Like many Americans, Steve Schulze found himself jobless in 2008. He had spent the previous decade producing infomercials. But when credit card delinquency rates skyrocketed during the recession, he figured that people would soon stop buying what he was selling. "It was time to take a break and make some decisions," says the Newport Beach, California-based entrepreneur.
As he was trying to decide his next move, Schulze did a cleanse, which involved drinking fresh pressed juices. When he asked a clerk at his local health food store how many bottles of juice were selling each day, he was blown away by the response: "I'd get the same answer over and over again--they were selling close to 300 bottles a day," he says.
Almost immediately, the wheels in Schulze's head began to turn. The health food movement was just starting to pick up in earnest and there was nowhere to get a health food juice that was sugar free and cost less than $10 a bottle. So, in 2010, Schulze turned an abandoned sandwich shop into Nékter Juice Bar, a now-popular fast food joint that sells all-natural juices, acai bowls, and dairy- and soy-free frozen yogurt.
Nékter started making a difference in people's lives right away. Within 12 months, his $55,000 investment--he spent money on renovating his building and buying equipment--became a thriving business that generated about $1.3 million in revenue. He now has 130 stores and plans on opening 60 more before the end of 2019.
Schulze is clearly a difference maker--he's helped millions of customers eat better and live healthier lives--but he didn't set out to make this kind of impact. For Schulze, difference making is a by-product of being a good person and having the desire to succeed in life and in work. "I try and make an impact in whatever that may be," he says. "But I just want to do a good job and take care of my staff. If you can make things healthy, transparent, and authentic, and you're doing it for the right reasons, then you'll see the impact."
Technology has played a significant role in Nékter's success. Nékter uses Lenovo computers in all of their stores, which says Schulze, allows them to do their work faster and more efficiently. For instance, they've been developing training videos for their staff on Lenovo's powerful Legion Y series desktops. "We've been able to produce videos that are crisper and we created them faster than if we had used a competitor," he says.
The company also switched to an app-based rewards card last year, which has helped increase sales and make lines move more quickly. Customers can order through the app and then pick up the drink when they arrive at the store. In the month the app launched, Nékter made $25,000 from app-related sales; it brought in more than $2 million in January of this year.
All the technology in the world, though, won't help anyone make a difference if they don't love what they do. That's key, says Schulze: The difference makers he knows all have a passion and a sense of purpose that enables them to forge ahead. It's also important to stay curious and talk to others who might have new ideas. He tries to meet other business owners, mostly people he doesn't know, twice a month. "I want to tell stories, ask questions, and share advice," he says.
Schulze has seen the difference his store has made in people's lives, so, naturally, he wants to keep expanding. What was supposed to be a single store could become a Starbucks-like staple for the growing number of Americans who want to put better food in their bodies. To get there, though, Schulze knows he has to keep pushing and find new ways to make an impact. "I can't reveal what we're doing, but some new initiatives will elevate our business to the next level," he says. "You either evolve or die."
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