Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, hey, my name is Tony Gauthier, I am the creator and co-owner of Sprëtz, the world's first All-Natural 2-in-1 freshening spray that instantly removes odors from your breath and hands. Sprëtz is a black-owned company based out of Oakland, California, and was also featured on ABC’s Shark Tank. I created Sprëtz back in 2013 but officially launched it as a full-fledged business in 2015.
Sprëtz currently has two flagship flavors Peppermint and CinnaMint. Our customers range from athletes and actors to moms and dads, waiters and chefs, to college students, makeup artists, and barbers. When you think about personal fresh hygiene, you think about Sprëtz.
Sprëtz has customers in all 50 States and has even sold internationally.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m from Oakland California, the youngest of 3 brothers, raised in a single-parent household, and I was always one who fantasized about having a better life and moving on up in the world so to speak.
Growing up in Oakland was tough at times. I remember we moved around a lot, from apartment to apartment, and even spent a few years in Los Angeles staying with some family. One thing that kept me occupied and out of trouble was my ability to create ideas from the many dreams I had and entertain people with those talents and bring my creative ideas to life.
I used entertainment and creativity as a way to escape. Being able to dream and express myself through creative arts provided me with an outlet. Growing up, I performed in a hip-hop group, doing music, and putting out an album. I’ve done some theatrical plays and independent films. I even had a clothing company at one point. Hey, I believe in following your talents and dreams (especially while you're young) because they eventually lead to somewhere. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon or come from money so I knew since I couldn’t play ball it had to be one of those gifts or ideas that would help get my mother and family into a house and into a better situation in life. Because growing in-studio or 1-bedroom apartments with 3 people was not the business. Something had to change.
The brand recognition and trust that Shark Tank provides is priceless.
Fast forward; coming up with Sprëtz was really one of those “ah-ha light bulb” moments. I’ve always been a very creative person but this was one of the crazy ideas that just made sense. Or at least to me it did.
I came up in the entertainment industry, and I think much of that experience was not only what helped me come up with the idea, but allowed me to be fearless when it came to sharing my ideas with the world. I love speaking and presenting to people, so it was natural for me to chat with people about Sprëtz or any idea I had.
I came up with Sprëtz while hosting a party in downtown Oakland. At that time I was what you might call a “closet smoker” (that’s someone who smokes but doesn’t want people to know it).
So during a break, I snuck outside, (like all closet cig smokers do) to have a quick drag before going back in to host. I noticed I didn’t really have anything to freshen my breath or remove the smell from my hands once I returned to the party, you know, because I’ll be in there shaking hands and networking and stuff. And lord knows even people that smoke hate when they themselves smell like smoke or when other people smell like smoke.
That’s when it hit me. I thought to myself, “what if there was a product that could remove the smell of smoke from both your breath and your hands….at the same time”? Boom! And that’s when Sprëtz came alive.
Sprëtz is the first all-natural 2-in-1 breath and hand freshening spray that removes unwanted odors from the breath and hands all while providing a mist of freshness and leaving the hands feeling smooth. Let’s face it, there is not always a restroom around to wash those hands or brush your teeth after eating certain foods or having that quick smoke break.
I literally would study and watch people who were smoking, or eating certain foods like sushi or drinking coffee and see what exactly they did after they were finished with said habit. Some would eat like two or three pieces of gum and put lotion on hands, sanitizers, drown themselves in perfumes or colognes, it was ridiculous. I just knew Sprëtz would be a convenient answer to that clutter issue and hygiene issue. And once people started to try it, that’s when I really knew I had something and I had to invest in myself to make this happen.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Coming up with the first iterations of Sprëtz wasn’t rocket science but it also wasn’t as easy as some may think; although it was fun. Imagine being in the kitchen whipping up some science experiment full of optimism that it works and tastes great at the same time. That was the thought process the entire time.
What started out as a crazy idea soon became a reality with the help of a friend of mine who also happened to be a chemist. He was very instrumental in helping Sprëtz become effective.
We worked tirelessly night after night, working on the formula and solutions until it had the perfect taste, smoothness, and was powerfully effective. I didn’t want candy (you know like too sweet), but I did want it to taste good. I also didn’t want something that would be sticky.
I needed something that could be powerful enough to remove the smell (scents and/or odors) associated with eating certain foods, drinking certain beverages and smoking cigarettes, cigars, etc. And what’s more important it had to be all-natural and not full of crazy chemicals like other “breath sprays” on the market. It took over 20 attempts but we finally got it right. The first batch that was ever tested was green (see photo) Hahaha I remember it tasted great but looked like toilet water, so we had to go back to the drawing board.
