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Bai learns a big break also brings bigger expectations

Ben Weiss, CEO and founder of Bai Brands, expects to triple his revenue in 2014 to more than $66 million.-(AARON HOUSTON)

But just as vivid in his mind is time he found out his product was being taken off.

It was a moment of truth for Bai, the antioxidant-rich beverage made from coffee fruit that he started producing just four years ago out of his basement in Princeton.

Weiss, who thought he had made it big when Costco agreed to sell his product regionally, learned another hard lesson in the retail industry: Getting your product placed in a big chain only offers a chance for success.

And plenty of chances for failure.

In Bai’s case, it was as simple as having the wrong number of flavors in a variety pack. When Bai noticed it and told Costco about the problem, the wholesaler deemed it a “quality control issue” and sidelined Bai for five weeks to give the company time to regroup and make sure such a mistake would never happen again.

“They have such high standards,” he said. “It’s a pain in the neck to deal with them, but because of dealing with them, you become a better company. I think we’re a better company because of the standards Costco employs.”

One that is projected to reach $66 million in sales next year.

Bai’s four-year life story is one of extreme success in a sector riddled with road blocks and barriers to entry.

For a small beverage business, scoring a contract with Costco or any other big retailer can be life-changing — as it has been for Bai, now headquartered in Trenton. But the industry is cutthroat and complicated, even for those who hit the proverbial jackpot.

Big contracts with major retailers can lead to sky-high sales, but those are insanely hard to get. And even if you do score a deal with the Costcos of the world, can your business handle the windfall?

Domenick Celentano, an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and cofounder of The Foodpreneur, said that’s something many food business entrepreneurs don’t consider when looking at landing a contract with a Costco or a Target, for example.

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