Four years ago, Jason Camper and Paul Gravette took their combined expertise in the technology, health and wellness and direct sales industries and charted a new course when they launched premium lifestyle brand Le-Vel. This entirely virtual company—the first of its kind in direct sales—generated an astounding 254 percent growth in 2015, an accomplishment that earned the company the prestigious title of Direct Selling News’ 2016 BRAVO Growth Award during DSN’s Global 100 celebration held April 7 in Dallas. Le-Vel also ranked No. 48 on the Global 100 and No. 29 on the North America 50, a subset of the Global 100. Annual sales for Le-Vel were $10 million in 2013, which grew to an eye-popping $100 million in 2014, then $350 million in 2015. By the time 2016 comes to a close, the executives at Le-Vel believe the company will hit $500 million in revenue, if not more.
What’s attracting people to Le-Vel? Its brand image is modern, streamlined, youthful, energetic. And it’s a company whose loyal following proves that personal testimonials are the most effective advertising.
One of the most incredible aspects behind Le-Vel’s rapid growth is that it’s largely U.S.-based. Le-Vel has a presence in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, but has only dipped a toe into the waters of its potential for international success. And company executives say it isn’t anywhere close to its ceiling in the United States. “There’s still tons of room to grow in the U.S. At some point, the growth will slow down, but for us, that’s not in the near future. 2016 has been an absolute rocket ship of growth so far, and there’s no end in sight,” says Drew Hoffman, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer.
A New Kind of Direct Selling Company
|Le-Vel co-founders Jason Camper and Paul Gravette accept the Bravo Growth Award for their company’s extraordinary growth of 254 percent, amounting to revenue of $349 million in 2015.|
When Camper and Gravette founded Le-Vel in 2012, both brought a keen knowledge to the table about what worked and what didn’t in the direct selling and nutritional supplement industries, and they knew what kind of brand they wanted to create: one that embraced technology from the very outset. They were well aware that one of direct selling’s biggest challenges was how to play both hands successfully, in other words, offer the personalized service customers couldn’t find anywhere else, and position itself as a forward-thinking, tech-savvy company. Camper and Gravette had no plans to sacrifice the service aspect; rather, they set out to redefine it.
Knowing that customer service and technology weren’t mutually exclusive, these co-founders, co-CEOs and co-owners built their company on a cloud-based infrastructure that would, in turn, free them to invest in the production of excellent products and offer their independent Brand Promoters a very generous rewards plan. They pledged to create and foster a strong sense of community, and they knew that social media would be the means to build it. Equally critical, Camper and Gravette had the foresight to realize that by creating a culture in which Le-Vel products, not the opportunity, led the conversation, they could grow and maintain a strong and fiercely loyal customer base that would be key to the company’s longevity. Further, they would reward those customers for their loyalty.
Success stories in direct selling most often begin and end with great products; without those, a company simply can’t sustain itself. Take a deep dive into what has enabled Le-Vel not only to create but maintain its hyper-growth, and you’ll first notice an atypical infrastructure that has allowed maximum investment in products. The company’s signature product line, THRIVE, is a three-step regimen that enjoys a viral following of consumers who swear by the results they experience, from weight management and lean muscle support to more energy, better digestion and simply more zest for life. Le-Vel has continued to introduce supplementary products designed to enhance the core benefits from THRIVE, including its Black Label Derma Fusion Technology, or DFT, in 2015. Black Label DFT was the company’s most successful product launch, surpassed only by FORM, the latest addition to Le-Vel’s Sequential Gel Technology line, in March 2016, which generated millions in sales within its first few hours.
Second, while the company’s products assert to deliver a host of health benefits, the brand message of helping people to feel better is refreshingly simple, enabling Brand Promoters to describe and share the products in easy, straightforward terms, and they do, predominantly via social media with personal testimonials and pictures. As Camper says, “No one gets up in the morning looking for a direct sales company. But everybody gets up in the morning looking to feel better, have more energy, manage their weight better, sleep better. You attract people based on what they’re looking for.”
Third, while Le-Vel is completely virtual, it also enjoys a particularly close-knit culture, even as its Brand Promoter and customer base continues to expand. That’s not only due to the sense of community generated by this viral social media movement; it’s also coming from the top down. Camper and Gravette were driven to create the kind of rewards plan and easygoing, supportive and inclusive environment they would want.
The cloud-based infrastructure does more than keep overhead costs low. It has enabled Le-Vel to be more agile, responding to challenges quickly before they become larger issues. The communication loop is open and efficient. The company’s employee base remains lean four years later and is based throughout the United States on staggering shifts to provide maximum coverage and support to Brand Promoters. It’s a hands-on, nonstop approach as opposed to a standard 8-to-5 schedule—challenges never occur during normal business hours, after all. The company expects to keep its headcount low even as it continues to expand into new markets in the coming years.
