The man, the myth, the legend — TJ Humphreys — joins PricePlow Podcast for Episode #114 to talk about All Black Everything (ABE), a new dietary supplement brand in America based upon UK-based Applied Nutrition’s pre-workout supplement.
Mike and Ben joined TJ in Plano, TX to get TJ’s entire backstory, which starts at Lone Star Distribution, VPX Sports, and then the legendary run at ProSupps. After a quick pit-stop at RYSE Supps (see Episode #060), TJ’s good friends running Applied Nutrition out of England decided that they wanted to team up to bring their brand to America. And who better to call than TJ?
So TJ started the American version of the brand, kicking it off with the ABE Pre-Workout and ABE Energy Drink. The offering has expanded into more stores since then, which includes ABE Pump, their stimulant-free pre-workout supplement powered by Nutrition21’s Nitrosigine.
Nutrition21 graciously sponsored this episode, so we’d like to thank them for supporting the Podcast. We hope you enjoy this incredible conversation below — but first, don’t forget to subscribe to the PricePlow Podcast as well as our Nutrition21 News alerts:
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Note: with this launch, you’ll be able to save with coupon code PRICEPLOW at AbeNation.com
Show Notes with TJ Humphreys: All Black Everything Brings Edge
0:00 – Introductions
Mike and Ben crack open an ABE Energy Drink with TJ Humphreys in Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas. The episode humorously begins with their respective fashion choices for the recording, with both Ben and Mike highlighting their preference for wearing black. This prompts TJ to mention the popular mindset associated with wearing black, stating that people often wear it when they aim to present their best selves. He references a common observation that many people wear black at the gym, hinting at the psychological boost it might provide.
The conversation then takes a turn to the main topic: “The TJ story”. Despite being a young 53 years old, he’s taking on a fresh challenge as he spins up the ABE Nation brand, seeing it as the next peak to climb in his professional journey. Those familiar with his past will find this new venture consistent with his history and evolution in the business world.
2:30 – TJ’s Background – Lone Star, VPX, and ProSupps
TJ started his foray into the industry with Lone Star Distribution in Dallas, Texas, working there for around 5-6 years. During his time there, the primary products were protein powders, bars, and drinks. Pre-workouts had not gained popularity yet.
He then transitioned to VPX for about a year and a half, describing it as a challenging period because of declining brand popularity in the specialty sports side and resource allocation issues. There were also significant product recall challenges with a bar that developed mold. A conversation arose about the potential of carbonated drinks in the sports nutrition market. Despite TJ’s suggestions to consider this avenue, his ideas were initially dismissed. Later on, the company would launch Bang, a popular carbonated drink, after TJ left.
TJ shares an amusing story of his entrepreneurial spirit, recounting how he sold popcorn to kids from another school when he was eight years old. He believes that entrepreneurialism is in one’s DNA and that it’s challenging to teach. His family background also reflects this entrepreneurial spirit, with his grandfather having bought the importing rights for Beck’s Beer to the US in the 1950s.
Ben and Mike delve deeper into the evolution of the sports nutrition and beverage industry, especially the rise of pre-workout beverages and the importance of branding and marketing in the industry. They also discuss the importance of experiential knowledge and learning from mistakes in building and growing a successful brand in the industry.
12:45 – The value of passion in a venture
The group discusses the nature of branding and the power of marketing in the product industry, revolving around TJ’s experiences with various companies, especially VPX and Pro Supps. TJ underlines the idea that the core of a successful business is often rooted in passion and the belief of its team members. The nostalgic reminiscing of the past, when business was more human-centric and less digital-focused, further reinforces the core message of the importance of genuine relationships and trust in the business world.
18:15 – New business
TJ shares an anecdote about creating a memorable character for one of their products, Mr. Hyde, and hiring Robbie Archer, a 6’8″ Canadian stuntman, to portray the character at events. Both discuss the evolution of trade shows and expos in the fitness industry and how the advent of social media has transformed brand promotion. TJ underscores the importance of having a strong brand presence at these events, particularly to impress international distributors. They reminisce about the heyday of trade shows and how, despite the costs involved in participating, the impact on business, particularly with international buyers, can be substantial.
27:00 – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Mike, TJ, and Ben discuss the creation and evolution of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde pre-workout supplements. TJ describes the ideation process, sharing that they aimed to produce two contrasting products: one with a high stimulant content and the other more mainstream and pump-focused. Ben and Mike note the timing of the release was significant, following the popularity of pre-workouts like Jack3d.
