The Supplement IndustryWhere Your Name Means Nothing Anymore
The supplement industry is a crazy place to live. I’ve worked in the industry for about a decade and I’ve seen some crazy things. One thing I’ve noticed is that who you are means nothing anymore. Back in the day the supplement industry was pretty much owned by guys like Dr. Scott Connelly, Bill Phillips, Rich Gaspari, and Lee Labrada. But what does a name mean in this day and age? There’s a one-word answer—NOTHING.
While I respect every name mentioned above for their part in building the supplement industry as well as their respective brands, it’s tough to think about their rise and fall. When I first got into the industry all I would see are tubs of MET-Rx, EAS, Gaspari, and Labrada piled on the shelves of every supplement retailer in the area. If you wanted the best of the best, those were the brands you were recommended. But now there are thousands of brands out there all fighting for that same shelf space and those brands are slowly getting pushed off shelf or now have a tiny section in the back of the store where no one ventures. So how did the industry change from building something off an individual’s name to now many of those types of brands slowly dying off?
The good old days
Back in the 90’s you could get away with putting a name behind a brand. Guys like Gaspari and Labrada built their brand off of their name from their competition days on stage. People admired their physiques and wanted to look like those guys, figuring if they bought their products they would be able to create a similar physique. Or they simply respected those two enough that they wanted to buy their products and support them personally with their business.
With Connelly and Phillips, they created brands that were more built off their knowledge of the industry (health and fitness). They created a cult following so to speak. Both worked together early on at MET-Rx before parting ways. Connelly stayed with MET-Rx for a little while longer while Phillips left and went on to acquire EAS—which happened to be a great move for Bill. Both gentlemen made a lot of money in a short period of time in the industry—more than you or I will ever see in our lifetime.
Yet these days, it simply doesn’t work that way anymore. The industry is too diverse and it all comes down to how well a product works. Back in the day you would see your favorite bodybuilders drinking their pre and post-workout drinks. Swallowing horse-sized pills in an effort to achieve a pump. We mirrored everything they did in hopes of achieving insane muscle growth which we found never came to fruition with the use of the products our idols were pushing. We didn’t know any better and after a while we either gave up using the product, found a new brand to throw money at, or stopped using supplements all-together.
When you think about the good old days, it’s hard not to recall all of the bodybuilding magazines that were thought to be the holy grail. Magazines in the 90’s and early 2000’s were flooded with all of top bodybuilders standing behind a supplement company. Everyone and their brother wanted to look like them and were naïve to think that if they used that brand’s products that they too could look like those mass freaks. Until they fail miserably and wonder what happened. Then you saw the same athletes posting their personal workout plans in those very same magazines. Well surely if you took the supplements they were promoting and followed their workouts you HAD to achieve their look—WRONG. See where I’m going with all of this?
Take a look at things today
Bodybuilders from all over the place are now starting supplement companies in hopes that their name can build a brand. Unfortunately, if history repeats itself they will find out the hard way that it probably won’t work out. Consumers these days aren’t naïve like they were back in the day. And just because Mr. Olympia has a supplement line doesn’t mean that if you use the products you’ll get jacked with striated glutes.
You even have personal trainers and YouTube personalities coming out of the woodwork thinking they can build their own supplement line and make some quick cash. Chris Jones just started a Pump Chasers line of supplements starting with a protein powder. Kali Muscle created Hyphy Mud which has two products—a pre-workout and a BCAA product. Funny man Dom Mazzetti of Bro Science even has his own pre-workout product. Last but not least is CT Fletcher who is launching his own line of supplements around the December 2016 timeframe.
The reigning Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath, just walked away from his supplement line (Gifted Nutrition) earlier this year to collect a fat paycheck from Ultimate Nutrition. He joined Dexter Jackson in the line-up who too had his own supplement company (Blade Nutrition) before walking away to become a sponsored athlete once again and make easier money.
Just being a bodybuilder is tough enough, then add the responsibility of owning and running a company on top of that. For a business to be successful, you need to have your hands deep in the business or hire competent people who can run the business for you.
Who’s hanging tight still?
Rich Gaspari has seen his business go up and down over the years and after filing for bankruptcy got an investor to come in and give new life to the dying brand. Frankly, Rich could have also gone under the “who’s failed” heading. But being that he’s still in the game, we’ll leave him here.
Ronnie Coleman is doing fairly well with his supplement line and product seems to be moving off the shelf. He brought on a great team to surround him and despite his surgeries that set him back, things are running on all cylinders and even when his strength wasn’t there during his therapy and recovery process, he always made an appearance at shows and expo.
It wasn’t that long ago that we were watching Jay Cutler collecting is Sandow’s on the Olympia stage. Since then he’s started his own supplement company and is doing ok but not killing it with his line even though it’s backed by BPI Sports.
A current bodybuilder (assuming he’ll be back on stage in 2017), Kai Greene, came out guns blazing with his brand, Dynamik. However, these days when I speak to retailers, not many people are seeing his product move off the shelf. The assumption is the out of sight out of mind theory since Kai has skipped out of the Olympia and wasn’t on stage for a good part of 2016 other than to collect some Arnold Classic wins.
The comeback of Kevin Levrone has been exciting to watch even if his Olympia physique wasn’t what we were all expecting to
see. Kevin has his Signature Series that is currently sold overseas and should make its way to the states fairly soon from what I’m told. International is a piece of the industry that isn’t oversaturated (yet) and if people want to make some money, that is the way to go before it’s too late—so make your money now.
Lee’s Labrada line is steady but not setting the world on fire these days. The same goes for Connelly’s old company, MET-Rx, who has restructured so many times it’s hard to keep up with the direction they are going anymore. Phillips’ old EAS brand seems to have shot themselves in the foot by going mass market and totally killed off their business in the specialty (health and fitness) market. It’s tough to see some of the largest companies like MET-Rx, EAS, and Labrada regressing as the years pass. With little innovation, it’s tough for companies to stay afloat anymore. Also, if you lose your brand identity you end up spending years (which you don’t have) trying to find your place back in the industry.
The point I’m getting at is, just because you have a name in the industry, it doesn’t mean the same following that name had in the bodybuilding industry will translate over to dollars and sales in a supplement line they launch. Starting up a supplement company is very risky these days. A risk I suggest many people not take.