Not knowing what the rules are, admits Sharelle Klaus, can be an advantage. The single mother of four spent 2005 — and $15,000 from a home equity loan — delivering cases of soda to QFC supermarkets in her car. The drinks were light on sugar and tasted of lavender, lemongrass, rhubarb and kumquat.
Coming from the world of dot-com marketing, she recalls, “I would ask for things you wouldn’t normally ask for,” such as large displays and shelf space without paying slotting fees. Her ignorance proved an advantage in gaining a foothold in the massive food and beverage trade.
In the intervening 12 years, Klaus has learned a thing or two, and she compels Dry Soda to innovate in an entrenched industry as she seeks to “create a more elevated soft drink experience.”
Dry Soda is sold in more than 9,000 stores, including nationwide outlets Target, Kroger and Costco, and is among the nation’s fastest-growing natural sparkling beverage brands.
Along the way, Klaus has strived to empower female leaders, in part working with the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, whose Seattle chapter she once served as president. She credits her first financial backer, Golden Seeds, and its mission of early-stage support for women-led firms, as vital to the company’s growth.
Having found success in a male-dominated industry, she observes, “I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by a lot of supportive women.” Klaus continues to advance the Dry Soda brand, developing new flavors and new line categories as it grows toward becoming a $100 million brand.
“We want to keep disrupting this industry,” she says, “through really creative design and amazing flavors.”