Founded by a former Navy Seal in 2011, Atlanta-based Kill Cliff began selling sports beverages to help athletes and those in the military recover from strenuous activity and physical exertion. Kill Cliff saw some early success selling direct-to-consumer with some regional retail presence but grew significantly by selling to CrossFit and other gyms. The highly functional, low caffeine, no sugar line soon expanded to five flavors.
Encouraged by the clean energy drinks’ success, executives further expanded distribution into retail stores including QuikTrip, Vitamin Shoppe, GNC stores, Whole Foods, Kroger, Hy-Vee, and Walmart, as well as to U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps bases. In addition, Kill Cliff launched its own online store, and began offering its products on Amazon through a distribution partner.
Kill Cliff annually donates to The Navy Seal Foundation, to which it has contributed more than $1 million. Giving back to the community is central to Kill Cliff’s mission.
The company has expanded its products in the past five years, launching three new lines: Ignite, a caffeinated line, in 2018; a CBD-infused line in late 2019; and a higher-octane line that mixes a higher dose of caffeine to its CBD drinks in 2020.
“The 2019 U.S. Farm Bill allowed CBD into food and beverage as long as it was less than .03 percent,” says Andrew Schutt, Kill Cliff’s CFO. “That’s from a federal standpoint. Every state has its own, different regulations. CBD drinks are an emerging market and we wanted to be at the forefront. We weren’t going to wait for the perfect landscape or marketplace.”
To further cement its position as the nation’s first CBD sports drink and build brand awareness, Kill Cliff secures major sponsorship deals with action sports and related influencers. The Atlanta Braves, Joe Rogan, Sanford MMA (now known as Kill Cliff FC), and a recent Esports Tournament with Israel Adesanya are just a few of its endeavors and examples. Kill Cliff also signed a national CBD distribution deal and launched its own OTT network app Kill Cliff TV.
Although Kill Cliff grew rapidly and was successful, its back-office operations weren’t keeping pace. “The company had really outgrown QuickBooks, and when I got here, it was a slug to get information from,” says Schutt. “I spent 90 percent of my time making sure the data pull was right and combining it with other sources, and 10 percent analyzing it.”
QuickBooks, he says, was not connected to any other system. “Everything was manual: sales, reporting, inventory,” Schutt explains. “It really was a lot of work to understand what inventory values were at different locations, at manufacturers, and 3PL providers. We had to call people up to get data from here, get from there, and it was a herculean effort.”
As an omnichannel sales company with four contract manufacturers for its products and 3PLs for distribution, Kill Cliff has a complicated organizational structure. It sells through its own website, to retailers, resellers, several distributors, and direct-to-store distributors as well as to military commissaries and a distributor who sells on Amazon. None of its systems were connected. In addition to three Shopify sites, Kill Cliff used SPS Commerce, Cadence, which is a 3PL site, HubSpot, and an Order Management system supplied by one of its 3PLs that also handled inventory; and ShipStation.
Kill Cliff’s outsourced model allows the company to run very lean staffing for its size.
Herculean Effort to Understand Inventory
Kill Cliff’s success comes from its agility and innovation – it quickly launches new products moving from concept to SKU in about three months, Schutt says. “It takes us a month and a half to get the flavor right then we test it online to see how our consumer base reacts,” he says. “If sales go well, we incubate it for a while and then make it available for commercial distribution.”
With inventory at contract manufacturers and distributors, it was hard to understand stock levels and was mostly “the best guess on our books,” says Schutt, adding he worried each month about what “unexpected inventory adjustment might need to be made.”
When he joined Kill Cliff, Schutt’s top priority was moving onto a consolidated system, one that could unite the company’s disparate systems into one platform. “We have a lot of outside inputs because we didn’t want to have to double or triple our workforce,” he says.