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By Steven Kelly of Shamrock Group. Steven is an IBDEA Board Member

Don’t risk bursting your biggest bubble. Just add suds to your current fizz. Now you’re probably thinking right now, “Typical Steven Kelly. What the heck is he trying to say??” Simply this: If your soda sales are suffering, it’s time to consider this idea. Read on.

Soda sales: Flat

For many of our companies, the success of our carbonated beverages has been our bread ‘n butter. Yet as bread and butter has given way to pita and hummus (and even taxation!), we’re all experiencing it: Sugary soda sales have gone from sizzling to fizzling.

We can deny, avoid or ignore this trend. Or, we can fight fire with fire by focusing on building sales with … well … a different sort of bubble.   Yes, you can move into some of our industry-standard extensions, such as bulk CO2 (lots of bubbles there!) or ensuring great tasting, perfectly carbonated beer by offering beer line cleaning. And more. But as great as these options are for the business, they nevertheless are a sponge for your precious capital.

Here is a solution that could potentially pay for itself in a relatively short matter of time: Grow into the world of suds — chemical sales.

Suds: The new bubble

Right now, selling chemicals is ripe for the picking, because many accounts are starting to see the detriments of a years’-old habit of “just buying cheap.”

They thought their chemical products could simply be dropped off, like any staple. But now they’ve discovered: It’s not a wash ‘n dry situation. They crave service. And answers. Wise recommendations. And especially when issues arise after hours, having a person to call holds an enormous amount of value.

And this is where you can step in.

And what’s best? It requires only about half as much effort as we currently put into our beverage business. Plus, you’re already there! Same accounts, same contacts! Simply focus on a slow and steady learning curve and reliable service.  Like any new line, start small. Then, set your sights on a progression to expand as you get more comfortable with the process.

Front of the house

Start simple with the promise of helping your accounts maintain something that’s critical to their image and success — but that they would prefer not to deal with: Janitorial. Specialize in bathrooms. Promise frequent stop-ins while you deliver product.

Demonstrate care, support and reliability. Then, make that bubble bigger … and ask for the mop closet products.

Back of the house

As you build your credibility and reliability, move into the kitchen and behind the bar. And I’ll say it again: You’re already there, with your beverages!    Glassware, dishes and silverware, along with floors, pots, pans …

Start with the cleaning chemicals. Then, in the same vein as selling the “Razor/Razorblade” sales tactic, consider ware washing equipment, especially if your business has service technicians who can easily learn the mechanics of these machines. Sell — or even better, rent the equipment. Renting bar glass washers is a great ROI, paying for itself in 12-24 months.

You have more knowledge than you might think

Combine your knowledge of beverages with chemicals. For example, ensure they have bar-clean glasses with each and ever pour, providing the chemical/ware washing recommendations for how to guarantee this. With the explosion in craft beer interest these days, the Millennials are sure to keep us on our toes with their high expectations, including clean glassware.

Another example: Customers who have owned their ware washing equipment for several years might not realize they can save a lot of money on utility costs simply by switching to the low temperature/high efficiency equipment made today.

Excellent ROI

Maintaining fizz in your business means finding how we can have the healthiest ROI. Chemical products give you this.

Weekly sales are brisk: You could easily see chemical sales of one week exceed sales of beverages for a month. You’ll discover your distribution personnel enjoy delivering these SKUs, which are small in size, yet large in price. And unlike some beverage products, returns or expired product is a rarity. After all, Health Departments require chemicals while a soda flavor can be tossed out with one fickle, gut reaction.

Once you have a relatively firm foundation with your current customers (that includes excellent testimonials), you can progress to institutions — nursing homes, schools, stadiums, etc. As the saying goes, “Build it and they will come.” Build trust, service and dependable delivery. The word will get out that you offer a value-added product.

Regional company partnership for a “support local” approach As for who to connect with: Do some research to find a local chemical company that wants to get further into the hospitality industry. Most likely, the company has a sales and support staff eager to train your salespeople in a short time.

You could even consider private labeling your products, which associates your good image and service behind a simple line of cleaning chemicals.

Bundling pricing

As you gain a bigger piece of the pie with each account, introduce pricing incentives by offering bundling pricing: Accounts receive better pricing when they commit to both beverages and chemicals (and perhaps more, depending on your other products or services).

The time is now

No doubt, the Shamrock Group is still primarily known for our MinneSoda, our other beverages, ice, beverage dispensing systems and other products that revolve around beverage. But in a very short time, we have shaken up the Goliath in our market (EcoLab) and have proven ourselves as a viable competitor in the chemicals arena – mostly due to our service and ability to lend badly desired support with chemical-related issues. Plus, our customers like the distribution/service simplicity of coming to us for multiple things. To them it’s just one less person to have to argue with.

Our only regret: That we didn’t enter into this business a decade ago. With the right amount of effort, dedication and commitment, you could see the same thing we have – an amazing addition to our offerings. And we’re still the “bubbles experts” – just an expansion of the same business model of providing value and service.