They also recall other innovative products from the brand, highlighting the challenges and ingenuity behind the ready-to-drink L-Leucine Matrix that preserved ingredient potency by using a specialized cap. The trio acknowledges the brand’s commitment to innovation and its impact on the fitness industry.
31:30 – The value of expertise and distribution
TJ mentions that he sold a majority of his business to a private equity firm in 2015 after running it for about three or four years, starting in 2011 or 2012. He continued working with the company for another five years post-sale. The primary motivation for the sale was to access resources and expertise for dealing with large retail chains like Walmart, Costco, and Sam’s Club.
TJ discusses the challenges of involving external investors, especially those unfamiliar with the industry’s nuances, emphasizing the potential for divergent opinions on the business’s direction. Mike and Ben reflect on how external views can sometimes misalign with industry insiders’ preferences, pointing out the balance required to cater to both mainstream and niche audiences.
34:45 – The ProSupps Collaboration with DJ Khaled
TJ dives into the strategic collaboration with renowned artist DJ Khaled. TJ reveals that the collaboration aimed to break the misconception that their product was solely a sports nutrition drink and to make it mainstream. He explains that despite DJ Khaled not fitting the stereotypical image of the fitness industry, Khaled’s involvement in partnerships and genuine connection with brands made him an ideal ambassador. Khaled was deeply involved in the brand, even naming and improving a flavor.
They had ambitious promotional plans, including Khaled offering to promote Hyde during a tour with Beyoncé and Jay-Z. However, a disconnect with private equity partners hindered the execution of many of these opportunities. TJ emphasizes the importance of genuine involvement and partnership when collaborating with influencers, using their relationship with Khaled as an example, and contrasts it with other influencer partnerships in the industry.
Mike recounts a video they made where he predicted the DJ Khaled collaboration would fail, and he was right, but for the wrong reasons. He apologizes to DJ though, given that Khaled seems to have been a rock star with the opportunity.
40:30 – Retail and market feedback
Ben and TJ discuss the strategies and challenges faced by Vitamin Shoppe in retail. They explain that Vitamin Shoppe uses exclusivity campaigns to drive traffic into their stores by having specific products or flavors available only at their locations. This method is effective, especially when athletes or artists promote these exclusive products. However, the challenge remains for brands to make their products stand out and drive consistent store traffic. They highlight that many customers come to stores like Vitamin Shoppe and GNC already knowing what they want to buy.
The conversation then shifts to Hyde Power Potion, an energy drink that faced flavoring and sweetness challenges, particularly with its excessive use of sucralose. Despite having initial distribution success and interest from various parties, the product was eventually discontinued due to its flavoring challenges and the high costs associated with producing it.
You can watch Mike’s Hyde Power Potion video with David Sandler from the 2018 Arnold Sports Festival.
48:30 – TJ’s Partnerships and All Black Everything’s Creation in the USA
Mike and TJ discuss TJ’s professional journey in the fitness and nutrition industry. TJ talks about his partnership with Nick Stella at RYSE (flashback to Episode #060), highlighting their strengths and occasional clashes as both are alpha personalities. They touched upon the differences between digital marketers and sales representatives, suggesting that the dynamics of online brand promotion and in-person sales channels sometimes don’t mesh seamlessly.
TJ emphasizes the importance of face-to-face interactions, especially when trying to make sales to retail giants like Walmart. The conversation then shifts to TJ’s relationship with Tom Ryder, the founder of Applied Nutrition. They had a friendly rapport, often meeting at expos, a unique industry dynamic that Ben chimes in on. TJ goes on to describe his collaboration with Tom on bringing the Applied Nutrition brand to the U.S., an endeavor that resulted in the creation of ABE (All Black Everything) from an existing product.
The brand was revamped for the U.S. market, with a focus on building its identity from scratch. Mike and TJ further discuss the logistics of launching the brand in the U.S., covering topics like product differentiation and manufacturing locations.
55:30 – Manufacturing in the UK and Branding
Mike, TJ, and Ben discuss the economic and branding decisions behind importing certain ingredients for their products. TJ mentions that, except for protein, everything they use is imported from the UK due to cost-effectiveness, even considering the container and shipping fees. Interestingly, the shipping costs had reduced significantly for a period. There’s also a discussion about not having to pay duties on some of their products as they don’t contain dairy or sugars. They touch upon the challenges of competing in retail spaces like Walmart and the advantage of offering competitive pricing for a high-quality product.
