Tahoe Trail Bar’s Wes King first graduate of Reno-Tahoe accelerator program
Tahoe Trail Bar, which was founded in 1995 in South Lake Tahoe and is now based out of Reno, manufactures its products in Oakland.
Aside from shopping online at http://www.tahoetrailbar.com, you can purchase bars across the region and throughout Northern California at Whole Foods Markets; Raley’s, Bel Air & Nob Hill Grocery Stores; and Save Mart Supermarkets, among other locations.
Additional placements include co-ops and natural foods stores on the West Coast.
RENO, Nev. — Wes King, like many ambitious entrepreneurs, tried to do everything on his own when he first became the owner of Tahoe Trail Bar in 2010.
King even used his Subaru as the company delivery truck. Packed with pails of peanut butter and stacks of energy bars, King trudged around Lake Tahoe’s west and south shores multiple times a week, selling his product to cafés, buying ingredients from suppliers, making bars at his workshop — rinse, repeat.
“There’s a lot of time sucked up in that,” King told the NNBW. “And, at the beginning, I had a completely ineffective pricing model, which didn’t allow me to make nearly enough margin to do anything except pay for ingredients.
“I was just … going bankrupt.”
King’s Subaru-dependent business venture eventually bottomed out — quite literally.
One day, he drove into a café parking lot with his vehicle’s backend dragging behind “like a dog that had paralyzed back legs,” he recalled. Sure enough, his back axle was bent down two inches, a mechanic later told him, due to hauling around nearly 4,000 pounds every other day.
“It’s just the quintessential entrepreneurial story,” King laughed. “You’re trying to do everything yourself with all the wrong tools and with no strategy behind it to actually get your head above water.”
Fast-forward to the present day, King’s energy bar business has been riding a multi-year wave of success
In the past two years alone, the company’s revenue jumped from $450,000 (2017) to $1.2 million (2019), and its staff increased from two to five employees, who all work at the company’s Reno headquarters on Airway Drive.
This raises a question: What helped King right the ship? Playing a big role, he said, was going through the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Reno Tahoe accelerator program. And this past December, King became the very first graduate of the chapter’s accelerator program, which launched in February 2018.
The program, according to the EO Reno Tahoe website, is designed to empower first-stage entrepreneurs with the tools, accountability and community to grow their business to more than $1 million in sales.
It includes full-day learning events each quarter, covering strategy, sales and marketing, finance and people; monthly accountability group meetings focused on goal setting and peer accountability led by an EO member; the use of EO goal-setting and tracking tools; and access to local and global EO events.
“This program just fit me so well and I thrived in it,” King said. “I was just hungry to do what they suggested, and I was hungry to take these insights and lessons that were offered and these learning days. It just accelerated my development as an entrepreneur.
“You get a lot more structure on the learning side and you get access to this incredible community that is so supportive and really engaging and just ready and willing to help.”
To qualify for the program, a Reno-Tahoe area entrepreneur must be the owner or founder of an operating business with gross yearly revenues of at least $250,000, but no more than $1 million, said Ty Whitaker, president of EO’s Reno-Tahoe chapter and co-founder of The Abbi Agency.
“Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s mission is to help support entrepreneurs on their journey,” Whitaker told the NNBW. “I think something that has been really cool with our chapter members is we actually spend the time to sit down with people and find out where they are on that journey and how we can support them.”
King noticed. In fact, he said sitting and talking candidly with fellow entrepreneurs about everything from their biggest struggles to their best scaling strategies was invaluable.
“They really treat the whole person,” said King, noting that cellphones are turned off during program sessions. “They don’t just look at you as a robot that’s trying to grow a business. They ask, ‘How are you feeling? What’s your level of overwhelm? What’s your level of stress? Are you taking time to enjoy things?’”
FINDING A PURPOSE
To that end, King said the program forced him to look at his business through a different lens. Though Tahoe Trail Bar had been magnifying its sales, operations, logistics — everything — King said he wasn’t feeling a “deep purpose” of why he owns the company.
But then, in November 2018, on his strategy day, King had his “a-ha” moment. After years of searching, the Tahoe Trail Bar owner discovered what he called his “BHAG” — known in the business community as a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal,” which changes the very nature of a business’ existence.
Tahoe Trail Bar, King decided, would partner with the organization “1% for the Planet” and commit to giving back 1% of its revenue to organizations that build trails in the Tahoe and Sierra regions.
More specifically, King landed on the goal of Tahoe Trail Bar impacting 1,000 miles of trail in the next 10 years, partnering with the Biggest Little Trail Stewardship, the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association and the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship.
“When I came up with this new mission and new purpose, suddenly I was reinvigorated to show up and implement these tools that were the nuts and bolts of the business,” he said. “Out of that was born this whole new lens for us to filter all of our strategic decisions through.”
King’s new vision and purpose, Whitaker noticed, came to him through his hunger to learn and grow as a business leader, and commitment to the program.
“When I first met Wes, he had a lot of different things going on and was kind of growing in so many different directions,” Whitaker said. “And I really think what I saw from Wes being in the accelerator program is him become really hyper-focused. It gave him the ability to drill down to exactly what he should be focusing on in order to take his company to the next level.”
According to the EO website, it takes participants an average of two years to reach the $1 million mark and graduate out of the accelerator program.
Accelerator members who successfully surpass $1 million in sales are eligible to become a full-fledged member of the EO Reno Tahoe chapter.
There are currently 12 area entrepreneurs in EO Reno Tahoe’s accelerator program, Whitaker said, adding that he expects that number to reach 15 later this year.
Founded in 2000, the EO Reno Tahoe chapter currently consists of 38 members. Globally, there are more than 14,000 EO members.
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