IT TAKES ENERGY TO PUSH VOLT; Marketing a Fledgling Sports Beverage Line Takes a Lot of Time and Dedication

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Byline: LIZ FLAISIG

Building a beverage company is a lot like starting a new religion.

It takes unwavering faith, dedication to the cause and, most of all, converts.

On a recent trip to Jacksonville, Owen Ryan was hard at work on converts.

The pipeline to reach his demographic was, this week, Walgreens, where Ryan had persuaded a district manager to give his fledgling sports drink, Volt, a try.

"Nothing takes the energy out of your small organization like waiting," Ryan said during a pit stop at a San Marco coffee shop.

"If we can win in this market, we can win anywhere."

Creating and developing products is something Ryan did for years while living in New York City.

Ryan was a high school dropout whose career experience included door-to-door sales and dairy farming before he settled into marketing and advertising in the corporate world.

After going out on his own, Ryan made headlines in the New York Times more than once, including in the late 1980s when his "Party Animals" crackers came under fire from Anheuser-Busch Inc.

The company argued the name would confuse consumers with its Budweiser Beer mascot, Spuds MacKenzie, who was marketed as the Original Party Animal, the Times reported.

Anheuser-Busch eventually withdrew its claim but, Ryan said, the legal battle was costly and caused him to move on to the next product.

Years later, Ryan, now 60, has become most interested in creating beverage lines.

He moved to Charlotte, N.C., to launch the Volt brand under his latest company, High Voltage Beverages, because his research showed the South leads the nation in consumption of sports drinks.

To date, Volt is in more than 500 stores in North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, and now Florida with its Jacksonville entry.

SELL, SELL, SELL

Courting investors, distributors and retailers such as Walgreens to keep the momentum going keeps Ryan constantly connected via e-mail and cell phone, since any chance to promote a private label beverage line like Volt demands immediate attention.

Ryan does most presentations to investors.

"Raising capital just sucks the air out of you," Ryan said. …