The conversation also dives into branding, with TJ highlighting the uniqueness of their “all black everything” branding in contrast to the bright colors of other brands. The “all black” branding is seen as having an edge without veering into the realm of being cringy, like some hardcore demon-themed brands. They emphasize the importance of attracting a different consumer segment that wants a product that feels more serious or edgy.
Mike is proud to come up with a new slogan for ABE:
1:03:30 – Marketing and exclusive flavors
Ben reveals that he’s worn the same shirt for leg day for about five years as part of a personal tradition (let’s assume he washes it). The conversation then shifts to the topic of wearing black clothing for first dates, with the notion that people tend to wear black to present their best selves. The discussion transitions into branding and distribution, particularly focusing on entering the Walmart marketplace. TJ believes that while specialty stores like GNC and Vitamin Shoppe have their place, consumer behavior is changing, and brands need to adapt to capture new customers. Foot traffic is increasingly becoming a challenge for traditional retailers.
TJ also highlights the strategic value in offering exclusive products or flavors in particular stores. The dialogue continues with mentions of various companies, including Gym Shark and their foray into the supplement world, pointing out the challenges of apparel brands dabbling in the supplement industry. They discuss the importance of credibility and expertise in the supplement domain.
1:13:15 – Creatine in ABE Pump
TJ recalls a decision to include a full dose of creatine in the Nitrosigine-powered ABE Pump, specifically noting a five-gram serving in a two-scoop dose. He explains the advantages of creatine monohydrate for enhancing pump and notes their brand’s distinctiveness by having the only formula with five grams in a two-scoop serving. Ben highlights potential issues with creatine in pre-workout supplements, given the daily consumption of creatine. Mike brings up the health benefits of certain ingredients, like blood pressure reduction, without making direct claims.
Ben emphasizes the universal benefits of creatine, from aiding the elderly with cognition to supporting muscle growth. He notes that most people aren’t consuming enough red meat, a natural source of creatine. Mike stresses the importance of supplementing with essential nutrients like magnesium and creatine due to the declining nutrient content in foods.
TJ is proud of their European team’s ability to create universally appealing tastes, with Mike inquiring about the “Americanization” of their flavor profiles. TJ explains their in-house R&D allows them to quickly modify flavors to meet specific tastes, with all U.S. products having approved flavor systems. They also discuss branding changes, with European designs now reflecting the U.S. style due to demand.
1:20:15 – Nitrosigine and More Nootropics in ABE Pump
Mike remarks on some other notable ingredients in ABE Pump, particularly FitNox, and of course Nitrosigine. TJ emphasizes the brand’s commitment to quality, with special attention to packaging details and upcoming product releases. Mike comments on the inclusion of nootropic ingredients, which includes not just Nitrosigine, but also choline, huperzine A, and even creatine and taurine.
TJ explains that modern consumers desire cognitive benefits, not just stimulants, hence their product contains ingredients like VitaCholine and Nitrosigine. Despite this, TJ acknowledges that stimulant-based pre-workouts are still more popular. Mike expresses surprise at the product’s affordable pricing — which was off but we’re rectifying with a PRICEPLOW coupon code. TJ reaffirms the price, mentioning their strategic thinking about product dosage and serving size.
Mike had also mentioned another podcast where Nitrosigine’s affect on blood pressure was discussed — that would be Episode #075 from SupplySide West 2022.
1:25:00 – ABE Distribution and Funding
The group switches gears to ABE’s product distribution. TJ shares that they’ve recently started shipping, and while not all retailers have it yet, their intent is widespread distribution, including brick and mortar stores.
Mike is also curious about the brand’s funding. TJ discusses the robust financial backing they receive from European partners, emphasizing their commitment to the long game. The brand has invested significantly in sampling, as evidenced by their substantial presence at events like the Arnold Expo. Mike concludes the podcast by commenting on the tangible experience of the product, with some light banter about technology issues.
To follow TJ, you can find him @ceo_swole and @abenation — see the links below to click through!
Where to Follow TJ Humphreys and All Black Everything
- TJ Humphreys on Instagram: @ceo_swole
- All Black Everything Instagram: @ABENation
- TJ Humphreys on LinkedIn
Thank you TJ and Nutrition21!
Thanks again to Nutrition21 for sponsoring this episode, and to TJ and ABE for paying for Ben’s flight to Dallas.
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