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Grab the Gold CEO finds snack bar success in Williamson

Snack bars aren’t usually the stuff that inspirational stories are made of, but they are in the case of Danielle Ontiveros.

At the age of 16, Ontiveros walked into her mom’s kitchen, took some ingredients from the pantry and began to piece together a recipe that has become her life’s work. Now a successful entrepreneur with decades of business experience making and selling Grab the Gold snack bars, Ontiveros will speak Friday, Jan. 20, at the Rotary Club of Brentwood meeting at the Fifty Forward Martin Center. The meeting starts at 11:45 a.m.

Ontiveros’s speech will reflect some of the lessons she has learned over the course of running her company, chief among them the role that personal values play in a successful business.

“I really feel that a lot of my success is that I bring who I am into my business,” Ontiveros said in a phone conversation a couple of days before the speech. “I feel that a lot of people think that they have a personal life and then they have their business life. Who they are becomes two different people. I really feel like it’s important to know what your core values are and to be a consistent person 24-hours a day.”

Grab the Gold’s story began in New Orleans. For a while, Ontiveros divided her time between the snack bar business and other pursuits, including working as a sports massage therapist for the New Orleans Saints for 10 years. In 2005, though, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and destroyed Ontiveros’s home. She found herself faced with a couple of big questions.

The first had to do with where she was going to go. Did she want to stay and try and make it work in Louisiana, or head someplace different? Ontiveros found guidance through her business. Grab the Gold fans beckoned her to Franklin, Tennessee.

“It was our customers,” she said. “People I didn’t know reached out to me through emails and said that they wanted Grab the Gold to be a Nashville brand. They felt a real sense of ownership with it already because they felt they were loyal fans.”

As Ontiveros explained, Grab the Gold bars had started to be sold in Smoothie King stores in the late ‘90s. Although Smoothie King was headquartered in Louisiana, Ontiveros found that the locations in the Nashville area were selling more Grab the Gold bars than anywhere else.

The fact of the company’s popularity in Nashville created a groundswell of support for the brand here. The feedback she got from area customers after Katrina was enough to convince her that Franklin should be her next destination.

“Along with those emails [about Grab the Gold] came prayers, offers of support, all kinds of offers of assistance and encouragement,” Ontiveros said. “It let me know that this was the kind of place I want to be and wanted to move to.”

At the same time that she was figuring out where to move, however, Ontiveros was wrestling with another question. She loved the Grab the Gold business, but she also felt a strong connection to the sports therapy work she had been involved in for 10 football seasons. Could she continue doing both, or did she need to let one of them go? After a lot of thought, Ontiveros decided to get out of sports and focus entirely on Grab the Gold.

“That made all the difference,” she said. “I think a lot of people think that they can do two things well, and I was one of them. But if you want something to grow you have to commit to it.”

Based on the results, the decision was the right one. In the first 10 years since relocating to Tennessee, Ontiveros said that Grab the Gold’s business grew 10 times over. And “just last year we grew 45 percent,” she said.

Grab the Gold bars are now available at 1,500 stores around the country and will expand to 500 more by this coming June, Ontiveros said. A million bars were sold in Tennessee last year. Additionally, for the first time in 27 years, a new flavor of Grab the Gold bar will be introduced soon.

So, yes, a snack bar story can be inspiring, as long as it’s made up of the right ingredients, including focus and hard work.

“If you’re not committed 100 percent of the time to something, it’s really not possible to … realize its potential,” Ontiveros said.

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