The Supply Side: Veteran-owned brand making waves at Walmart

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 697 views 

Grind toothpaste brand hit select Walmart stores earlier this year. Starting with 365 stores in February and expanding to 453 stores by summer, a co-founder of the Salt Lake City-based company is eager to continue growing the business.

Roger Gindlesperger, co-founder and co-owner of Grind, said it took him three tries to get into Walmart’s Open Call. He applied in 2020 and 2021, but it was 2022 before he got an invitation.

“We were selling on Amazon before getting into Walmart, and they were the first to give actual shelf space in stores after our pitch at last year’s Open Call event,” he said.

Grind retails for $6.47, and it’s different from the other options on the shelf, he said. The entire family can use it, and children under 6 can use it with parental supervision.

“We married hydroxyapatite and theobromine together to provide the same benefits as fluoride without the risks. We have a patent pending on that process. Grind has natural whitening agents, hardening agents and six minerals to fight bacteria, plaque buildup and inflammation,” he said.

Gindlesperger said store sales are meeting expectations, but there is room for improvement. Being self-funded, he said the owners have opted to keep the product line simple with just one toothpaste flavor.

“We hope to get Grind into all of Walmart’s stores so we can be within 90% of the U.S. population. But that will take more funding, and we are starting to explore raising capital. We have no debt at this time,” he said.

He said the journey to the shelf took work. They were forced to find a different co-packer shortly after getting the go-ahead from Walmart. Gindlesperger said he found another co-packing partner in his region and got the entire order to Walmart shipped in time.

“We are still shipping out of our home garage, staying as lean as possible,” he added.

He was also grateful to be invited by Walmart to attend and speak at a veteran’s conference in Dallas and meet with legislators in Washington, D.C., at the retailer’s request and expense. Grind was also back at the Open Call at Walmart’s request to mentor attendees and set up a booth in the vendor mall across the street from the home office.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to show up and share our brand story with Walmart as our wingman,” Gindlesperger said.

After 20 years of service in the U.S. Army, including 13 years in special operations and 14 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gindlesperger retired to Salt Lake City. Struggling to find purpose in his life and battling Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), he said the transition from career military to civilian life was tough because he also struggled to recover from an unexplained illness he contracted abroad several years before.

“When you are in the military, there is structure to everything, camaraderie and a bond of brotherhood with a purpose. That ends when you leave, and I struggled with that,” Gindlesperger said.

He found work with Amazon in logistics as an area manager over inbound receiving operations and also did military contract work but struggled with finding a purpose. Then the pandemic hit.

“An honest conversation about my bad breath in 2020 with my wife Mary Ann sent us looking for some new toothpaste for me. There were so many choices of basically the same thing. I decided I would try and create my own, something different,” he said.

He said they had been kicking around business ideas they could do together, and they decided to look into toothpaste and oral care. He quickly found a local manufacturer and chemist to work with on the product formulation. It took nine months and seven versions to get to the Grind product now on shelves.

Gindlesperger wanted to make an inspirational brand that could encourage and inspire others. Grind was it. He believes the word “grind” sums up the struggle he experienced recovering from the lengthy illness and the challenges he worked through to find purpose.

“With one word on the toothpaste tube, maybe we can inspire others never to quit regardless of what they are going through. Toothpaste is one of the first things you use in the morning and the last thing you use at night,” he said.

Gindlesperger and his wife co-founded Grind, bootstrapping the business with savings and adding six partners to share the load.

Gindlesperger said he sought other veterans as partners and co-owners because it rekindled the brotherhood he missed since his military retirement. Four owners are veterans, and his wife is a military spouse. He found Dr. Jay Grossman, a dentist in Los Angeles who served in the U.S. Navy. Gindlesperger said he knew having a dentist on his leadership team could be important for oral care products. Grossman, in 1991, started the nonprofit Homeless Not Toothless to provide free dental care to homeless veterans. Grind donates 25% of its profits to that charity because Gindlesperger said it’s essential to the owners not to leave their fellow veterans behind.

Grind recently added Chef Andre Rush as a co-owner. He served 20 years in the U.S. Army. Rush works on flavor profiles and ingredient sourcing for the brand. Stephen Feehan came aboard to serve as chief financial officer and co-owner of Grind and has military experience.

Gindlesperger added non-veteran co-owners in Marques Ogden, who serves as chief marketing officer. Ogden retired from the National Football League, having played for five years for multiple teams. Camron Brown joined as co-owner to serve as chief strategist. Jabari Ashe is a co-owner who joined the team overseeing some marketing functions.

After all the work to get Grind on Walmart shelves, Gindlesperger said there is no time to celebrate because there is so much more he and his partners want the brand to achieve.

“We are not taking anything for granted,” he said, adding that building a brand from nothing is a lot of work.

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Firebend.