Times Herald: Former Marine prepared for long battle against beverage giants with Re-Up

By Rich Freedman | Times Herald | TimesHeraldOnlinecom | April 29, 2012

Michael Spearman is looking for the few, the proud, the thirsty. Actually, he already has more than a few. A few million, however, would be good.

When first interviewed by the Times-Herald in April, 2009, the former U.S. Marine started Re-Up, an “energy supplement” beverage strictly targeting the military.

While Spearman, 42, isn’t laughing all the way to the bank, he’s at least grinning. Re-Up is in every West Coast installation of the Marine Corps and Navy, with hopeful drink deployment into U.S. Army bases on the horizon.

“It’s like building a house,” Spearman said earlier this week at his Vallejo home. “You have the foundation and the timber and that all costs money. Now you have to decorate the house. Now you have to buy the TVs and the couch.”

And, true to his word three years ago, Spearman took the contracted percentage of sales and sent his first check — roughly $2,000 — to the Semper Fi Fund, which provides financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

Spearman said the charitable aspect of his Patriot Beverage Company “plays a part” in securing Re-Up distribution.

“It’s a true partnership with the military and true partnership with charity,” said Spearman, a Marine from 1986-’88 and a police officer for several agencies for 13 years.

As a former Marine, Spearman takes pride in helping wounded comrades, “and make sure we have a component that gives back where it should.”

However, the ex-El Cerrito cop and Richmond PAL board member added, “I’m not here to fool anybody. We are a profit business.”

Even with his apparent success, the business took several hundred grand to launch and the nine surviving investors — San Francisco financier and philanthropist Warren Hellman died last December — haven’t been seen rolling hundred dollar bills into victory cigars.

“Just because I’m black, doesn’t mean that I’m in the black,” Spearman joked.

Yet, the former security for several Hollywood stars was never one to wave the white flag to anyone, energy drink giants Monster and Red Bull included.

“You can’t get into this being feint of heart,” Spearman said. “This is not a hobby. This is not a science project. Once you put the juice in the can, you have to finish. Races are won by one step. You just got to keep in the race.”

What Spearman said he won’t do is expand too quickly. For now, the West Coast and Arizona serve him well, include many outlets at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.

“Tiger Woods said it best. He was at a golf clinic, hitting balls 250 yards, each one five feet within the other. A kid asked him why he couldn’t hit it farther. Tiger said, ‘In golf, like in business, you hit it as far as you can control it.’ Right now, I can only control right here. If I had more money and a bigger staff, I could control the whole country. And I believe we will be able to do that in less than two years.”

In the saturated energy drink market, Spearman said he always believed the military aspect of the beverage — and its ingredients — would eventually be on the front lines of sales.

“It’s been one of those uphill battles. I’m David against Goliath,” he said. “But if you keep in the fight long enough and believe in what you’re doing, you’ll finally win.”

As confident as Spearman is, he’s realized “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

“You think you know until you get there,” he said.

It did take repeated efforts to convince the Marine Corps to accept the drink and allow its mark (logo) on each can, which a major energy drink tried without authorization and was quickly reprimanded.

“Once we explained the process was going to help injured marines and injured soldiers and once we had reformulated Re-Up, they came around,” said Spearman.

It helped, he continued, that the product was tweaked from its inception. Less caffeine, more vitamins. Sodium replaced by potassium. Other ingredients include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-12, and folate acid. There’s also sugar free Re-Up.

The coup de beverage came when the drink got a stamp of approval by the U.S. Navy’s chief flight surgeon. “That was big,” Spearman said.

Re-Up’s basic training was a 90-day test at Camp Pendleton. After that, officials would review sales. It was December.

“During the holidays in the middle of winter. Best time to start for a cold drink,” laughed Spearman.

Re-Up hit the starting blocks No. 179 of 179 energy drink options. After three months, it reached 23, Spearman said.

“We were beating the big guys with one-tenth — maybe — of their marketing budget,” Spearman said. “Whatever was in my banking account.”

The Corps was happy, he said, and Re-Up is on 10 bases with roughly 20 sites on each base, including this week’s OK to sell at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, training facility for all Marines west of the Mississippi.

Though the drink isn’t sold in civilian markets, the public can soon order by the case from the company’s website at reupdrink.com.

But first, the U.S. Army.

“We haven’t landed yet,” Spearman said. “But we’re working through them finally. They’re great guys. They see the big picture.”

Not everyone has. Oh, there have been doubters.

“There’s a lot of people that think you’re never going to do it. That you’ll never make it,” Spearman said. “When you finally do, they say, ‘I knew you can do it.’

Spearman thought about his company’s growth from day one.

“When we first started, it was all on a cocktail napkin,” he said. “We’ve defied the odds.”

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