‘We Just Dug in Our Heels’
Despite what the numbers might suggest, Le-Vel didn’t gain traction immediately. The company’s first year required patience and belief, well beyond the point at which other companies may have changed course. “2013 wasn’t the best year for us,” Camper says. “Growing our supply chain was tough, but we did it. We just dug in our heels and stayed consistent. We didn’t want to fall victim to the mindset that if it doesn’t take off in six months, it’s not working. It takes a while to hit velocity.” They began to see the fruits of their efforts the following year. “In 2014, we were given a telltale sign of what was to come. And then we took off like a bottle rocket last year.”
In 2015, Camper adds, the company strengthened its cloud-based infrastructure, and both the business and its product line began to mature. Two major milestones occurred, as Le-Vel exceeded 500,000 Brand Promoters and 3 million customers. “We were building the engine,” he says, for what 2016 and 2017 have in store: a series of product launches and international expansion into Mexico, greater Latin America and, ultimately, Asia. The progression into new markets will be “thoughtful and strategic; we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Hoffman says, although, thanks to social media, demand for Le-Vel products is coming from potential markets all over the globe.
An ‘Inverted Model’
For Le-Vel, the term culture isn’t just about the company’s relationship with its Brand Promoters. Camper and Gravette knew from the outset that a strong and loyal customer base was absolutely key to building a firm foundation for growth and longevity. With that in mind, Le-Vel extended the same reward to customers as it does to Brand Promoters: Refer two customers, and you’ll receive your product free. The rationale was to eliminate that moment of hesitation every potential customer has before a first-time purchase—and the strategy has helped create a devoted following of loyalists. While some of them ultimately will choose to become Brand Promoters, the reality is that many of them won’t. And, yet, according to executives, those customers are considered no less important to the company’s future, in essence validating the integrity of the company and its products.
From the Brand Promoter’s perspective, Le-Vel offers an encouraging network of support that’s largely online, but no less effective. The web is so much more than a communication platform; it impacts both a company’s reputation and bottom line. It’s a powerful channel for sharing stories, and stories can certainly help sell products.
“From the outset, we started our business with the goal and focus on growing via social media and online, moving forward with what’s available,” Gravette says. “When you think about direct selling, growing up in an era where it was about one-on-one communication, this is the evolution. You have to adapt to it.”
Le-Vel is based on what Camper refers to as an inverted model, in which rank-and-file, new to midlevel Brand Promoters are recognized, and their small victories are given focus and are celebrated. For some newer consultants, it can be daunting to attend an event that focuses primarily on top-earning salesforce members and their long successes. The journey may feel unattainable.
“We’re attempting to change the spectrum of direct selling and corporate America, too,” Camper says. “We want to recognize people for their individual achievements, but our primary focus is on our achievements as a whole, as a team. That creates a more level playing field.” During incentive trips, Brand Promoters don’t advertise their respective ranks, and events aren’t segregated. Everyone mingles with each other. “It’s really important to us as a company that we don’t put the spotlight on the top people; we want the spotlight on every single person that you meet face to face,” Gravette says. There’s another mission behind that inclusive culture: to create a larger movement of health and wellness, in which the small victories are celebrated, and stories of new to midlevel Brand Promoters are at the forefront.
From time to time, our channel as a whole and the distributors who represent our brands are asked to prove their validity—to provide compelling evidence that we’re indeed selling quality products and offering a legitimate business opportunity. It’s tempting to flood skeptics with information in response; but the result is likely to be further confusion. For a brand to establish itself on solid ground, for its products to carry the conversation and result in lifetime customer acquisition—the hallmark of any successful company—its messaging must be as straightforward as possible, Camper says. He adds that, while extensive research and superior science are at work behind the scenes, it’s not necessary to delve into the data with potential customers to validate the efficacy of the products; all they’re looking for is authenticity.
“Our approach is to provide enough information to validate a purchasing decision,” Camper says. “There’s no need to give someone an encyclopedia about your products. We have more training on the back end for Brand Promoters to build confidence and education, but on the front end, it’s simple. We don’t bombard people with data. You don’t have people’s attention for long.”
The company’s call to action is simply this: If Le-Vel products make you feel better, share your story. There’s no better marketing tool than a personal testimonial. And that’s precisely what Le-Vel customers and Brand Promoters have done, taking to social media, most often Facebook, to spread the word. Is Internet oversaturation a concern? As long as there remain opportunities to expose new audiences to Le-Vel products, the answer is a resounding no, says Camper: “It’s natural to wonder about oversaturation, but there are still people who don’t know about us, and that’s true even for the biggest brands.”
If there remains any doubt about the efficacy of social media to build a direct selling brand, consider this: Approximately 90 percent of Le-Vel’s customer acquisition happens online. Technology doesn’t diminish the power of stories; rather, it brings them to life, and it’s giving direct sales companies like Le-Vel a powerful means to impact a larger audience than ever before.