A business passed down to a son with a mission, Zen Balm has a “first” under its belt but shows no signs of stepping out of the ring. A bustling e-commerce with merchandise sold in stores, here’s how Lloyd Lake reinvigorated the company with some financial know-how.
Former music executive Lloyd Lake is proudly carrying on his father’s legacy. His dad, Louis Lake, was one of the first Black boxing promoters, and he developed an all-natural topical pain relief formula known as Zen Balm, originally developed to help alleviate concussion pain.
“My dad really believed in Zen Balm,” says Lake. “He and his friend worked on the product together. They put so much time and energy into it.” Unfortunately, his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was unable to continue with the business.
“Zen Enterprises was lying dormant for a few years, so when I took it over, it was basically nothing,” says Lake. “But I had to finish what my dad started, what he put his life into. I wanted to see it through for him – and I did it. In 2011, I officially brought Zen back to life. We were the first all-natural hemp line to be sold in Rite Aid drugstores. It’s doing great!”
Lake currently runs the marketing division of the company, which is headquartered in Las Vegas. He runs Zen with two partners, both of whom are just passionate about the line and also professional athletes: former Major League Baseball pitcher Dave Stewart and National Football League wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Zen now has five different lines of balm, a bustling e-commerce business and is meeting new market demands. For example, their high-end hand sanitizer is hitting the market in September 2020.
According to Zen’s website, the pain relief balms soothe ailments like arthritis, menstrual cramps and headaches, while invigorating the body and reducing inflammation. Here’s how Zen continues to grow – with little room for painful error.
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When you first assumed Zen, did you have any issues to overcome?
Oh, yeah. When I started, I had some partners, but the chemistry wasn’t right. Everyone needs to be on the same page and have the same vision. When that doesn’t happen, you get a lot of problems – which is what we had.
The thing is, going into business with people is like a marriage. The wrong partners create turmoil, and that’s what we had in the beginning. But then, in 2018, Dave Stewart came in and I made him the CEO. That worked right away. Then everything else fell into place.
Where you hit with any larger-than-expected costs?
Not in the beginning – but then the pandemic hit. Rite Aid had just placed a huge order, but everything – manufacturing, shipping, you name it – shut down.
Our products are made in India, and we had to fly them in at a much higher cost than we were used to. Prices on everything just skyrocketed. What we used to pay $5,000 for was suddenly $20,000. One thousand people had been working on the docks, then it plummeted to 300.
However, we had to get the product to the stores, so we had no choice but to bite the bullet. Rite Aid pays us after they receive the purchase order, not before. That’s where our credit card came in. It really saved the day on that one.
So which credit card do you use, and why?
We have the Bank of America® Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card*. I chose it because we started off with other Bank of America accounts and I like their policies, so we decided to keep everything in-house.
It’s a cash back card, so we get money for spending it on things like travel and gas. Right now, we’re letting the cash rewards accumulate.
It’s a good idea to have a high credit limit on a credit card, which we have. But because we’re expanding into more markets, we’re looking to establish an even larger credit line.
Outside of ‘surprise’ COVID costs, what types of expenses do you normally charge?
We use the credit card for everything! You name it: purchasing products, shipping and delivery, research and development.
It’s important to charge carefully, but there’s a lot of trial and error in this business. For example, we use the card to pay for marketing expenses. We ran TV ads, but it turns out they were expensive – and not very effective. So, we turned our attention to Facebook ads instead.
They work amazing because you can target your audience and get the data so you can know who your customer is. It’s cost-effective, too. For a nice video, you can spend $20 and get 5,000 people to watch it.
How are you handling debt and financial management?
We have debt at times, but not too often. I have to say we really limit owing money. I check the finances periodically, but we have a great bookkeeper and CEO, so I let them do their jobs. When you bring someone on, you have to let them do what they do best.
What is Zen’s present and future?
Anywhere Rite Aid is, we are. Currently, that’s 20 or 30 states in the U.S. We’re also on military bases in 13 different countries.
But we’re aggressively expanding and will be hitting a lot of major markets in the months to come. Bringing the products to as many people as possible is important to me. My dad fell in love with hearing from people who told him how much the product helped them, and I get it. I can’t explain how good it feels when people tell you they got the best night’s sleep of their lives, or that they have less arthritis pain.
Can you offer advice to entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
If the proof of concept has been developed and you believe in the product, keep going. A lot of people quit when they’re just about right there, and they don’t even realize it. There are so many ups and downs in entrepreneurship, and you have to be OK with that.
I know how hard it is. We had a $3 million contract fall apart. That kind of loss will take the wind out of your sails! It’s devastating, but you have to trust that it will come back around. Something else will come your way, but you have to stick with it.
And credit cards? Any words of wisdom to share?
Definitely. It is very important to keep your credit in good standing when you have your own business. If you’re responsible with credit cards and you have a positive history with making your payments, you will have a large credit line with a low interest rate. You will need it. If you’re charging and paying too much in interest because the rate is high, it will hurt your profit margin. So, you have to keep your credit report looking great.
*All information about the Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard credit card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.