60 second interview: Tom Tolworthy, ceo, Twinlab
New Twinlab boss: You can’t carry on doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result …
Will you deliver radical change or business as usual?
Clearly Twinlab fell out of favor for some years and I am not the kind of person that will carry on doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. But I do think we can sustain the double-digit growth we’ve generated over the last year and it will happen by rebuilding the brand from the end customer backwards.
We also need to develop a clearer strategy from a pricing and positioning point of view for the Twinlab brand as well as looking at cost containment, operational efficiencies and developing better business practices.
Where are the biggest growth opportunities for Twinlab?
I feel really positive about our prospects because I think people want to take control of their own health, especially in the 35-55-year age group. This sector is not recession-proof, but it’s recession-resistant because of the rising cost of healthcare and the drive to move from diagnosis to prevention. But to compete you have to differentiate your brand in the marketplace and drive innovation.
The growth opportunities are in more specialty areas, immunity, digestion, heart health and what I call clean sports nutrition, with products that athletes can feel good about. Sports nutrition will go mass market but it will start at the specialty end of the market. It’s not something you can suddenly talk to consumers about in a Target store.
How will your experience at Vitamin Shoppe inform your strategy at Twinlab?
I have a really keen idea of what the consumer in this space is looking for and that makes me uniquely positioned. Twinlab needs to be more supportive of retail partners and work more closely with them to engage end consumers.
What keeps you awake at night? Industry detractors? Snake oil merchants?
I sleep pretty well at night, but I still find it irritating when people say you don’t need vitamins or supplements, you just need to eat healthily. We would all like to meet all of our nutritional needs through a healthy diet, but how many of us actually do? It’s like 5-a-day. It makes sense, but it’s not happening.
As for snake oil, there are always these flash-in-the-pan salesmen that have a miracle weight loss product, and then the FDA and the FTC crack down on them and it gives all of us a bad name because people think all weight loss products stink. But I actually think these merchants don’t live as long as they used to.
What role will the internet play in your business and the wider supplements industry in the future?
From a consumer education standpoint, there is a lot of good and bad information on the internet, but I don’t think people necessarily do as much research on the net as we think. In many cases, people go to the doctor, get told about fish oil and then go to a store and see what’s on offer. But as for buying supplements online, most of the commerce on the web is driven purely by price. We sell products online but I don’t believe online sales will be a significant part of our business in the near future.
Do you worry about the dietary supplements sector becoming more commoditized/price driven?
Some products have become more commoditized than others but if you go into a Wal-Mart you are not going to get to talk to someone that can tell you how Twinlab krill oil compares to other products on the market. And that’s why vitamin C is still a multi-million dollar category for Vitamin Shoppe even though you can buy it anywhere. Not all multivitamin supplements are equal. The fact that the specialty store segment has gained market share from the mass market in recent years shows that people are looking for specialist products, advice and brands that engage with them. Brands like Twinlab must have a distinct and unique market strategy for health and natural stores where education and consumer engagement are key.
What are Twinlab’s plans for private-label products?
We want to do more contract manufacturing as we have wonderful facilities in Utah and there are a lot of opportunities to explore.
Where would you like Twinlab to be in three years’ time?
I expect continued growth but three weeks into the job I have not yet determined what the numbers should look like! But my main ambition is to bring the Twinlab brand back to prominence in the dietary supplements world.
twin labs needs Tom Tolworthy
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