Once the perfect formula (or solution as I like to call it) was created, I hit the streets. I would go from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant, party to party walking up to total strangers, especially people that were smoking and just ask “what if I told you there was a product, one product, that could remove the smell of smoke or coffee or whatever it was they were doing at that time, from both your breath and hands in a single application”.
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Stop worrying about if everyone is going to like your idea or not. Because not everyone is going to like your idea, and that’s okay.
People were shocked. Some people (actually many people) would laugh in my face like “dude you’re nuts, get out of here”, but once they tried it. They were SOLD. They were convinced. I was even dubbed to some as “that spray guy”. Which I didn't mind because it meant the word was getting out.
“It works”. So I went from passing samples out for free to selling each unit for a few bucks. I sold a few hundred before really turning it into a real business.
That’s when I knew I had something and it was solving a problem. Sprëtz was the answer to an age-old problem: Instant freshness from unwanted and/or inconvenient odors. The idea was to alleviate smells from people’s hands and breath.
And that’s where Shark Tank comes in.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Although I first created Spretz in late 2013, it wasn’t until 2015 that Spretz became an official business. All thanks to auditioning for Shark Tank.
In August of 2015, Spretz auditioned for Shark Tank in San Francisco, CA. We were 1 of many companies trying their luck to make it to the Tank. It was awesome because the experience alone was well worth it. The competition was great but I just knew in my heart of hearts that this was going to be that moment to prove to people that Spretz was a real solid product and it needed to be seen by the world.
I remember we had only had a Facebook page, no website, nothing. People were still buying them hand to hand from me at local bars. While auditioning for Shark Tank, I remember being a little nervous but then that entertainment mindset kicked in and I just performed. We eventually made a good impression and I guess the audition was a slam dunk because we got a call like two days later.
That's when Spretz hit the ground running. That’s when all the resources known to man came into play. I reached out to all my friends who know about business law, filming, graphic design, manufacturing you, taxes, you name it. Reaching out to our tribe allowed us to get some help to film an audition reel for Shark Tank but also a little promo for Spretz for our one social media page. The process of making it Shark Tank was the catalyst that kicked everything into high gear because ABC needed all our business ducks in a row before we could even think about flying out to LA to be filmed for the show. So I ultimately thank Shark Tank for pushing me to do something that fear might have kept me from doing so soon.
I secretly used most of my savings to order the first 5,000 units of Spretz and pay for materials needed to get us ready for the show and to continue selling in the local area. I had just started a new job so it's not like I had a lot of savings at the time. I had just got married so the money was funny. I remember I had to scrounge up like $8,000 because I was damn near tapped out from all those other life activities. But we did it.
During the process, I reached out to a few entrepreneurs I had met along the road that knew about manufacturing. Mind you, in the early stages, Spretz was made in small batches by hand. The entire fulfillment process was all done by hand. Formula mixing, pouring and filling, labeling, and packaging, everything done by hand. I’m talking thousands of units all by hand. So being able to find a manufacturer was a lifesaver.
We ended up working with a company on the east coast that would help with manufacturing and although that was a total time-saver, I wish I would have done things a little different. Lesson learned. It’s tough when you work with a company on the other side of the county and at that time I didn't really have the money to fly back and forth to check on the process, so I had to just trust. Let’s just say I am currently looking for a manufacturing company on the west coast, until then, everything is being done by hand in small batches again. Which is fine, because I get to inspect all the aspects of quality. Customer satisfaction and quality are our core values here at Spretz.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since officially launching Spretz, our biggest asset to customer attraction and retention has been our customers themselves. We literally have the freshest customers (pun intended)! Once you’ve tried Spretz, you tell a friend or family member and their reaction is always like “ I don’t believe that let me try it” and once they try it, the rest is history. One person tells two, two people tell five, five people tell 10.
Along with word of mouth promotion, the re-airing of the Shark Tank episode has been major! At one point, I think the Spretz episode was like the most replayed/re-aired episode on CNBC.
Shark Tank continues to be a huge blessing to the company.
The brand recognition and trust that Shark Tank provides are priceless. But don’t get me wrong, we do not rely on the Tank alone. I still hand to hand with it, passing samples out, I am not just the owner but also a dedicated Spretz’er. I can’t tell you the last time I chewed a piece of gum or ate a hard mint. It's been years. We keep our customers informed through the social medina, and email marketing providing them with updates or sales you name it.
