach out any time, I'm more than happy to meet and talk and learn more about people all the time.

Alana Muller:    Steve Schulze, thanks so much for being on Podcast.

Steve Schulze:    Hey, appreciate it. Thank you.

Alana Muller:    Thanks for joining us this week on Be sure to visit our website enterprise to subscribe so you'll never miss an episode. If you found value in today's program, please consider leaving a review on Apple podcasts or telling a friend about us. powering business leaders, one conversation at a time.

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