We did Amazon at one point, which was definitely a learning lesson. Not saying it was good or bad, but a learning lesson. Spretz may find its way back one day who knows. But the price point to service on Amazon was too expensive, and people selling our product counterfeit on the same platform was starting to become a distraction and hurt our initial sales and reputation. So I chose to take our product down from Amazon in order to focus on direct sales from the Spretz website and/or directly from Spretz as a whole. We are a small company and although Amazon is great for small companies, because of the reach, It wasn’t the most cost-effective tool for our business.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today Spretz is slowly growing, and we love that. We are taking our time to learn from mistakes and remember the successful lesson along with this discovery. The future of Spretz looks bright and fresh! We are looking to add more products and flavors in the near future.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Spretz currently uses Squarespace for our e-commerce. We’re very happy with Squarespace, it's straightforward and simple. Other platforms we use are our social media channels. One of my favorite tools is Instagram and Facebook. Those sites allow us to reach more people at once. Technology has changed the game for business, especially having an iPhone, you can pretty much conduct all your business from the palm of your hand. I love it.
Mailchimp for email marketing and stay in touch with our customers.
We are also a part of Facebook groups with other entrepreneurs that have either been on Shark Tank or know the business of Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG). That group has been extremely helpful. It's all about using your resources.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There are a number of books and resources that have been and still are (to this day) very instrumental to my (and the business) growth and life, but here are a few:
Ego is Enemy by Ryan Holiday, has to be one of my favorites. It's raw, it's true and it's a book that any and everyone in business should read before thinking they know it all. Shit, It's even helped me in my marriage lol. This book is important because it helped me look within. And if we don't look within we can never deal with what’s on the outside of ourselves.
The challenge with Ego is Enemy is that it is such a dope and in your Facebook, that many people who read it are offended or think to themselves, “this isn't about me, I'm not like that or I know that already” and that's exactly ego talking right there. Which is why a person should read it even more.
Another book is Start With Why by Simon Sinek. This book helped me to understand that we all should have a WHY in our life and not just a what or how.
Why we do something is more important than what we do or how we do it. Sounds funny I know, but the WHAT can’t be done without the HOW, and the HOW can’t be done without a WHY. Why do we do what we do? WHY does a person want to be successful or WHY do you want to create Spretz and share it with the world? Interesting right.
One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is How I built this with Guy Raz. I love listening and learning from the stories of other entrepreneurs on how they muscled their way through life's ups and downs, successes, and failures to bring us the products of today.
Very inspirational and encouraging and super relatable. You realize that listening to some of these stories that these people are just like me (or you). They had a dream and didn't give up, even after being told no or with very little support.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is 3 things.
Break the fear and take a risk. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to try it.
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable and try shit! Stop worrying about if everyone is going to like your idea or not. Because not everyone is going to like your idea, and that’s okay. Your product shouldn’t be for everyone, it should be intended for the people it’s intended for; your target market.
If it’s a product-based company, create it and go hit the streets and let people try it. “Remember ideas without actions are worthless” one of my favorite quotes from Earl Nightingale. Many people have ideas and that’s cool, but not too many people actually move forward with actually creating the product. So create. Give it a try! Having the concept product is half the battle.
Always be a student.
Read, read, read (blogs, books, articles, case studies, just read), learn, watch videos, research, listen to mentors, and to other people that have done what you desire to do. I’d even listen to those who haven’t done it but tried, and learn from why they stopped. Ask questions about the failures. Don’t be afraid of failure. Failure is truly a part of the process; it’s the quitting that’s not.
Let go of ego and listen.
Don’t be afraid to get feedback. Listen to your target market and ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the feedback. Too many times, we as people or aspiring entrepreneurs only want praise or positive feedback. Naw! Sometimes you need that “raw-in your face, it may not feel good” type of feedback. Because it will be that feedback that helps you exceed to the next level. Remember, the product is not for you, it’s for them. Them being the people, the customer, the client, whomever, so it’s important that you listen to what “they” are saying. Stop trying to be right and focus more on the win.
A bonus tip, learn how to use your resources before using credit cards or taking out a loan. One of the early mistakes I made was getting a business credit card and not educating myself on how it actually worked. I didn’t know what an APR or interest rate was. Many aspiring entrepreneurs think “I can just get a business loan or a business credit and max it out on my dream” NOPE!! Do not do that! Huge mistake. Because that won’t teach you how to manage and or utilize the money properly.
Learn how to utilize what you have first before even thinking about asking a bank for money. So many people I know have gone into even more debt thinking that a loan or credit card was free money, all while not even having the financial literacy needed to understand money. Don’t dig a bigger hole by buying a bigger shove. Learn how to use what you have to leverage what you need.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Although Spretz is a small independent start-up, we are hopeful of future growth. We are currently looking to hire sales reps for the west coast and we are looking for an additional intern.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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